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Dial up the volume: Why we feel the need for beat

By Sarah Lake, Research Assistant, BPM Rehab



The annual brain bootcamp held by BPM in partnership with Clinical Neuropsychology Services, provides a place for young people to get in touch with music and has previously been so successful to the point where the individuals wanted to “attach” themselves to the speakers.

This phenomenon prompts inquiries into the relationship between our bodies and music, exploring whether there exists an innate connection between our internal bodily experiences and our outward expression of music.

An echo across ages

From Pythagorean influence to the Mozart effect- the idea that listening to classical music heightens IQ, theorists have been interested in how music relates to the mind and body.

Historically, the bodily effects of listening to music were thought to serve as a distraction (Bowman, 1998) or be a lesser form of understanding, as Kant declared in 1952 that it appealed too much to the body and little to the higher culture of mind (Bowman & Powell, 2007).

However, we have more recently come to understand and appreciate the somatic effects of music, in its relation to the body distinct of the mind (Tarvainen, 2019).

The inherent connection between music and the body permeates our surroundings to such an extent that we often take it for granted, scarcely noticing its pervasive influence.

Fort (2015) outlines that music is sometimes created for the sole purpose of encouraging dance, therefore meaning we have implicit bodily understanding that the transmission of certain sounds should encourage movement.

This is not restricted to dance music however, as Maus (2010) outlines that even classical music encourages bodily recognition in the chills and feelings of tension that it produces. 

Historically, this connection has also been investigated from the reverse perspective.

Rather than just music affecting our bodies, Bücher’s (1896) theory presupposed that the creation of labour songs was intrinsically related to the repetitive drones of repeated sounds made within labour environments.

In this, the sounds around the people due to their work directly shaped the music that they produced.

Fort (2015) reflects on this with a compelling suggestion, that one of the few universally agreed upon points between those headbanging to heavy metal, toe-tapping to jazz or swaying to classical is that “movement can heighten, deepen, clarify, enliven or enrich one’s engagement with the music”.

In this, we can see the clear somatic link between body and music. 

Lab tested links 

Having established the theoretical framework for the somatic link between music and body, delving into the empirical evidence bolsters support.

In a lab experiment, children that participated in a music-based condition that facilitated somatic awareness had statistically significant differences in EEG for beta and theta brain waves and were more relaxed and attentive than those in the control condition (Locke, 2000).

Furthermore, many physiological effects were found such as measurable impacts on heart rate, breathing and blood flow. This clearly demonstrates the bodily impact that music can have, enforcing the link between the two. 

This link is also experienced at concerts (Tarvainen, 2019).

Following a concert, interviews were held to determine memories of the event.

Remarkably, the majority of participants were unable to recall the specific semantic content of any songs within one to two weeks after the event.

Nevertheless, they retained strong memory of how the music made them feel, demonstrating the lasting effect of these aspects, reinforcing the somatic link of music (McKerrell, 2012).

Tuned into the body

The correlation between physiological response and rhythm is clearly demonstrated by this empirical evidence.

Our rhythmic patterns of breathing and heartbeat demonstrate this further, as Shusterman (2012) argues how sensing rhythm is a “profound ability of our bodies” due to these physiological patterns.

However, Western thinking posits that rhythm is more traditionally linked to the body as opposed to other aspects of music such as melody and harmony.

Rudinow (2010) poses that this may be due to the higher frequencies of these aspects causing them to appear more ‘mental’. 

However, this is not the case, rather the bodily experiences of these aspects are just less recognised.

Tarvainen (2019) highlights that “a singer senses different vowels and pitches in different ways throughout the body; open vowels and lower pitches are felt more in larger cavities, such as the chest cavity, while closed vowels and higher pitches resonate more strongly in smaller cavities, such as the nose and forehead”.

In this, we can see that it is not just rhythm that fortifies the connection between body and music, but music as a whole. 

This is further demonstrated through the production of music.

Berleant (2002) highlights that music is more than just the auditory component in that every note is produced in some way “executed by the bow of a stringed instrument, a person’s breath into a woodwind or brass instrument, the movement of fingers on piano keys, or hands and feet on the organ” highlighting that at its core that music is linked to the body.

The very creation of music itself is produced through bodily movements, making the link between the two evident.

Therefore, music is simply a direct communication from the performer’s body to the listener’s, as it clearly affects both (Cusick, 1994). 

It is that interconnectedness with music and our body that may allow us to feel it deeper than just listening.

Fort (2015) highlights that a somatic music experience is the difference between looking at a picture of a loved one and actually holding that person close- that feeling the music is worlds apart from the simple auditory experience.

‘Attached’ to the speakers

The relationship between our internal bodily experiences and the ‘feeling’ of music can therefore explain why individuals felt the need to ‘attach’ themselves to speakers.

The very rhythms and melodies have noticeable effects on the body, contributing to this connectedness.

Through BPM’s electronic music programmes, learners can create and explore music on this deeper level, experiencing the making of music and enjoying the sensory outputs of their creation.

This all works to facilitate aforementioned somatic awareness, creating an engaging intervention that surpasses conventional music experiences.

Learn more about BPM Rehab here