Anyone who has had the opportunity to take singing lessons, or who just likes belting out pop tunes in the shower, knows that singing feels so good. I think we can all agree that after a hard day nothing feels better than putting in earbuds and listening to some of our favorite songs as we head home. Maybe we even hum along. (I know I do). That is because music has the rare power of simultaneously giving us energy and making us feel soothed. Basically, no matter how we’re feeling, music makes us feel better.
With that in mind, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that scientists are finally trying to figure out once and for all why music, particularly singing, is so powerful.
Stacy Horn aptly states in her Time blog post, “Singing Changes your Brain,” that “when you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape.” I’m sure we can all attest to feeling this. Singing is an emotional and spiritual experience, one that connects us to something beyond ourselves. But what does this feeling mean scientifically?
Most scientists believe that our obsession with music stems from the way it makes us feel. In fact, “researchers showed that 15 minutes after participants listened to their favorite songs, their brains flooded with dopamine,” as Virginia Hughes cites in her post “Why Does Music Feel So Good?” Dopamine is “a chemical that’s involved in motivation and reward,” meaning that when dopamine is released, we get that crazy rush of happiness, the same rush of happiness we can get from exercise, sex, or a good meal. That is in part why singing feels so good. Listening to music or singing, especially singing in groups where the music can be shared, can alleviate depression and loneliness, and lead to an overall happier life.
Wow. No wonder listening to a few songs on my way home makes me feel so good.
The benefits we get from music might stem from the way that music links different parts of our brains. In “Why Your Brain Craves Music,” Michael Lemonick reminds us that “when we’re listening to music, the most advanced areas of the brain tie into the most ancient,” or in more specific terms, the part of our brains that processes emotions works alongside the part that manages our complex reasoning skills.
But there are still unanswered questions. Does our love of music have evolutionary advantages? It certainly has the power to bring us together and unite us, and some scientists even think singing was integral to the development of language and our ability to imagine. However, as Hughes remarks, “nobody really understands why listening to music—which, unlike sex or food, has no intrinsic value—can trigger such profoundly rewarding experiences,” not even researchers.
Regardless of whether these theories are correct, ultimately, science has come to the same conclusions as our hearts have. Singing feels so good, and music is profoundly satisfying and fulfilling, uniquely special and incredibly important, and I, for one, cannot imagine life without it.
Music has the rare ability to entertain us, to excite us, to make us hurt, to make us cry. Music brings out the best in us and airs our demons. Music is what makes us complicated and compassionate. Music is what makes us human.
And that is more than enough for me.