Music and language are uniquely human. A world without either would be hard to imagine. They are aspects of our need to communicate. So it could be said that, as is true of language, when music “speaks” our emotions “listen.”
Why and how does music speak to our emotions? To answer that, we need to consider: (1) the way that our brains process music; (2) our emotional makeup and cultural backgrounds, which influence our reaction to music; and (3) language, which can also affect our reaction.
Music and the Brain
Some suggest that language and logic are predominantly functions of the left side of the brain, while music is processed in the right side of the brain, which deals largely with feelings and emotions. Whether this is so or not, it is obvious that music evokes spontaneous reactions from listeners.
There is a closer relation between hearing and emotional arousal than there is between seeing and emotional arousal. . . . Seeing a wounded animal or suffering person who is silent may produce little emotional response in the observer. But once they start to scream, the onlooker is usually powerfully moved.”
Music, Lyrics, and You
One school of thought maintains that a given piece of music has a similar effect on all listeners. However, another says that reaction to a melody or song reflects an individual’s present state of mind or previous experience. An example of this might be when someone who has lost a loved one in death hears a certain song. The song may bring back memories and cause sadness or even cause tears to well up in the bereaved person’s eyes. Others who are not in that situation may sing that same song with a joyful heart.
Music helps to connect words or ideas with emotions. Hence, few television or radio advertisements are presented without musical accompaniment. Often the words do not make much sense. However, if the right background melody is used, the advertisement will play on the listeners’ emotions. How true it is that the aim of most advertising is to make buying an emotional response rather than a logical one!
Whereas advertising may have an undesirable effect on the public’s pocket, there is a much more serious downside to the power of lyrics and melody. Through lyrics repeated over and over again, songwriters teach adolescents to disregard others’ opinions and to “hang tough.” Moreover, the messages conveyed by controversial rap lyrics can permeate the emotional makeup of the listener and result in antisocial behavior.
So, to avoid contamination of the mind and the heart, we must be very selective in our choice of music.