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How does music affect mood?

Have you ever felt down, listened to some music and then become more energetic after hearing an upbeat tune? Have you ever thought of your favorite music artist as your therapist?

Studies facilitated by a number of research organizations show that music can drastically improve — or worsen — your mood, depending on the genre and the tempo of a song. That’s because music reaches the ventral striatum, a part of the brain that releases dopamine, a “happy chemical” that allows humans to experience moments of pleasure.

A study reported this year in the science journal PLOS One assessed how music affected survey participants. The survey indicated that many listeners to a variety of genres associate music with relaxation and calmness. Other people make connections between music and memories, claiming that a certain song is tied to a specific recollection.

Music has changed our lives since it first echoed in the air millennia ago — from ancient groups that gathered to recite chants to today’s pop disc jockeys and indie musicians, who captivate fans with fast lyrics and heavy drum beats. There is no doubt that music has a strong effect on our brain and feelings, but exactly how powerful is the impact?

For a majority of people, music helps keep life positive, fun and happy. According to, certain tunes can actually alter brainwave patterns, enabling listeners to be better focused or simply in a better mood. As the music reaches the ventral striatum, a small area located at the center of the brain, dopamine is released, allowing those listeners to feel the pleasure that comes with music. Several seconds before that, as the sound passes through the brain before reaching the ventral striatum, the dorsal striatum releases dopamine as well, causing listeners to feel a rush of happy chemicals before the peak pleasure.

As the music flows through the brain, humans subconsciously feel dopamine flowing through their body, enabling them to feel happiness through music. Sara Jackson-Holman, an experienced musician whose music has been featured in both ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Switched at Birth,” puts it another way.

“(Music) is such a reminder of the beauty of life,” Jackson-Holman says.

Music’s mood-altering effects can vary, depending mainly on the genre of the song but also on the beat, chords, key and lyrics. For example, blues has been known to be calming and slow a heartbeat, while pop and EDM (Electronic Dance Music) build energy and excitement. Pop music is closely linked to energy, happiness and motivation, which is why many runners and athletes prefer listening to the genre while working out.

Brud Giles, a musician and studio recorder at Fremont Recording Studios in downtown Portland, says different genres lead him to feel different ways.

“Rock gets me all charged up, and jazz makes me think,” Giles explains.

Music genres can impact one’s ability to focus and maintain energy, and can even improve sleep quality for some people suffering from insomnia, according to

Although music has its benefits, certain genres are sometimes linked to sadness and rage.

As reported by, heavy metal has been associated with anger and aggressive behavior, mainly because of the lyrics and tone of artists and bands such as Ozzy Osbourne’s Black Sabbath. An example of a dark song in this genre is Metallica’s “Jump in the Fire,” which includes the lines, “With hell in my eyes and with death in my veins / The end is closing in.” These lyrics have meaning that can resonate with listeners, although the effects are not always positive.

Country music can often lift spirits, but not always. It’s hard to smile after listening to songs like Rascal Flatt’s “Backwards,” which contains the lyrics, “You get your house back / You get your dog back / You get your best friend Jack back / You get your truck back / You get your hair back / You get your first and second wives back.”

Messages about losing friends, homes and relationships can produce a negative effect on listeners, and, some say, even play a role in suicide. Social psychologists Steven Stack and Jim Grundlach studied 49 metropolitan areas across the U.S. and found that places where more country music than average was played had higher suicide rates.

Still, many country, rock and rap listeners say their favorite genres actually help them maintain a lighthearted, happy mood.

Medical researches say music can also improve the lives of people living with certain diseases and disorders. For example, The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) uses music to aid patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

With the help of health care professionals, these patients often experience the ability to walk more easily as they follow the beat of a song, as well as a reduction of shaking or uncontrollable movements because of the calming benefits of music.

Music is also used as therapy for patients with dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s, because of the memories associated with songs. Many people find that some songs are connected to different experiences or emotions, thus enabling Alzheimer’s patients to better recall memories, facts and feelings experienced after listening to certain music.

Of course, it doesn’t take a scientist or a health care professional to know that music plays a key role in human interaction. As someone living a life constantly full of music (listening to iTunes, playing guitar, turning up the radio in the car, etc.), I know that music has a huge effect not only on my happiness, but also on the happiness of those around me. It affects our ability to express ourselves and our overall mood as we go through our daily lives.

So if you’re ever feeling tired, listen to some electro-pop to get motivated. Or if you’re stressed, listen to some blues or meditation music to help calm your nerves. And if you’re simply having a bad day, know that with the click of a radio switch, a little jazz or some disco will lift your mood in no time.

Tess Creasy,,