The Importance and Influence of Music in Our Lives

I came back to my room after a long, stressful day and crumpled onto my desk in an exhausted heap. My head was filled with deadlines for exams, homework, and meetings. I turn on a mellow song by the early 90’s rap group, A Tribe Called Quest, who gave the world an important, conscious alternative to all of the violent, gang-related rap music that defined the era. Like an instant release, an antidote for stress, the music put me in a state of Zen and relaxation.

The smooth jazz instrumentals, the deep, rhythmic basslines, the positive lyrics, all funnel into my tired head like life serum. I couldn’t help but think about how powerful music can be: to be able to lift our spirits, recall old memories, and make us dance. Something about music keeps us feeling alive. There are studies that how direct connections between instrumentals and lyrics with our emotions, thought processes, and even motor functions. Music is such a prevalent part of our lives that we should understand how it affects us.

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Music is a powerful tool, bursting with enriching stimulus for the brain. The capabilities of using music to enhance our lives is boundless. Music psychology shows us how songs can change our brain chemistry, the way we think, and even our health. Roll ‘N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution The way we listen to music now is much different than in the past, which is an important concept in understanding the contemporary psychological effects of music.

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Like the discovery of the wheel and fire, art and music are extensions of human imagination. Mankind uses melodies and rhythms to enhance celebration, emphasize emotions, bring people together, and as tools of therapy. Music has always been an important part of every world culture, and we encounter it even more today.

The recent introduction of online music streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, YouTube and SoundCloud have opened the gates of a whole new music experience. Music streaming sites allow us to personalize our playlists and music catalogue from a seemingly endless source of music. According to research conducted by a Dr. Amanda Krause, younger people tend to be much more selective with their music choice than the middle-aged and seniors. Music catalogues are highly personalized and organized based on preference. Catalogues are also much more expansive than ever before. We now have instant access to, more or less, the entire discography of modern music from our phones and laptops. This accessibility has given way to more active music listeners than ever before. Because of technology’s seemingly limitless accessibility, complexities are added to the equation of how music affects us. Since the introduction of high-speed internet, we have become prone to instant gratification (Edmundson, 2012). If music is so emotional, this demand for instantaneous response and reward habit can indirectly impact our response to our thoughts and emotions. When we want to know something, it’s on Wikipedia. When we want to see something, Google Images will show us. When we want to hear something, the internet will provide for us. Like Pandora’s Box (not Radio), the internet has unleashed unknown problems and complications into our once simple existence. However in the Greek myth, all sin was tempered with hope, and we now have a treasure trove of information and communication that expands human boundaries. Technology lets us do more. With the growing number of active music listeners in the world, it is truly important to know how the music we listen to affects us.

Music is all around us now, an invisible sea of symphonies and tunes. You just need to open your ears. “Music [is] heard on 38.6% of randomly selected occasions on which 346 participants were contacted daily over 14 days” (Krause, 2014). We almost cannot go a day without hearing a song somewhere. It has existed since the beginning of our history. The repetitive stomping, banging, and humming of tribal music has evolved into sweet melodies, intricate drum patterns, and lyrics made of poetic language. Tunes have been digitalized and compressed into data files. Like in every other aspects of modern life, our advancements in technology have shaped the way we make and listen to music.


You may not be aware of this, but we all walk around every day with radios on our shoulders. Our ears act as organic antennas, picking up signals all around us. Music is broken down to its most fundamental level as audio frequencies, measured in hertz, or Hz. These vibrations travel through the air, into our ears, and signals are sent to the brain to be processed and understood. The brain is commonly known as the most complex human organ. Electrical and chemical signals are transferred between synapses, acting as communication messages to elicit responses via more electrical and chemical signals (Abrams, 2013). These chains of feedback signals control an infinite amount of bodily functions. A neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released when we experience something pleasurable. It is released when we listening to music.

The dopamine chemical is our brains’ way of rewarding us after evolutionary survival goals like food, shelter, and sex, as well as drugs. Because listening to music releases dopamine in our brains, we crave more of it in order to continue our pleasurable state. Music is similar to drugs that way, but not physically regressing and addictive. Our favorite songs can add flavor to our lives and give us a sense of joy. The brain is like any other muscle in the body; listening to music or playing a musical instrument is like a mental workout. Playing an instrument excites most parts of the brain. According to a TEDx presentation by Dr. Anita Collins, playing a musical instrument excites the areas of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, auditory response, visual response, and motor function. Very few activities are comparable to that level of brain activity. Brain activity can be measured using different scanning technologies to display the electrical pulses or blood flow traveling through the brain. Neuroscientists use electroencephalograms, or more pronounceably known as EEG, to measure electrical signals (Koelsch, 2014). EEG readings allow us to see real-time data how different stimuli affect our brain activity, which encompasses everything from emotions, to memory, and sensory reception.

Music’s effect on brain activity is significant in a system of different parts of the brain called the Default Mode Network. “The DMN is a set of interconnected regions in the brain that becomes less active when you are paying outward attention to something but is more engaged when you are focusing inward, such as during introspection or mind-wandering. Neuroscientists often call it ‘the resting state”” (Hodges, 2015). This daydreaming network of interconnected areas of the brain is responsible for our most self-reflective thoughts, inward emotions, and our hopes and dreams. Many people would claim that an individual’s personal thoughts, hopes, and dreams are what truly define who they are. Is music that we tune our ears to so powerful that it directly relates to our individuality? It may be impossible to determine how music makes people different from each other, but there is research that strongly suggests how music makes humans different from the rest of animal kingdom.

Cognitive neuroscientist, Jessica Grahn, studies the brain’s responses of music, focuses on rhythm, which is the basic underlay of music. In her TEDx presentation, “Music on the Brain: Jessica Grahn at TEDxWaterloo”, she explains the importance of rhythm to music, human brain’s responses to rhythm, and how humans are in tune with music more than any other animal in the world. The human relationship to music can be matched to an ability called entrainment. Entrainment is the event in which rhythmic synchronization occurs. Specifically in this case, an organisms synchronization to hearing a beat. Humans are the only animals that show the behavior of entrainment. We are capable of anticipating a beat and synchronizing to the rhythms we hear at a very quick rate (Grahn, 2014). It usually takes a listener only a few beats to determine the speed of a rhythm, or even a change in it. Jessica Grahn explains of a study she conducted on monkeys to determine their level of entrainment.

In the study, monkeys were trained to slap a table to a beat that the researchers played for it to hear. The subject monkeys could only react in response to hearing each individual beat, not synchronize with the whole rhythm. Humans, on the other hand, are able to clap along to any rhythm in a few seconds of hearing it, which Dr. Grahn demonstrated with the audience of her TEDx talk. This shows that the human relationship with music is very complex and evolutionarily distinct. We are not taught or trained to follow rhythms, yet we all can on some basic level. In her TEDx talk, neurologist Dr. Grahn, “suggests that music is not just about sound, but fundamentally about movement.” Her research also shows strong connections between listening to rhythmic patterns and responses in the motor cortex of the brain, an area responsible for physical movement. Our bodies are like lightning rods that pick up electrical wavelengths of music through our ears, amplified by our complex brain, and translated into physical movement through our bodies. We bob our heads, wave our arms, move our feet, and dance. The human brain translates pure energy into erratic, yet controlled, displays of self-expression.


What if I told you that listening to your favorite songs are healthy for you? Recent studies have shown health benefits of listening to preferred music, beyond just have a good time. Our go-to playlists have the ability to help us maintain our mental and even physical health. So go ahead and crack the volume when your jam comes on the radio. The songs we listen to have an effect on our ideas. Like most media, music can influence what we think about and how we think about things. A study conducted by a Dr. Theresa Treat concluded that song lyrics may have a lingering impact on how information is perceived and on emotional responses. In other words, lyrics may change the way we think. Young male subjects were to listen to music with either sexually degrading lyrics, non degrading lyrics, or no music at all. After conversing with a female volunteer, the male subjects were to rate what they thought as her level of sexual interest. The subjects that listened to sexually degrading music prior to their engagement with the female volunteer tended to rate a higher level of sexual interest in their conversation. Although the study used negative lyrics to show music’s influence our thinking, the positive influences are just as likely. Lyrics can inspire us to create, to work harder, and to better ourselves. Messages seem to be more powerful when combined with coordinating music.

The music people pick tends to reflect the emotions they are currently feeling at the time. Sad people will likely weep along to blues, folk, or country songs. Party-goers rave to upbeat dance music. A state of aggression may invoke heavy rock or rap. Students trying to focus on studies can be heard listening to classical and calming instrumentals, in my case its hip-hop beats. The music we listen to can help us process emotions, because we have something relating to us. It helps us enhance emotions by amplifying our experience and releasing dopamine (Hodges). In his popular article, Can Music Save Your Life, Professor Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia describes his experience of using music to process negative emotions. “The musical sadness was melodious: It had a shape, it made sense, it flowed along almost predictable lines. I won’t say that musical sadness exorcized my sorrows, but the music gave my sadness a benign expression. It put my sadness in an attractive box. It let me feel sadness from a distance. I experienced my grief over my younger sister’s death, which had taken place a few years before, but I was able to contemplate that grief at the same time.” Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and grief tend to be calmed when we feel an outside party understands our dilemma. Sad songs help us cope with these emotions by creating a connection between the songs lyrics and tones to our personal experiences. Music can be therapeutic tool for overcoming emotional ordeals.

Furthermore, neuroscientist Dr. Jessica Grahn talks about the therapeutic values of music for people that suffer from Parkinson’s disease. Music promotes movement and motor function responses in the brain, which can aid people with Parkinson’s disease in maintaining their motor skills by dancing to their favorite music. Going back to the study of the Default Mode Network, “the DMN is impaired in individuals with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and other cognitive conditions that involve a loss of self-awareness” (Hodges). There is a direct affiliation between the same areas of the brain responsible for processing music and areas affected by many debilitating mental diseases. The therapeutic benefits of music are applicable to mental, emotional, and physical conditions. The groundbreaking research in using people’s favorite music to combat their illnesses reinforces the importance of music in our lives.

The Universal Language

How we listen to music, what we listen to, and where we find our tunes may continue to evolve indefinitely. Technology’s ability to make music so accessible magnifies the ultimate effects music has on our lives. Popular music may bombard us toward sexuality, consumerism, and violence. Music even acts similarly to how drugs affect our bodies. Despite all of this, the human relationship with music has always been the same. The psychology of music proves how unique music is to humans with entrainment. Music is zenith form of how we communicate. Rhythm is understood through every language. We know sad songs are always sad songs, whether we understand the words or not. We are entranced by our music, vaguely aware that it contributes to our mind and body. It has the communicative power to direct our thoughts, help us cope with emotions, and heal us from disease.

Like many others, I cannot imagine my life without music. Referring to epitomic moment he had with a Bob Dylan song, University of Virginia’s Prof. Edmundson writes, “The door Dylan kicked open was into the world of words, and eventually, after five or eight years fluttering at the threshold, I made my way inside. In time, I began trying to write as well as to read, and I owe that to Dylan as much as to anyone.” Music inspired the professor to devote his life to English and writing. This level of inspiration is enough to start fires and change lives.

In the 90’s song, Party For The Fight To Write, rapper Atmosphere puts my experience of music into words, “As a child, hip-hop made me read books / And hip-hop made me wanna be a crook / And hip-hop gave me the way and something to say / And all I took in return is a second look.” Music has a huge effects on our lives, whether it be positive or negative. I consider myself a hip-hop head, a passionate listener and fan of the music and culture. Every time I listen to a conscious rap song with storytelling or complex word play, I find it comparable to reading any good novel or poem. Great literature gives me a key to experiences and emotions that I would not have encounter in my own life. Like with any literature, even the darkest subject matter has something worthwhile to take from, to make us aware or teach us. Sometimes I think gangsta rap might be good for the soul.

Like all functional tools and functionless art, music is neither inherently good nor bad. It is, however, a spark for emotion. It is what we make of it. For a listener, it is open to interpretation. For musicians, it is a canvas for self-expression. Music has the ability to enhance our lives and reflect the emotions we feel every day. It can connect us with other people, distant memories, help us build our hopes and dreams, and illustrate to us new ideas. In the finely tuned machines that we call our minds, music is the grease between our spinning cogs.

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The Importance and Influence of Music in Our Lives. (2022, Feb 04). Retrieved from

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