Why music is so important to me

Colourful music notesI’ve been writing about some fairly heavy topics lately (grief and fear, etc) so I thought I’d lighten up the blog a little by talking about a subject I could riff on for hours: music – something we all need more of in our lives. Turns out our ear holes have a direct line to our emotions. So listening to music not only drowns out your colleague’s whiny voice, science says it also improves your emotional health. Unless you’re listening to Nickelback, which has given no benefits to anyone, ever.

US researchers have discovered that music affects deep emotional centres in the brain – so that high you feel when you hear TLC’s No Scrubs is legit joy (oh, just me then?). In a McGill University study, participants’ brains were monitored as they listened to songs they’d identified as special to them. Researchers found dopamine was released in participants’ brains when they listened to those tunes. Dopamine’s the hormone associated with rewards – FYI it surges during eating and sex (yay and yay), and with drugs such as amphetamines (not so yay).

The dopamine release happens not only because we are enjoying the song but because we have a memory of having enjoyed that song in the past embedded in our brain, and we anticipate the high points that are coming. 

Science. It’s all smart and shit.

The reason I enjoyed reading about this study was it not only validated my experience of how music has lifted me when I’ve been feeling flat and motivated me to run faster on the treadmill but because it prompted me to consider the ways music has underpinned some of my best and worst memories. The way it transports me back to a particular time and place, and accentuates key connections. Because, as a cheesy ad slogan once declared, life deserves a soundtrack.

*      Good memory – Hey Jude by The Beatles. When I was a little kid, my dad would sing this to me, replacing it with ‘Hey Truds’. For years I was convinced it was a song he’d written just for me, and was bitterly disappointed when I learned the actual lyrics, which my father had purposely botched. (Fuck you, Jude, whoever you are.) The song doesn’t necessarily make me think of my dad, but it is associated with the warm glow of childhood and feeling wholly loved and protected.

*      Bad memory – Steal my Kisses by Ben Harper. This song was special to a workmate of mine and her boyfriend, so it was played at her funeral. Even though she died 15 years ago I still cannot listen to this song. To me, it is inextricably linked with unbearable sadness and the loss of love.

*        Random memory – Freedom by George Michael. Five years ago I was in a taxi with a good friend, and this song was playing on the radio. Without talking about it or thinking about it we interrupted our conversation to simultaneously belt out the line: “SOMETIMES THE CLOTHES DO NOT MAKE THE MAN!” It was that delicious realisation that you’re perfectly in sync with someone, just for a moment, and knowing you’ve just forged a shared memory. The poor taxi driver did not enjoy it so much; he got such a fright he almost drove off the road. Sometimes my friend will text me that lyric out of the blue and it makes me laugh every time.

Maybe this post has reminded you of the good, bad and odd memories that come flooding back when you hear certain songs. Seems like a good reason to turn up the volume, right?

Random but related: after I wrote this post, I did my daily angel card pull (I do one for myself before I draw a card for you guys every day): I got the ‘play music’ card. If that’s not spiritual validation, I don’t know what is.