The Power of Music
Music is a powerful and truly universal phenomenon. Every culture past and present has created music. Some of it stays relevant for decades or even centuries. One such timeless song is Don McLean’s “American Pie” which ranks number 5 on the National Endowment for the Arts' Songs of the Century list. In that song McLean asks, “Can music save your mortal soul?” His question was rhetorical and just part of a rant about the decline of values and morals in America. Music cannot save your soul, but it can be a tremendous resource for adjusting your attitude and even improving your health.
If you’ve never tried using music to get your mind right, I hope this article will convince you to give it a try. The first thing I do every morning without exception is start the “Get My Mind Right” playlist on my phone. If my mind starts to drift toward negativity during the day, I’ll put the headphones on and do it again. I have tried but never found anything that can redirect my mind the way music does.
I first began to realize music’s power as an undergraduate student at Kennesaw State University in 1995. I enrolled in a Music Appreciation course because it was a requirement not because I had any interest in appreciating music. At that time, I had my Metallica, Bon Jovi, and Guns N Roses cassettes and that was the extent of my music repertoire! I never went to the music class until I realized my professor had a strict attendance policy that meant I was going to get an F. When I went to his office to beg for a chance to dig myself out of the hole I was in the professor cut a deal with me.
Our deal was that he would overlook all the absences if I would go to a series of classical music performances selected for me by him and submit a summary of the experience by the end of the term. This guy was passionate about music and its power and he genuinely wanted me to get a taste of it. I went to the performances, wrote the summary and got a B in the class. Ultimately, I got much more than a passing grade from that professor. I gained an appreciation for some timeless music. He taught me to open my mind and it has truly been a blessing. Had it not been for that professor and our deal I most likely never would have discovered Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. Those two are among my favorite classical pieces that I’ve enjoyed all these years since that experience.
The power of music is not limited to resetting your thoughts when your attitude goes south or relaxing you when you’re tense. Scientific evidence of the healing power of music is growing all the time. Recent studies prove that music can lower blood pressure and even reduce pain! In 2016 The Harvard Medical School published an article on their use of music to improve medical outcomes including reduced anxiety, nausea, and other side effects for chemotherapy patients and restoring lost speech in patients with brain injuries.
In 2012 Dr. John Hafner, the Director of Research for the Emergency Medicine Residency Program for the University of Illinois College of Medicine came up with a unique way to use music in medicine…The American Heart Association’s guidelines for administering CPR to a person in cardiac arrest calls for between 100 and 120 compressions per minute. The rhythm required to maintain that rate of compressions can be tricky so Dr. Hafner came up with the idea to have his students work on their compressions while keeping rhythm with a song that had just the right beat and pace to achieve the AHA rate. Ironically that perfect song was Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees! Dr. Hafner recorded the compressions per minute for medical students and physicians on his staff at the beginning of the experiment and again after 5 weeks of repetitions practicing while listening to and/or singing Stayin Alive and the result was a nearly perfect average compression rate of 113 compressions per minute.
I could go on, but you get the idea. To say that music is powerful is an understatement. It can help reset your mindset when negativity tries to set in or lower your blood pressure and it transcends time and cultural boundaries. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata has been calming nerves since 1801! In fact, you can find evidence of music therapy all the way back in the Old Testament of the bible. In 1 Samuel 16 verses 15-23 you’ll see that before David killed Goliath, he was a musician whose job was to play music that soothed King Saul. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul instructed Christians to encourage one another with music by “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs…” (Ephesians 5:19)
You’ll find those references to the power of music in the bible as well as in the words of many others from all walks of life through history…
Martin Luther (the person who started the Protestant Reformation) referred to music as the “art of the prophets and the gift of God”
Johann Sebastian Bach said music is “an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul”
Tolstoy called music the “shorthand of emotion”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the anti-Nazi German theologian who wrote The Cost of Discipleship) said music will “help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you”
Gottfried Liebniz (the German mathematician who essentially invented the concept of calculus) said “music is an arithmetic exercise for the soul”
Maya Angelou said “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” when she explained surviving some of the horrors of her childhood.
Billy Joel said “music in itself is healing. Its an explosive expression of humanity. Its something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everybody loves music.”
Once again, I could go on, but you get the idea. Music is a powerful art. We are still learning the extent to which it can be used in medicine but there is no doubt about its ability to connect people from different eras and cultures, and influence our thoughts.
Lastly, if you’re a Christian please do not get hung up on the whole “secular” vs. “Christian” debate when it comes to music. Music is music.
If a song brightens your day or calms your nerves or resonates with you in some other way, then you don’t have to spend a bunch of energy worrying about if it is an “appropriate” source or not. I watched a video of a panel of pastors discussing Christians listening to “secular music” and when Dr. Derek Thomas, the Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary addressed this question I was a little nervous at first but he gave a great response. He said, “What is secular? Music is music. If there is ‘secular music’, is there something called ‘Christian music’?”
Obviously, some discretion and common sense needs to be used here. I’m not saying you can take some crazy blatantly anti-Christian music and try to turn it into something it isn’t. I’m just saying that if a song speaks to you and helps you get your mind right, you’re not required to do a full background check on the artist and confirm that they’re a saint!
Don’t be that person that would be encouraged and inspired by Katy Perry’s Firework song, but since you don’t agree with everything Katy does or says you won't listen to her song. I don't see eye to eye with Katy on everything, but I do love that song! The message resonates with me and I love her voice. In fact, it is the first song on that Get My Mind Right playlist every morning. If you’ve never really listened to the lyrics, I would highly recommend it. You can look at those lyrics and others from a variety of musicians from different genres in our Music page at www.findinglife.online and If you don’t have one already, I hope you’ll make your own Get My Mind Right playlist and start tapping into the amazing power of music!