Soundtrack of life: physical and emotional stability


Music plays an important role in the lives of most of us. The musical soundtrack is often also our emotional soundtrack. It is also an indicator of physical and emotional stability. We kind of know that our musical preferences are influenced by the weather.  It is well-known that the musical rhythm should be fit for the activities we perform and that musical preferences are formed when we are teenagers. What else? I welcome you to read this article. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Musical security

Strangely, our musical preference is influenced by our sense of security. The winter months in the US and Europe tend to be harsher and more depressing. Thus the musical cycles follow economic cycles, weather cycles, and cycles of catastrophes (natural and man-made).

I quote the Environmental Security Hypothesis:

The thinking goes that these unhurried, pensive, and more soothing songs were favored during difficult times because they resonated with listeners’ inner experience and ultimately helped them cope better with their challenges. The converse also holds true. People preferred fast, less comforting, and less serious music during periods in which economic and social conditions were generally stable and free of threats, reflecting the upbeat spirit of the times.

College students favored blues, jazz, classical, and folk music (i.e., reflexive and complex) during the fall and winter months, and rap/hip-hop, soul/funk, and electronica/dance music (i.e., energetic and rhythmic) during the summer months. More specifically, ballads may do well in the fall and winter, and dance music may enjoy greater success in the spring and summer. 

I guess our other activities sync with the rhythms of our favorite music: slow and pensive during the dark and cold times, energetic and fast during the lighter times, rebellious during the times of oppression…

Rebellious music

Why do some teenagers and adults love rebellious music? Heavy rock concerts have a paramilitary atmosphere. Surely it is not for everybody.  Taking key sentences from multiple paragraphs I quote:

“No matter how much music people listen to they are still equally affected and distracted by music with lyrics. hose scoring high in agreeableness tends to have more intense emotional reactions to all types of music. Conscientiousness is negatively correlated with intense and rebellious music, such as rock and heavy metal music.[ The less neurotic a person is, the less likely they are to listen to intense and rebellious music (such as alternative, rock, and heavy metal); they will likely prefer upbeat and conventional music. Those who scored high in neuroticism were more likely to report the use of music for emotional regulation and experience higher intensity of emotional affect, especially negative emotion.”

Basically, musical stability on average reflects personal stability. People can be neurotic and conscientious at any age. Hormonal changes and huge life choices certainly do not help.

I love progressive rock and complex jazz, what does it tell about me? Possibly I simply need to be constantly motivated and get some of this motivation in music.

Binding lyrics and music

What lyrics and rhetorical devices are common in rebellious vocabulary? I quote:

  1. Parallelism: Use structural similarity as a tool to make your message more memorable, like “My Body / My Choice.”
  2. Rhyming: Rhyming makes any protest slogan a little more catchy, like “No oil in our soil,” or “Don’t hate, Educate.”
  3. Personal attributes: If you’re protesting someone in particular, as many did recently against President Donald Trump, you could say something like “We Shall Overcomb.”
  4. Incredulity: A humorous, conversational tone can bring both levity and attention to a situation, like “I’m With Them” and arrows pointing to people around you, or “[Citation Needed].” Just keep the humor pointed to something. A sign that says “My Arms Are Tired” is funny, but not exactly supportive.
  5. Mirroring: Take a slogan or words someone has said and bend it to your will, like “America Runs on Science” instead of Dunkin’ Donuts original tag line.
  6. Positivity: Keep things upbeat and straightforward, like “We Support the Sciences!” or “Science Saves Lives.”
  7. Repetition: There’s nothing wrong with making a sign that says something you’ve already heard or seen, like “Science Has No Agenda.” Protests aren’t creativity contests.

The brain binds music and lyrics into something that it cannot ignore. Think about the big war drums and hymns of the marching armies. How likely were the soldiers to run away from the enemy without them? How many soiled pants were avoided due to powerful music?

Certain soundtracks defined entire generations… These particular songs resonate with people who grew up in their sounds. When they hear the songs, they automatically start to daydream and raise their autobiographical memories. For me, the relevant soundtracks would probably be Pink Floyd or Red Hot Chilly Peppers…

Dance and balance

Dance boosts the motoric regions of our brain. Professional dancers never get dizzy or off-balance. If you are often sea-sick or have vertigo, dancing can be used as a therapy that helps the brain suppress these signals.

Visualizing muscle movement can create a certain state of flow and improve muscle memory. There is a very cool “superpower” called  Mimetic Muscle Memory. Professional dancers and athletes can learn new moves simply from watching others perform them. This is a sort of eidetic memory combined with high body awareness that looks absolutely magical for someone like me. Reportedly it can be trained. If I succeed in this, even partially, I will let you know.

Dancers have their own version of marking. I quote: “When marking, the dancer often does not leave the floor, and may even substitute hand gestures for movements. One common example is using a finger rotation to represent a turn while not actually turning the whole body.”

Visualization guided by musical rhythm creates some rhythms within the dancer’s brain, in a dream-like state “Synchronizing the Cerebrum and Cerebellum”.

The body of the orchestra

In electronic music percussions and keyboards usually seat at the back, leaving the front to more mobile singers and guitarists. What happens when we remove amplification? In most orchestras, the location of trebles is on the left and basses on the right.  There is a cross between the sensors like ears and the brain hemispheres…

I quote: “Higher pitches tend to be better processed by the left hemisphere of the brain, while lower pitches tend to be better processed by a similar region in the right hemisphere. This organization is thought to have repercussions far beyond music, perhaps even helping to explain why language is mostly processed in the left hemisphere. “

This specialization is a bit strange but not unique in the mammal biology. If you know horses, the left part of their brain is more open for learning, while the right is better at noticing dangers. So riders mount from the left side and each riding trick needs to be taught separately for each direction.

There are claims that contra point and certain harmonic relations that span an octave or above improve connectivity between the brain hemispheres. This may result in an immediate feeling of creative flow… I wonder if this is true.

Do not overthink

Thinking about things other than the action we perform can off-balance the state of flow. It has been reported by dancers and athletes. We see it every day in speedreading students. The main idea is to give-in to the rhythm and to focus on here and now.

I quote: “In normal life, we keep interrupting what we do with doubts and questions. ‘Why am I doing this? Should I perhaps be doing something else?’ Repeatedly we question the necessity of our actions and evaluate critically the reasons for carrying them out. But in flow, there is no need to reflect, because the action carries us forward as if by magic.”

There is a lot of pre-processing and post-processing for the activity. We constantly visualize it and are somewhat obsessed about it. However, it is crucial not to multitask the performance itself with preparation or reflection for the performance.

Slipping totally into the flow we can lose control of the situation completely, so we execute something else. There are small pauses in every performance, like when musicians turn pages. These micropauses can be used by trained performance to refocus the performance itself and provide small corrections. Since the window of time is small, the information that passes it is very economic, and the training required to master this trick is intense.

This economic effortlessness is very hard to train, and it is a sign of mastery.

Overcoming unnecessary difficulties

In certain arts and sports, like mountain climbing, there is an element of overcoming unnecessary difficulties. This is a gamification approach. The basic performance idea is simple. We add difficulties during the training and remove them during the performance. When we remove these limitations we will perform much better than in training. Russian general Alexander Suvorov used to say “hard in training easy in battle”.

If we listen to music with lyrics while reading, or write down while listening, we add unnecessary difficulties. Our brain needs to build new neural paths to overcome this difficulty. Once we remove the limitations, we have extra brainpower at our disposal.

Musicians often add difficulties when playing instruments. For example, they sing or dance on the stage. Often they produce musical effects via their technique, while it would be easier to introduce similar effects electronically or by an extra player, or an extra string on the guitar.  Achieving something hard is satisfying, both for the performer and the audience.

Pushing the difficulty level to the limit is marginally unstable behavior shared by all virtuoso. It is not required to convey the emotional effect or flow, but it is the way the performer continues to push himself.

Lyrics and subvocalization

Some people really need lyrics, others enjoy the human voice like a musical instrument and prefer instrumental music. Strange… What does your conversation with yourself sound like? I quote:

“While thinking, some people hear their own voice expressing thoughts as words, exactly as if hearing a live recording of themselves. Other individuals hear distinct words as they think but skip over some words, while at the same time, somehow, understanding what those words are.  Still, other individuals experience “un-worded speech,” in which the beat and rhythm of a sentence play out in their head. Yet another group of people hears no words at all when they think or read, not even rhythmic placeholders for words.  Visual people mostly see images when they think. A number of people combine a couple of these modes, with some able to simultaneously hear words of inner thoughts while seeing inner images. Some don’t report the awareness of any inner thoughts, images, or words.”

By now I do not really remember what my original modality was. When I write articles I hear the entire text in my mind and occasionally get glimpses of images. When I speedread I do not get either. I need to slow down my speed significantly  (x5) to start seeing my visualizations, and then much more (x5) to here the text. During planning and analysis, I usually hear partial vocalization and see full flows…

In music, the fastest musical piece I know have no words. Think of Flight Of The Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov or Eruption by Van Halen. The most complex music like black midi (experimental electronic music) has only partial visualization for less complex parts. Some more complex modern Jazz sequences literally made me intellectually overwhelmed to the point where all representations disappeared.

I guess the stability of representation is something worth further research…

music stability

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