Whatever the genre, mood, artist or lyric, having music as part of one’s day can produce a whole symphony of health and wellbeing benefits.
Music can significantly improve and support the mood, alertness and engagement of people with dementia, can reduce the use of medication, as well as helping to manage and reduce agitation, isolation, depression and anxiety, overall supporting a better quality of life.
All by Myself" is an anthem to loneliness. Originally released by Eric Carmen in the 1970s, the song was covered by Céline Dion and became an instant hit. Everyone who has been feeling alone at some point in their life can relate to the sorrow and passion.
Sadness is a primary emotion that is expressed and perceived equally across cultures. Basic emotions such as anger, happiness, and sadness are innate and universal.
Understanding basic emotions in music is very quick and does not require musical training. For instance, hearing a sad cello performance may induce a genuine state of sadness in a listener.
The most important musical cues for the expression of sadness in Western music include lower overall pitch, slower tempo, use of the minor mode, dull and dark timbres, and less energetic execution.
Sadness is generally seen as a negative emotion. But we tend to find it pleasurable in an aesthetic context, which is known as the paradox of enjoying sad music. What is the nature of the pleasure that people experience from listening to sad music?
Accumulated evidence suggests that pleasure in response to sad music is related to a combination of the following factors.
- Nostalgia. Sad music is a powerful trigger for nostalgic memories of foregone times. Such reflective revisiting of nostalgic memories may enhance mood, especially if the memories are related to pivotal and meaningful moments in life (i.e., high school, college). We enjoy the sweetness of these memories through vivid imaginations. There is some felt in recollecting the good times, as well as sadness from missing them.
- Vicarious emotion. Music generates vicarious emotions in listeners without real-life implications. Music helps to channel one’s frustration or purge negative emotions like anger and sadness. It's cathartic. When we listen to sad music (or watch a sad film), we are disconnected from any real threat or danger that the music (or movie) represents. When we cry at the beauty of sad music, we experience a profound aspect of our emotional selves.
- Prolactin. At the biological level, sad music is linked to the hormone prolactin. Which is associated with crying and helps to curb grief. Sad music tricks the brain into engaging a normal, compensatory response by releasing prolactin. In the absence of a traumatic event, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go. Prolactin produces feelings of calmness to counteract mental pain.
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Date Published: August 2023
To be reviewed: October 2026