A deep, guttural tone emanated from the pink bluetooth speaker in front of me. The guitar shredded a complex melody over the syncopated, yet ever present, drumset. I couldn’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable while listening to the voice screaming out their lyrics. This is not music with which I am familiar, but I refused to allow my bias to show on my face.
My client nodded along with eyes closed, clearly content. I wondered how many times they must’ve listened to this particular song. When it concluded, my client looked up at me, smiling. I could tell they had not been expecting to listen to hardcore metal in a therapy session. They explained to me that no matter how often they listen to that song, it always makes them feel stable or content.
This particular session reminded me of my research on people’s music preference. The reason we like the music we do is due to our memories and associations with the music, our social associations with the music, and our mood or setting. The more familiar we are with a song, the more comfortable and safer we feel. The opposite could also be said about unfamiliar music feeling uncomfortable. In addition, we are more likely to listen to music that our peers enjoy in order to create social bonds. Once a song is familiar, it is easier to access our emotions that relate to that particular song.
It is often misconstrued that a specific genre of music will impact a person’s personality or mental health. Some people theorize that some music is better or worse than others which will then have an impact on our behavior and personality. Some phrases have permeated our thinking about music such as “Mozart makes babies smarter” and “sex, drugs, and rock & roll” which attempt to connect human behavior with a particular type of music. I don’t believe music is bad or good. I believe that we place those labels on music based on the associations we connect with it. Metal doesn’t make someone a deviant, rock & roll doesn’t lead to sex and drugs, and Mozart doesn’t actually make babies smarter. Although it’s true that music will influence our well-being, health, and mental state, I believe that it matters more HOW we listen to music rather than WHAT we listen to.
Video Transcript -> (URL at bottom of page)
If music does not influence who we are as people, what does it do? As I stated previously, it does impact our well-being, mental states, mood, etc. Based on the works of Pinkerton, CEO of Music4Life, soothing music creates neutral, stable, or comfortable feelings. The music that soothes an individual is most often that which makes them feel comfortable. A soothing feeling may occur when a person knows what to expect out of a song. That isn’t to say all familiar music has a soothing effect, but rather that the majority of soothing music for an individual is that which is familiar to them. Therefore, if someone is familiar with heavy metal music, it could have a soothing effect on that person.
Back in our session, my client begins expressing how much joy they’ve experienced and how grateful they are for metal music. They explained that this genre opens them up to reach an emotional depth that is difficult to access otherwise. They feel safe within this music because they just get it. They then open up about their difficulties and emotional stressors in their life. This makes sense because when someone feels comfortable, it is easier to reach a vulnerable state.
Metal music is challenging for me to understand personally. It makes me feel slightly uncomfortable because I am simply not as familiar with it as others. But just because I am not familiar with something does not mean I cannot appreciate it. Because of the emotional vulnerability my client was able to reach makes me grateful for the genre as well. It makes me curious and interested in learning more about heavy metal music. We all have music that motivates, unsettles, or soothes us. Explore what types of music are soothing to you, even if it isn’t perceived as soothing by others.
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