Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Music as Transformation

One thing I began to notice is that different types of music will resonate with me depending on my mental and emotional state. One of the reasons I love Beethoven's music is that it can go from one extreme of emotion to another without effort. And an interesting effect would happen sometimes; I'd be in a mood where the intense beginning would resonate with me, and I would feel very connected to the music. Then, it would later shift gracefully to a peaceful section... and my own internal state would shift right along with it.

And yet, when I would try listening to a completely "peaceful" piece when I'm in an "intense" mood, it just wouldn't work. It would feel off, empty. I would get irritated, then switch to heavy metal. Just as with teaching and tutoring (see my previous post on the topic) or a well written story, in order for music to transform the listener, it has to first make a connection with their initial state. Then, the more believable or smooth the transition to another state, the more likely a transformation will occur.

It occurred to me that I could use music as a way to intentionally transform pain or a bad mood into a more positive mindset. Unfortunately, the majority of the songs I own tend to stick to just one "mood" throughout, and the ones that did switch between moods might not have the exact effect I was looking for. So I created five different playlists and filled them with my favourite songs, numbered in order of "happiness level". So playlist 1 would have songs that resonated with me when I felt intense pain, anger, and other similar emotions, playlist 2 had sad songs, playlist 3 bitter-sweet songs, playlist 2 was upbeat, and playlist 1 contained the most joyful, celebratory songs I could find.

Once my playlists were created, I began to test them out in practice. Whenever I would find myself in a bad mood and feeling like some music, I would choose the playlist that seemed to resonate most with me at that particular time. After a few songs I'd switch to the next level up, and so on. Finding the right amount of time to spend on each playlist was a little tricky. Too short and the transition would feel far too abrupt. Too long and I'd risk reinforcing a bad mood. In general though between two and four songs from each playlist seemed to work well for me.

My results: A consistent and noticeable improvement. In most cases bringing myself from a 2 to a 4 was pretty easy. On rare occasions I was able to go from a 1 to a 5, but it was time consuming. Occasionally I could identify a good "transition song" that would help me move more smoothly from, say, playlist 2 to playlist 3. When I couldn't manage that, switching playlists would feel a little uncomfortable at first. With a little concentration I could get back in the flow after a few minutes, perhaps because the gap between the song and my mental state were minimal enough.

Side note: I can always tell whether a song is resonating with me or not based on my reaction to it and how closely I'm paying attention. For example, if I'm in a pretty good mood, Metallica's Unforgiven will either seem too intense and I'll switch to a different piece, or I'll think it's nice to hear, pay half attention, or analyse and admire it from a distance. If I happen to be feeling down about life, however, I'm guaranteed to have tears streaming down my face the instant it gets to the chorus.

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