Mood Music

How to use music to cheer you up, calm you down, and inspire you

Posted Jun 17, 2014

We tend to undervalue what's inexpensive and easily accessible, whether it be aspirin, the Internet, or the topic of this article: music.

For the moment, forget the miracle of being able to listen to and watch on YouTube—with a click of your mouse for free—the world's greatest performances, from Glenn Gould's Bach Goldberg Variations to Susan Boyle’s so-touching performance in her audition for Britain's Got Talent, to the shopping mall flash mob of the Hallelujah Chorus.

I'm talking for starters just about the benefits of listening. And I'm not claiming that listening to classical music increases cognitive ability. That’s long been debunked. Here are ways I benefit from music. Perhaps you might too:

When I'm feeling blue, pump-it-up music is my antidepressant—and it has no side effects. Of course, you'll want to identify your own musical pepper-uppers but my sure-fire ones include: Big Phat Band's "A Few Good Men" (The guitar solo at 1:46 is amazing), New Life Choir's "He's the Greatest," and the theme song from Little Shop of Horrors. You can watch or listen to them for free on YouTube or download them for 99 cents, the cost of one Prozac. 

I listen to such a song just a couple of times and not only do I feel better while listening, afterwards the melody often keeps rolling around in my head—it's a long-acting anti-depressant.

When I'm anxious, music is as calming to me as meditation without having to spend the time. Examples of music that reliably soothe me: Bach's "Air on a G String," Beegie Adair’s "The Way You Look Tonight," and Doc Severinsen's "Siciliano."

Music also can be a motivator. My main exercise is a hike every day with my beloved doggie Einstein. Taking my mp3 player, loaded mainly with pump-it-up music on my hike motivates me to resist the temptation to skip the hike and makes it more pleasurable.

Lyrics can make you laugh, cry, or think. For example, despite having heard and sung it a zillion times, Tom Lehrer’s "Vatican Rag" still gives me a chuckle. My vote for the saddest (and most honest) lyrics: Neil Sedaka’s "Going Nowhere." The lyrics that most gave me a wake-up call: Janis Ian’s "At Seventeen."

Beyond listening, performing music, even if you're a beginner, can be life-enhancing. Whether by ear or with sheet music, trying to recreate great music or create your own is, for many of us, a welcome antidote to our heavily cognitive lives. Even though a hand condition has recently reduced me to being a seven-fingered pianist, as you can see on this video, I still derive much pleasure from playing.

Might you want to try a low-risk experiment? Create a musical tool kit: Whether on mp3, CD, whatever, pick one song you know will pump you up, one that will calm you down, and a third you'll enjoy whatever your mood. And maybe play around with a musical instrument, even a drum. Or sing, perhaps in a choir. Or if you played an instrument eons ago, you might want to pull it out and see if you can still play the old stuff or, with fresh ears, try new things. HERE, I offer a six-minute course on how to learn to play by ear. Whatever combination of tools, consider trying out your musical toolkit to see if you benefit.

Feel free to report the results of your experiment as a comment on this blog post.

With a melody rolling around his head most of the time, you can learn about Marty Nemko in the entry on him in Wikipedia.