The Earliest Traces of Music: Cave Paintings Depicting Simple Instruments

Music began millions of years ago. There has been evidence of it in cave paintings, of people holding simple musical instruments similar to a flute. Since then music has evolved and expanded thoroughly, in fact there are a countless number of genres such as pop, rap, electric, folk, country, hip hop that exist as of the 21st century. And it’s constantly playing around us today. Not only is music a huge entertainment industry but is also known to play a role in changing our mood.

This essay will focus on how music can alter our mood and state of mind by discussing evidence of how happy or sad music can alter our happiness, examining some contradictory studies showing that sad music can actually improve our mood, exploring how therapy can improve our cognitive mindset and investigating the role the brain plays while listening to music.

As expected, ‘happy music’ can make us happier and ‘sad music’ can make us sadder.

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In fact there is some strong evolutionary evidence supporting this claim as Leutwyler/live science REFERENCE studied five-month-old babies, demonstrating how we react emotionally to songs at such a young age. When these young babies were exposed to sad music, usually a slow tempo and written in a minor key, they made an emotionally neutral face. However, when exposed to ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (a suggestive happy song due to its fast tempo and because it’s written in a major key), the babies smiled and stared at the face for three to four seconds long, suggesting they were interested in the sounds.

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In support, Ferguson et al YEAR REFERENCE aimed to investigate whether people can improve their moods by listening to music, and have found comparable results. The researcher believes that when people actively try to seek happiness from listening to upbeat/happy music, they can improve their overall happiness, health and relationship satisfaction however, if the music is playing in the background, the songs will not make an effect. All the participants listened to songs by an upbeat American musician called Aaron Copland. The first group of participants improved their mood listening to the music, after being instructed to do so. The other control group showed no improvement in mood when not asked to try and change their mood. After two weeks of repeated lab sessions similar to the one discussed, the first group reported significantly higher levels of happiness, contrasting the control. Ferguson proposes that people feel happier when they focus on the experience of the ‘journey’ rather than the ‘destination’ whilst listening to music and make the effort to feel better. Not only, does happy music improve your mood in general, but also affects the way we interpret the world. For instance, Logeswaran and Bhattacharya REFERENCE have demonstrated how music affects the way we see visual images. After subjects listened to either happy or sad songs, they were shown a picture of a face that was either happy, sad or had a neutral facial expression. The participants that listened to the happy music rated the happy faces comparatively happier than others, and the sad faces as much sadder, exaggerating the emotional content of the expressions. Thus, music powerfully influenced the emotional ratings of the faces and can easily spread from the sensory system to another.

However, there is contradictory research that suggests that melancholic music can have a positive effect on our emotional well-being. Taruffi & Koelsch’s (Taruffi & Koelsch, 2014) REFERENCE have been the first researchers to comprehensively shown that listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects. They used an online survey that was filled out by 722 people (from Europe, Asia, South and North America of both genders, an age range from 16 to 68 years) to investigate the rewarding aspects of unhappy music. The researchers used. Results showed that the ratings (on a 7-point Likert scale) of the participants coincided with their predictions. In fact, the researchers found that sad music was surprisingly evoked by nostalgia, peacefulness, tenderness and wonder, rather than unhappiness. There has been strong support for their claims; for example, Hargreaves (REFERENCE) found that music that is sad, but beautiful could help people to feel better when they’re feeling low. He explains that people’s response to music depends on three key factors ‘ the listener (their age, personality and musical experience can affect their response), the music (varies in genre, speed, loudness) and the situation (possibly depending on the place its played and with the people its heard with).

There is a large body of evidence showing how music can make us happier thus professionals have developed a special type of therapy seen to be quite reliable called music therapy. Music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals. Wiley-Blackwell REFERENCE conducted a study and found that hospitalized children in music therapy are overall happier than children in play therapy, in which toys and puzzles were their source of entertainment. Music therapy has been proven very effective for patients experiencing depression (Hendon & Bohon REFERENCE) as well anxiety and loneliness (Berger REFERENCE). Therapists have successfully used music on stroke victims to teach them how to talk again and on stutterers to help them dictate words correctly and fluently. There are yet more benefits to listening to music ‘ scientists have also found that music boosts the immune system of patients after surgery, decrease blood pressure of cardiac patients and lower stress in pregnant women. However, an overdose of music isn’t necessarily a good thing. Music is much like an addiction, which runs on a reward pathway in the brain and listening to too much of it can numb its effects on us. Music plays everywhere nowadays ‘ in lifts, shops and in the car, which makes a lot of us unresponsive to its largely beneficial effects.

There have been several explanations for why music can make us happy and the most mutual one has been linked to serotonin and dopamine. Calming musical tunes can surge the release of serotonin (a neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood balance) and increase dopamine (another neurotransmitter that fosters a general sense of well-being) in the body. A hormone called norepinephrine may also be released when one listens to music, bringing about euphoria and elation. Music can also affect our physiological processes, slowing down our heart rate and breathing rate, to reduce stress by relaxing tensed muscles. Therefore, music has been considered as a natural antidepressant. Music has a strong effect on our brain too, especially in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe, as they are broadly responsible for spatial navigation, emotions and judgment.

Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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The Earliest Traces of Music: Cave Paintings Depicting Simple Instruments. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

The Earliest Traces of Music: Cave Paintings Depicting Simple Instruments essay
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