Music and Song

Start Free Trial

I am writing a senior thesis paper on music and how it can and does affect people's mood. What could be a good topic or idea, and what could be some good sources of information? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Music has long had a known association with individual people’s mental state.  The English playwright William Congreve famously wrote in 1697 that “Music has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”  Congreve’s point, of course, is that music can and does have an effect on peoples’ mood, and that music categorized as “classical” in particular can have a relaxing effect on those listening, whether consciously or subconsciously.  Many new parents use classical tunes or softly-recorded children’s songs to help ease babies to sleep.  Similarly, a Mozart serenade, for example, “Eine Dleine Nachtmusik” K. 525, and concertos from other composers like Rachmaninoff, Bach and many others are often used for the purpose of sedating or easing the mental state of audiences or individual listeners.  A theme for a thesis, therefore, could involve the use of music for this purpose.

Another possible theme could involve music designed to politically motivate listeners in line with the composer’s intent.  Such songs as Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” (written by P.F. Sloan), Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Chicago,” and Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” were all inspired by and in turn further inspired the anti-war and pro-civil rights protest movements of the 1960s and early 1970s.  These songs, reflections of their time, have a visceral effect on listeners that helped motivate them to take action in a socially progressive way.

On a more academic level, there have been many scientific studies regarding the effects of music on human emotions.  Researchers from Stanford University’s School of Medicine conducted such a study, measuring brain activity when exposed to various musical compositions.  As the August 2007 announcement of the research team’s findings, which included the monitoring of the brains of patients listening to a particular recording of classical music, stated:

“The research team showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory.  Peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements – when seemingly nothing was happening.” [“Music Moves Brain to Pay Attention, Stanford Study Finds,”]

Another academic source on the effects of music on the human brain can be found in Brain: A Journal of Neurology (Volume 129, Issue 10,  In an article titled “The Power of Music” Oliver Sachs wrote the following:

“We see the coercive power of music if it is of excessive volume, or has an overwhelming beat, at rock concerts where thousands of people, as one, may be taken over, engulfed or entrained by the music, just as the beat of war drums can incite extreme martial excitement and solidarity.”

There is no shortage of information on the effects of music on mood.  Simply entering the phrase “effects of music on mood” will lead to multiple links that any student should find helpful.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team