Have you ever wondered what it is about music that speaks to your soul? Why is it that a statement is so much more believable when given as a song rather than a point of conversation? When we want to be alone, why do we listen to more people telling us stories and giving us advice through headphones than we would when in company with friends? Science may just have some answers.
Music uses almost every part of our brain. Interaction with notes and lyrics is astonishingly complex. This alone sheds some light on why music is said to be so important for brain development and influential on behavior. This article goes more into detail about this phenomenon of music and the brain, but some points are worth highlighting here.
A study was conducted on two different types of emotions in relation to music: perceived and felt. Someone listening to a sad song could perceive the sadness without feeling it, and yet after hearing it and then looking at a neutral face, they may project that sadness onto the person they see.
Another study tested what our favorite songs say about our personality, and the accuracy of the trials was fairly surprising. Extraversion, openness to experience, and emotional stability were generally predictable based on preferred genres. When you think about it, this makes sense. You choose to listen to music that "understands" you.
Something unique about music is the universality of the thing. It is not uncommon see students on my college campus, for example, listening to songs in Korean or Spanish, unable to translate them, but appreciating them all the same. Music is the one language everyone can speak (though the argument may be made that some speak it more fluently than others). There are not different notes for different cultures, but there might be different tendencies to use some notes more frequently in one place than another, or in one genre than another. Almost every American Christian worship song can be reconfigured to be played with G, C, Em, and D, but play the pentatonic scale on a guitar and you will immediately recognize a more Asian sound. This fascinating essay does much more justice to this point than I could, and I highly encourage you to read it if this subject interests you.
Despite our common humanity found through the language of music, it is also a very personal aspect of our nature that no two individuals will ever see in exactly the same way. We draw on our own experiences when listening to new or old songs, and make our own decisions of agreement or contradiction with what those songs might claim. We listen and appreciate different aspects of musicality within songs - I get really excited to hear a background acoustic guitar being strummed muted.
It is unknown how to fully decipher and explain what music does to us, let alone how. But somehow this mystery makes it all the more meaningful. Music changes you, hopefully for the better, and gives you a rare and valuable chance to both find shared appreciation with others and unique individuality within yourself.