posted October 07 2022 by Jord
The sound of music
Many of us grew up watching the Von Trapp family. The opening scene of the film, in which you see Maria spinning around in the mountains of Salzburg while singing 'The Sound of Music', is one you don't forget easily. But why do certain songs stick with us?
Some songs simply have the power to make us feel incredibly nostalgic, like 'The Sound of Music'. When listening to music, the parts of our brain that are involved in musical memory, such as the visual cortex, become active. From the very first chord onwards, your brain will show images and memories. Some songs therefore stick with you for a lifetime. You listen to some *NSYNC song and suddenly you're back at your high school dance about to have your first kiss, or in your childhood bedroom listening to blink-182 with the volume up to forget about your parents' divorce. This has everything to do with the 'reminiscence bump': researchers have discovered that memories from our teenage years and early twenties are the ones we return to and cherish the most.
But music does more than make us feel nostalgic. Music has the power to affect us mentally and physically in so many ways. For example, everyone has a song that sends shivers down their spine or causes goosebumps. Imagine you're listening to your favorite song. You've heard it thousands of times. You know exactly when a new instrument starts, the bridge enters or the volume suddenly increases. As the song slowly builds up to your favourite chord, your brain builds up the dopamine. And when it's finally there, your brain sighs with dopamine-saturated satisfaction – you get the chills. It's almost like a reward for knowing that a great chorus is just about to hit. It's addicting.
Other songs can uplift your mood. In fact, there's probably not a single soul on this earth who doesn't get happy from listening to music. The reason for this is actually purely scientific, as listening to music causes the brain to produce dopamine – the addicting feel-good hormone. What comes next is a chemical reaction in your body. Your brain records the experience and saves it as something that you should do again, to produce more dopamine, and more, and more... Your brain begs you to replay music.
Speaking of replaying music: why do songs get stuck in our head? This phenomenom has to do with the so-called an earworm. While this sounds like a tiny, gross, living creature in your ear, it's nothing more than a section of a song that your brain plays over and over again. It's stuck in your phonoligical loop. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, sometimes it's because you've heard the song recently or because it's really catchy. They're harmless, yet annoying. A well-known method to get rid of earworms is to chew gum or to sing Happy Birthday.
Do it right
These tips don't always work, though. A study from 2009 reports a 21-year-old man from India who had Hindi movie songs going around in his head for five(!) years. Even powerful drugs couldn't stop the music. So, next time you listen to music, make sure you do it right. If it gets stuck in your head, it might as well be songs that make you happy.