How Does Music Affect Our Mood?

Patrick Poh
6 min readJul 21, 2023

Music affects our mood through vibration and a few other ways.

Photo by Marcela Laskoski on Unsplash

Vibrations can stimulate the body’s senses

For example, low-frequency vibrations can be felt in the chest and abdomen, while high-frequency vibrations can be felt in the ears and head.

These vibrations can trigger a variety of physiological responses, including changes in heart rate, breathing, and muscle tension.

Vibrations can affect the brain

When we listen to music, the sound waves travel through the air and into our ears. The eardrum vibrates in response to the sound waves, which sends a signal to the brain.

The brain then interprets this signal as sound, and it can also cause the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are associated with feelings of pleasure, happiness, and relaxation.

Vibrations can interact with our emotions

For example, if we are feeling sad, we may be more likely to listen to music that is slow and mellow. This type of music can help to soothe our emotions and make us feel better.

Conversely, if we are feeling happy, we may be more likely to listen to music that is upbeat and energetic. This type of music can help to amplify our positive emotions and make us feel even better.

Here are some specific examples of how music can affect our mood through vibration:

  • Low-frequency vibrations can be calming and relaxing. This is why many people find listening to classical music or nature sounds to be so soothing. Low frequencies are those that have a long wavelength and a low pitch. They are typically felt more than they are heard, and they can travel long distances. Examples of low-frequency sounds include the rumble of thunder, the bass of a stereo, and the vibrations of a massage chair.
  • High-frequency vibrations can be energizing and uplifting. This is why many people find listening to upbeat pop music or dance music to be so motivating. High frequencies are those that have a short wavelength and a high pitch. They are typically heard more than they are felt, and they do not travel as far as low-frequency sounds. Examples of high-frequency sounds include the chirping of birds, the ring of a telephone, and the sound of a dentist’s drill.

The term “low frequency” is often used interchangeably with the term “bass,” while the term “high frequency” is often used interchangeably with the term “treble.”

However, it is important to note that these terms are not always perfectly synonymous. For example, the lowest note on a piano is a low-frequency note, but it is not a bass note. Similarly, the highest note on a flute is a high-frequency note, but it is not a treble note.

The definition of low and high frequencies can vary depending on the context. For example, in the context of sound waves, the range of low frequencies is typically considered to be between 20 and 200 Hz, while the range of high frequencies is typically considered to be between 2,000 and 20,000 Hz. However, in the context of radio waves, the range of low frequencies is typically considered to be between 30 and 300 kHz, while the range of high frequencies is typically considered to be between 300 MHz and 3 GHz.

Melody is the linear succession of notes in a piece of music

It is often described as the “tune” of a song. The melody of a piece of music can evoke a wide range of emotions, depending on its pitch, rhythm, and intervallic structure.

For example, a melody that is high in pitch and has a fast rhythm is likely to be perceived as being more energetic and exciting, while a melody that is low in pitch and has a slow rhythm is likely to be perceived as being more calming and relaxing.

Harmony is the way in which notes are combined to create chords

The harmony of a piece of music can also evoke a wide range of emotions. For example, a piece of music that is in a major key is typically perceived as being more happy and optimistic, while a piece of music that is in a minor key is typically perceived as being more sad and pessimistic.

Rhythm is the pattern of regular or irregular pulses in a piece of music

The rhythm of a piece of music can also evoke a wide range of emotions. For example, a piece of music with a fast tempo and a strong beat is likely to be perceived as being more energetic and exciting, while a piece of music with a slow tempo and a gentle beat is likely to be perceived as being more calming and relaxing.

In addition to melody, harmony, and rhythm, other musical elements can also contribute to emotional responses. These include:

  • Timbre is the quality of a musical sound that distinguishes different instruments or voices. For example, the timbre of a violin is different from the timbre of a piano, and the timbre of a male voice is different from the timbre of a female voice.
  • Dynamics refers to the volume of a musical sound. The dynamics of a piece of music can be used to create a wide range of emotional effects, from soft and gentle to loud and powerful.
  • Texture refers to the way in which the different musical elements are combined. For example, a piece of music with a thick texture has many different layers of sound, while a piece of music with a thin texture has fewer layers of sound.

The way in which these musical elements are combined can create a wide range of emotional responses. For example, a piece of music that has a high-pitched melody, a fast tempo, and a strong beat is likely to be perceived as being more energetic and exciting. However, if the same piece of music also has a dark and dissonant harmony, it could also be perceived as being more aggressive and threatening.

There are also instances where music may not have the expected impact on mood. Here are a few examples:

  • The listener’s personal experiences. The listener’s personal experiences with music can have a significant impact on their emotional response to music. For example, if a listener has a negative memory associated with a particular piece of music, they are unlikely to feel happy when they hear that piece of music again.
  • The listener’s cultural background. The listener’s cultural background can also influence their emotional response to music. For example, in some cultures, certain musical instruments or styles are associated with particular emotions. If a listener is not familiar with the cultural context of a piece of music, they may not be able to understand the intended emotional impact of the music.
  • The listener’s current mood. The listener’s current mood can also influence their emotional response to music. For example, if a listener is feeling sad, they are more likely to be emotionally affected by sad music. However, if a listener is feeling happy, they may not be able to connect with the emotional impact of sad music.
  • The listener’s expectations. The listener’s expectations about how music should make them feel can also influence their emotional response to music. For example, if a listener expects a piece of music to make them feel happy, they may be disappointed if the music does not have the expected impact.

It is important to remember that music is a complex and subjective experience. The emotional impact of music can vary depending on a number of factors, including the listener’s personal experiences, cultural background, current mood, and expectations. As a result, it is not always possible to predict how music will affect a particular listener.

Of course, the way that music affects our mood is not always straightforward.

The same piece of music can have different effects on different people, depending on their individual preferences and experiences. However, in general, music can be a powerful tool for influencing our mood, both positively and negatively.

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