`Sad Music' is Helpful When You're Sad?

May 13, 2019 11:47

You might reasonably assume that when you’re sad, put on ‘happy’ music to cheer yourself up. Sousa marches, for example.

But a 2019 study1 suggests otherwise: “The strong appeal of sad music to people with MDD [Major Depressive Disorder] may be related to its calming effects rather than any desire to increase or maintain sad feelings.2

In dark periods of my life I have played music — Bach especially — sometimes for hours at a stretch as a way of modulating feelings that felt overwhelming, and the music that ‘felt right’ was in the minor key and dark in general. Doing that was very helpful. As I think about it, what that accomplished was that those feelings no longer felt overwhelming. It’s as if the music gave voice — and also structure to what I was feeling. Instead of trying to deny or paper over sadness with happy music, it it created a safe container for those feelings, a place where those feelings could be embraced and even honored.

Our usual societal response to sadness and grief is drugs to suppress the pain, or distraction or denial. Instead, perhaps sad and dark music can play a role in facing those feelings — facing the heart of the problem and faciliting real healing, instead drugs or denial which do a poor job at best of even ameliorating the symptoms.


1 Yoon, S., Verona, E., Schlauch, R., Schneider, S., & Rottenberg, J. (2019). Why do depressed people prefer sad music? Emotion. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Femo0000573()
2 From the abstract.()

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