From a scientific perspective, the key to all this is the expectation of what will happen in a particular song (‘veridical expectations’) and contrasting it with what normally happens in music (‘schematic expectations’). A large shift in volume, tone or tempo will still feel surprising, because most of the time, music doesn’t do that – it’s fairly consistent and predictable.
If a piece develops in a way that’s both unexpected and yet still within our brain’s prediction, we seem to like it more. Having this ability to recognise patterns and predict what’s likely to happen exercises our imagination, an ability which has contributed to our evolutionary progress as a species.
Listening to music exercises our imaginations without us even knowing it. This may go some way to explain why music affects us so deeply and why so many claim to not be able to live without it. It resonates with our core human instincts, but still manages to surprise and delight us.
As well as single moments of elation, it’s well-known that music can have a more general impact on mood. Different types of music or collections of songs can hype us up, calm us down and allow us to emote. Music is a tool that we can use actively to manage our state of mind.
It’s been proven that soundwaves can interact with and influence our brain waves directly. Slower, deeper sounds have a sedative effect and louder, higher-pitched sounds have a stimulating effect.
Increasingly, we’re finding playlists and services that use music to achieve certain moods in a more targeted way. Spotify’s Sleep playlist of 268 songs has over 3.7 million followers and is intended to help you fall asleep. Whereas products like Brain.fm and Focus@Will use specially curated sounds to encourage states of focus by blending the sciences of sound and behaviour.
At Recipe, we work at the intersection of human behaviour, science and technology. Our experience in the audio sector has allowed us to explore what music means to people and what experiences they expect to have in their homes, developing products that are futureproofed.
We’re interested to see what music can continue to mean and enable for people, as audio technology and humanity evolve alongside each other. Specifically, the roles music and sound could play in healthcare and wellness. What could music do to address rising rates of depression and anxiety? What role can music play in chronic pain management? And what should the experience of these services look and feel like?