Can Downcast Music Cure a Case of the Blues?

Art and Music are highly valued and ubiquitous at Adams, and as such they have a noticeable effect on daily life.

Photo by: Colin Gill

Art and Music are highly valued and ubiquitous at Adams, and as such they have a noticeable effect on daily life.

Colin Gill, Staff Writer

Music has a special power over humans. It can energize, motivate, and affect people-all through raw expression. While emotional music can make listeners feel a given emotion, does that mean sad music can also cause people to feel sad? Some say that listening to the Blues can cure a case of the blues, and science may be on their side. Researchers studying the effects of music on the brain may have found some answers.

The purpose of music, like all forms of art, is to give its audience some experience of the human condition vicariously, through expressive symbols or a faithful depiction of reality. That begs the question- why do sad songs exist? If happy songs are supposed to breed happiness, what are sad songs for? The question of the purpose of tragedy in exploring human experience has been discussed as far back as Ancient Greece.

There is no doubt that sad, painful, and tragic events mark any human’s life, but it seems counter intuitive that someone would go out of their way to experience sad art. Philosophers from Aristotle to Schopenhauer speculated about this, but modern psychiatrists now look for concrete answers. Beyond the realm of philosophical introspection, scientific research could end the debate once and for all.

Child psychologists continue to find musical applications for treating mental maladies like depression. The effects of moody music may not be invigorating, but melancholy melodies do improve focus and emotional stability. The exact cause of this phenomenon was not investigated in this particular study, but other scientific inquiries have dug deeper into the effects of music on the cognitive process.

A Japanese study reported by Popular Science Magazine studied the feelings of the participants. According to the abstract of another study, while the listeners perceive music written in minor keys to be more sad than songs in major keys. Researchers collected the cognitive data via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and they found that “minor mode” melodies stimulated different parts of the brain than music in the “major mode.”

Later, the Japanese study interviewed volunteers before and after listening to music of different emotional tones. They found the listeners preferred the sad, melancholic, and depressive minor keys to the uplifting major keys. Researchers concluded that since the negative emotions were expected by the listeners and not related to personal trauma, they enhanced their listening experience. The vicarious sensation of the artist’s’ despair, curiously, made the listeners feel happy instead of sad after listening.

Sadness is an integral part of human life. Without tragedy, triumph would have no value. So, it is just as important for an artist to portray tragedy as it is for comedy, romance, or drama. A well balanced person uses art to live a full life. This fact is not only philosophy- it is science. So, when life reaches a low point, perhaps the best thing to do is to face the grief with a playlist full of sad songs.