Have you ever listened to a song and realized that it completely changed your mood? Well, it turns out that those favorite tunes do more than simply brighten your day. A number of different genres can actually have varying health benefits, too. So, from 80s pop to classical music, let’s discover how these styles could add a spring to your step!
If you’ve been following TikTok trends, you’ll know how popular sea shanty songs were in early 2021. In January that year a Scottish musician called Nathan Evans uploaded his cover of “Soon May The Wellerman Come” to the video-sharing platform. Since then, people all over the world have been flooding their ears with similar tunes. But why are 19th century sea songs suddenly cool?
The website Vulture reckons the songs are a response to the current global situation. Sailors sang shanties to unite with one another and endure trying times. Of course, it’s not the first genre to achieve mass popularity. There are many similar occurrences throughout history.
Take rock music, for example. The genre caused panic when it first rolled onto the mainstream music scene in the 1950s. People thought fans were rebellious and, in some cases, dangerous. It happened again in the ’60s too. Rockers got a reputation partly due to the expressive nature of the music. For instance, some songs even openly addressed taboo topics such as sex.
Modern music is no different, either. Consider the reputation that hiphop and rap has for violence and drug abuse. There’s music on the other end of the scale that’s known for its benevolent reputation, too. Meditation music, anyone?
But did you know that some believe classical music to be beneficial for children? Some expecting parents play classical songs to their developing babies. It supposedly makes them smarter in what’s called the “Mozart Effect.” That theory in itself has been the center of several scientific studies, although it’s now widely disregarded.
Though are any of these musical styles actually as good – or, indeed, bad – for your health as their reputation suggests? Well, that’s exactly what a 2016 study set out to discover. And its findings were enlightening to say the least!
Music was important to our ancestors because it allowed them to communicate across treetops, according to Healthline. But that doesn’t explain why it’s been part of our society for over 40,000 years. We’ve evolved since then, of course, so why is music still important? Well, many studies have set out to answer that question since.
We’ve already touched on how sea shanties bring people together, but that’s not the only example. Music bonds us on many levels. Couples share favorite songs, parents sing lullabies to their children and sports fans chant to inspire their team. Though it has more than just an effect on us as a community. Individuals benefit from it, too.
Science has disregarded the Mozart Effect, but that doesn’t mean music has no brain benefits. It can still enhance learning, according to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine. In fact, listening to tunes can even help your brain stay younger for longer!
“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” one otolaryngologist explained on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”
Researchers from Johns Hopkins monitored a number of musicians under functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines and observed how their brains responded. The devices actually highlighted parts of the brain that reacted to the sounds. Apparently, it once again comes down to relationships and connections. In this case, it’s how our brains connect with the musical notes to each other.
An unnamed otolaryngologist noted on the organization’s website, “Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.” The end result is that your cranium becomes more active when its engaged by music.
Music also triggers the brain’s reward centers, according to a 2019 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The research team discovered that when volunteers expected to hear music as a reward, they were more eager to learn. And that’s not the only benefit we enjoy from listening to songs.
In 2014 Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience published a study based on how music affects the brains of older volunteers. And the findings indicated that both happy and sad music improves memory, but the former also increases brain processing speed. The theory is that stimulating your mood also enhances your brain to a degree.
If you’re looking for another excuse to listen to your favorite song, consider this: it apparently improves your brain chemistry! A 2013 study featured in ScienceDirect revealed how hearing music releases neurochemicals. Mood-managing hormones like serotonin, dopamine and cortisol are among them, and so is “the love hormone” oxytocin.
The upshot of this influx of chemicals is that they affect our brains for the better. They elevate our mood to make us feel happier and even relieve stress! Music actually holds therapeutic potential for people with mental health conditions, too. In 2017 a paper published on PubMed suggested songs might help those living with schizophrenia and similar conditions.
In 2021 another study delved deeper into how songs can affect us. The research came from the Vera Clinic, which is based in Turkey. First established in 2013, the organization describes itself as “one of the best hair transplant and cosmetic surgery hospitals in Europe…”
Considering the Vera Clinic’s line of work, it probably has a vested interest in stress and anxiety. To that end, it conducted research into how different genres of music impact listeners and how they alter mood. And it all began with a survey seeking out volunteers willing to hear Spotify playlists. What a tough job, right?
The playlists featured various genres – from famous 1960s hits to classic ’70s rock and R&B. The Vera Clinic added some other more niche genres like modern classical music and jazz, too. It wasn’t just listening to music, though. Researchers also simultaneously put volunteers through some psychological stress tests.
The purpose of these trials was to see if music had any impact on the volunteers’ stress levels. Interestingly, the playlists did actually have an effect on several bodily functions. Researchers noted that different genres affected the subjects’ blood pressure and heart rates. Music website Metal Sucks then published the study’s ranked results in full.
Listeners apparently had the worst response to techno. That’s a form of electronic dance music, in case you didn’t know. It originated in Detroit in the 1980s and was heavily influenced by futuristic themes. But 78 percent of volunteers found their blood pressure actually increased a little while listening to it! Meanwhile, the remaining 22 percent experienced the opposite effect.
Let’s take a look at a more mainstream genre and see how that affected the test group. Something like rock should do the trick! The website Adolescent described the ’70s as “a golden era of rock n’ roll.” It certainly produced a lot of iconic stars. So, listeners must have found music from that period beneficial, right?
Interestingly, the effects that ’70s rock anthems had on volunteers were apparently pretty similar to that of the techno genre! The biggest difference was the average percentage change in heart rate, which was a mere 2 percent less. Overall, the difference was negligible, and listeners to dubstep continued that trend.
Dubstep originally developed in England as a branch of electronic dance music known for its bass beats. It’s safe to say that although the genre hasn’t hit mainstream attention for the most part, it still has fans. But the classics used in the study’s Spotify playlist were still among the worst for listeners’ blood pressure and heart rate.
Listeners who heard Dubstep still experienced a faster heart rate. In fact, it was a 13 percent increase, which is the biggest recorded change so far. On the other hand, less people experienced an increase in blood pressure – 74 percent, to be exact. And the other 26 percent of people actually found it relaxing!
Both “golden oldies” from the ’60s along with jazz and blues tunes also caused a heart rate increase of four and two percent respectively. Jazz and blues recorded the largest change so far with 66 percent of people experiencing increased blood pressure. That’s quite a difference from the techno genre, isn’t it?
The study’s findings really started to change with the introduction of a 1990s R&B playlist. Incredibly, the statistics didn’t just change considerably, they completely shifted. They actually proved to be the most relaxing yet! Respondents recorded a massive 13 percent heart rate decrease on average.
Other numbers changed dramatically, too. For example, the amount of volunteers with increased heart rates dropped by nearly half to 36 percent. That left nearly two thirds of people who found R&B to be more calming background music than the previous genres. So, what about something that’s designed to calm us down?
We are, of course, talking about classical chillout music. Apparently, 73 percent of listeners found that classical music made them feel more relaxed and lowered their blood pressure. And these findings coincide with a previous study, too.
Back in 2016 the German Medical Association published a paper in Deutsches Arzteblatt studying the effects of classical music. The research team performed similar experiments to monitor blood pressure and heart rate on listeners. They compared the results with those from volunteers who listened to the Swedish pop sensation ABBA.
The Daily Mail quoted the paper’s authors that same year. They said, “Music by Mozart and Strauss lowered the subjects’ blood pressure and heart rate, while music by Abba did not. Mozart’s music had the strongest effect; the piece used was his ‘Symphony No. 40 in G minor.’”
It shouldn’t be too surprising that the modern classic music from the period drama Bridgerton had similar results to the classical chillout tunes. There’s only a few percentage changes between the genres – a trend that continued with pop hits from the noughties. Respondents saw an average change in their heart rate of 15, 13 and 11 percent respectively.
Now, when you think about heavy metal music, you probably don’t associate it with chilling out. Even big fans of the genre likely relate it more to mosh pits and guitar riffs than calm vibes. Yet the Vera Clinic’s study concluded that the classic heavy metal soundtrack was the most relaxing one so far!
But 1980s pop music – specifically, the soundtrack from the television series It’s a Sin – proved the best background music for listeners. Of course, ’80s nostalgia has been very popular in recent years. You just need to look at movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Ready Player One for proof of that.
According to the study, ’80s pop reduced listeners’ heart rate by a massive 36 percent! It also decreased the blood pressure of almost every volunteer – 96 percent of them to be exact. So, what does it all mean?
In 2021 Metal Sucks quoted the study’s leader Dr. Ömer Avlanmış on how they interpreted the findings. Apparently, it all comes down to what we associate the music with and how our brains link past events to the notes. The study lead said, “The results may seem surprising on first inspection, but medically they make a lot of sense.”
Avlanmış continued, “Eighties pop hits could have positive nostalgia attached to them for many people. And their upbeat, party like sounds can induce the release of endorphins and serotonin in the brain – both increasing feelings of happiness and calm.” The doctor explained that the reason for heavy metal’s effectiveness is probably for a different reason.
“In terms of heavy metal, I’d observe that angry music can help listeners process their feelings and as a result lead to greater well-being,” Avlanmış elaborated. Of course, everyone is different, so there’s no definitive song genre that’s universally relaxing. And the John Hopkins Medicine website explained as much on the topic of keeping your brain healthy.
The feature explained, “Pay attention to how you react to different forms of music, and pick the kind that works for you. What helps one person concentrate might be distracting to someone else. And what helps one person unwind might make another person jumpy.” Yep, that’s a good enough reason as any to get those headphones on!