Friday, June 14, 2024

FYI : Can doleful music bring relief to your sadness?

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When we say that music can make you feel better, many would agree. But does listening to sad music really help you out when you’re in a low mood? In our weekly FYI segment, The Pioneer’s Tejal Sinha talks to a musician and a psychologist about their perspectives on the subject.

Sadness is an emotion that is typically accompanied by a plethora of other feelings, like the loss of someone, disappointment, disinterest, low mood, hopelessness, and helplessness, to name a few.

Though the reason for the sadness could vary from person to person, the symptoms of sadness are generally the same. We generally tend to easily label an emotion as positive or negative. Happiness, for instance, is considered to be a positive emotion, while sadness is perceived to be a negative one. Because all emotions play an important role in our personal and social functioning and are valid at the same time, they do not need to be judged.

On the other hand, music is an escape for many. In fact, many say that the music that they listen to can tell you more about them than they themselves could. No surprise, the majority of us not only groove to music but also use music as a shoulder to lean on when we are upset.

Now, you might wonder, why are we talking about sadness, emotions, and music.

According to recent research led by Prof. Laxmidhar Behera, now Director of IIT Mandi, despite our natural inclination to avoid sadness, this particular emotion has a strange and enduring appeal when expressed through art. This so-called “tragic paradox” has puzzled philosophers for centuries. It has been postulated that the tragedy paradox arises simply because of the aesthetic appeal of gloomy tunes.

“We wanted to find out how the brain reacts when listening to sad music after having an adverse experience or memory,” said Prof. Laxmidhar Behera.

To learn more about the subject, we spoke with a psychologist and musician, both of whom shared their perspectives.

Sree Ganapathi, aka Gannu, is an independent artist who comes from a musical family and for whom music has always been a part of life. While his dad writes and creates music, his extended family understands how to play various musical instruments. Not only this, but while staying with his uncle for a while, he learned that his uncle was not only a piano tutor; he had also worked with legendary music composer AR Rahman and worked on various background tracks. This inspired him to pick up musical instruments and find satisfaction.

In terms of personal composition, he says, “Music for me is a means of personal expression. It’s a way that I translate my experiences so that the listener can understand. Not only can the lyrics have multiple meanings, but the melodies behind them could represent the other side of the story. Since I have been writing and composing for a while now, music is also a compilation of life experiences for me.”

Talking about his personal experience with music and emotion, he says, “In music, every emotion that we have is associated with a certain raga or tune. Studying a little about those tunes helped me personally formulate music in authentic and organic ways. Typically, we as humans associate songs set on a minor scale, as Darcor said. This is because we are conditioned to this way of thinking. Moreover, songwriters use these tunes to dictate what words will be used as lyrics in the songs. The tune and the lyrics establish the mood for the song.”

When we spoke with Dr. Srikar Krishna, a clinical psychologist, he stated, “I have many people coming up to me and saying that when they are upset, sad, or even depressed, they love listening to sad songs. Sadness tends to last longer than pleasure, so sadness is what remains at the end of the music, and that is what is reported. Listening to sad music when we are already hurting triggers psychological processes that are so rewarding and pleasurable that they are almost cathartic. However, looking at it from the other side, it also depends on the individual. There have not only been studies but also cases where this link between music and the emotions of sadness or even depression in young people has led to music being blamed for the suicide of several youths.”

In the conversation that we had with Gannu, who is a musician, he believes that music has a part to play in bringing down mountains when given a chance. He shared, “Healing a person’s internal wounds is definitely an easier job. I personally believe that listening to sad music can uplift one’s state of mind, but I also believe that, on the contrary, it can make the person more miserable. This also simply depends on the individual and what they want when they listen to music. I use music as a personal form of therapy. I use it to work on myself. It is my personal way of meditating and finding comfort. Music is my consistency in life when nothing is constant.”

“Music can make you feel better for a while, but if one isn’t able to cope with their sadness for a long time, it is advised that they consult a professional,” said Dr. Srikar.

While many say music has been an escape for them, for Gannu it is more of a reality than an escape because “I choose to see it like that. I use my experiences to write songs that I hope everyone will enjoy, which comes from the fact that I have to face my reality every time I write. Music helps me face it head-on and gives me a clear picture of who I want to be, what I want to write, or how I should change for the better after the situation because my music is my own reflection.”

When asked by Dr. Srikar about why the current generation enjoys sad songs more than other genres, he says, “It’s simple! They’re filled with numerical thoughts. They feel their situations are much more relatable to these sad songs. Many feel it’s an escape; that’s what we hear from many of them. However, it may only provide temporary relief, making you feel better for a short time before returning to the same feelings and thoughts.”

“Feelings are inconsistent, but with the new generation, it seems that feelings of slow sadness are what the majority of people feel and can sympathise with. They would want to listen to sad music and ignore the reality of their feelings. They are swimming in a pool of fantasy where their preferences won’t impact them, where they can be seen or heard without judgement from the artist of the song,” concluded Gannu.

While it is clear that music can affect our emotions and cognitive abilities, scientists and psychologists believe that more research is needed to understand the relationship between sad music and the brain entirely.

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