As a singer songwriter I understand the connection between emotion and art. There’s no doubt that the best performers and artists draw from a source of personal experience. The saddest love songs come from people who have experienced heartache, and happier music flows from beloved memories. When I perform it’s a given that I have to tap into my memories and experiences to truly make the music rise.
But what makes music so emotional?
From a medical standpoint, musical enjoyment comes from the pleasure center of the brain. Music can act as a stimulus resulting in dopamine production. Playing a large role in how we perceive pleasure, dopamine is a chemical messenger. Often called the “feel good’ neurotransmitter, dopamine tells us when to focus or feel something good. Fun fact: “Roughly 5% of the populations do not experience chills. This incapacity to derive pleasure specifically from music has been called musical anhedonia.” (Pyschology Today)
All science jargon aside, the emotions we feel when we listen to music are a very personal thing. Beyond neurons and the constant ebb and flow of chemicals throughout our bodies, our memories and experiences make up who we are and affect the outcomes of our future selves. So when the music hits, it reaches a place deep within our psyche. It makes us think. It makes us remember all the events that made us who we are. That love song? It makes us think about our own heartaches and we grieve with the music. That obnoxious pop song that you keep bopping your head to? You dance with it because it triggers memories and feelings of happier times. It’s all relative, but still has a way of relating directly to you.
Sure there is more science behind how those memories are stored, but when I pick up an instrument, or when I open my mouth to sing, science is not what comes out. My past, my memories, my emotions, they're all that comes out when I perform. That’s what makes music really great I think.
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