We all know that the way in which we listen to music has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. Each of us is likely to have our own preference of platform and the type of music is likely to change dependent upon our mood. However, I believe that many of us still get it wrong in terms of how we absorb music and how we spend time relaxing to music.
If we want to dance and feel energised by music then we may go to a club and listen to dance music as we take to the dance floor (by ‘we’ I don’t mean me on this one!), or if we are working out then we might stick some rock music on in order to motivate us for the next exercise, or if we want to relax then we might play some music at home after a long week of work. When focusing on the latter of indulging in some relaxation whilst listening to music, how many of us really get it right?
I’ve been a passionate music lover since my early teens and used to listen to good music as a means of relaxing at the weekend. Over the years, however, I became worse and worse at enjoying and relaxing to music to the point where I felt more ambivalent about what I listened to and how I listened to it. Unfortunately, a series of moves meant that my relatively high quality stereo turned into a cheap set of speakers on a PC, which then turned into an MP3 player with a set of tinny earphones, which finally turned into an MP3 player with a severely limited set of songs played through an even worse set of earphones. You get the picture – for someone who was supposed to love music, my means of listening to it was disastrous.
This also meant that, along with a greatly decreased general enjoyment of music, I’d almost completely stopped unwinding by listening to music. The rare times that I did were in situations with lots of negative stimuli (i.e. listening to it surrounded by work materials or in a busy place) as I naively thought that the music would automatically de-stress me. As I can be a bit simple on occasion, it took me a while to realise that I needed to treat the process of listening to music in the right way in order to enjoy that immersive and relaxing experience. So, I used the following, successful formula:
Find a Relaxing Space
This should go without saying but make sure that wherever you place yourself, it is in a relaxing environment with a low number of stimuli. If your place of living is not blessed with rooms, then try to find a suitable corner or position where you would feel relaxed irrespective of the music. And, importantly, make sure that you sit somewhere very comfortable. You should be able to let your whole body go loose whilst being suitably supported.
Avoid Interruptions / Distractions
Leading on from our previous point, do what you can to prevent external interruptions. If you’re in a position to, mute your phone and put it out of sight, ask whoever is around to only disturb you if necessary and make sure all work is away! Markham Heid (2018) pulled together a small volume of research for an article which details – based on the work of Daniel Levitin – the fact that we cannot do two things at once, and listening to calm music will have no effect if we’re also busy scrolling through our daily news-feed.
Pay Attention to Your Sound Set-Up
I realise that some of you may not have the highest quality sound system or headphones etc., but make the most of what you have and set up the system that will give you the best listening experience. For example, there’s no use in listening to a low quality MP3 player with cheap earphones if you have a decent stereo with good quality speakers.
Some of you may have a choice between listening via speakers or headphones. I have a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones but a much better pair of speakers so, if my partner is happy to put up with the noise, I prefer to listen through the speakers. If you’re the same on this one, make sure that your speakers are at the same height and, if possible, the same distance away from you (though at different angles to you). For those of you who will listen via a 3D sound set-up…….I’ll just bow to your excellence now!
Choose Your Album Wisely
If you’re still reading then you’ll likely already have an album in mind for this process, but, if not, aim for something of a slower pace as your starting point. Nevada Today (2019) states that music of a slower tempo can soothe our body, relax our muscles and help to remove stresses that have built up over the day.
As a separate point, if you are listening via records then aim to choose an album of only one disc. This means that you’re only having to get up once to change the sides as opposed to three times if the album is printed on two discs. Last but not least, choose an album that you love. This should be an experience where you feel connected to the artist and the album whilst listening – if you’re doing it right, you’ll probably notice little details in the music that you hadn’t noticed before, even on albums that you’ve listened to many times in the past.
Listen to the Whole Album
A lot of society has built up a single-song listening culture and music has suffered massively as a result. Albums are released because they tell a story. That story may just be the phase of the artist’s life whilst recording the album or it might be closer to a conventional story that is told from start to finish. The Streets’ ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’ are good examples of storytelling in album form, and the listener loses a lot when the songs are taken out of sync and context from that experience. Listen to the album as it was meant to be listened to, and don’t skip anything!
So, with all that in mind: sit back, relax, and ease yourself in the beauty of musical immersion!
Heid, M. (April 26th 2018). Is Listening to Music Good for Your Health? Time. Accessed October 2019 at https://time.com/5254381/listening-to-music-health-benefits/
Nevada Today (2019). Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music. Accessed October 2019 at https://www.unr.edu/counseling/virtual-relaxation-room/releasing-stress-through-the-power-of-music