Music and Emotion

Living apart together: a relationship between music psychology and music therapy
16 Sep, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, my respected and beloved music friends! Musica animae levamen, music is medicine for our souls.' These are the opening lines of the book `Die musikalische Hausapotheke/The musical home medicine cabinet' written by the German musicologist Christopher Rueger (1991). In this work, Rueger describes a variety of musical recipes to cure an equally impressive variety of disorders. If we take a closer look into his laboratory, we can read that listening to Beethoven's Symphony No.2 helps to cope with feelings of depression and doubt. The popular Goldberg Variations of Bach will decrease sleeping disorders.

If it could only be so simple. For many lay people, these descriptions are their idea of what music therapy is all about. Many people have read about the `Mozart Effect' and a music therapist is often pictured in non-medical journals as being an equivalent of `a healthcare deejay'. There are, however, many disciplines involved in the study of the effects of music on the listener. It is the music psychologist who looks at effects of music in the general listener, e.g. what emotions can be induced by music in the listener? Cognitive theory studies how music is perceived and how cognitive schemata are activated when listening to music. How does our brain react to music? The music therapist uses music as a therapeutic medium with a variety of different client populations in yet another discipline.

For a layperson, these fields seem logically intertwined. Music induces emotions and this works therapeutically as various cognitions and feelings become activated, of course. In practice, there is still little collaboration between these fields of expertise. In fact, music researchers studying cognitive aspects and brain activity even state that it is far too early to be able to describe precisely how a healthy person reacts to music, both physically and psychologically. Before this knowledge is gathered, it is far too early to state that music is therapeutic, let alone to be considered as `medicine' as Rueger described. How will we ever be able to develop cogent theories from neurological research if we can't even agree on which halves of the brain processes various aspects of music experience (Kaufmann & Frisina, 1992)? Music therapists state on the other hand, that music cannot be considered as medicine as it is not merely the music from which the client benefits. Other factors contribute to the therapeutic effect as well, such as the group interaction, the interaction with the music and the therapeutic alliance. What are current research insights from the field of music psychology and can they be applied in music therapy, in an arts relationship?

To examine the mutual aspects of these disciplines, the focus in this review will be on the question how music is related to the experience of emotion. Everyone recognizes the ancient old idea that music affects man. But how? This question has turned out be an enormous difficult task to answer scientifically.
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