Listening To and Making Music Helps Understand Feelings and Emotions

Music can be a constructive way to express yourself and your feelings, especially in young children. It can often be difficult for children to say how they are feeling, primarily because they don't know the name of the feeling they're experiencing. Instead, they show us by crying, throwing temper tantrums, or having meltdowns. Emotional expression must be learned, and young children can be taught basic emotions such as happy, mad, sad, and scared as early as two years old. Further emotions such as frustration, nervousness, or shyness can be explained as they age.

Music and play are very effective ways for children to learn about and explore feelings and then practice how to express and manage them (In fact, given the emotionally charged nature of music, it's an incredibly effective way for everyone—not just children—to express themselves and cope with challenging life circumstances). Whenever we're making music, we leave the realm of social conditioning and conscious thought. Instead, we're in direct contact with our emotions. Whenever we're engaged in creativity, such as music-making, we're present in the moment. This presence allows us to get in touch with and express our emotions. Occasionally, it can be hard to express feelings verbally; we find ourselves unable to find the 'right' words to say how we really feel. On these occasions, music can become a subtler form of expression.

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A 'Music and Feelings' lesson plan can encourage children to recognize and talk about different feelings and emotions through a variety of musical fun activities. Recognizing emotions through music can help develop emotional intelligence. Music can help children 'hear' what certain feelings sound like and learn to tell which emotion is evoked by a piece of music. Improvising with music can help a child to get in touch with and express a feeling they might be experiencing at the time, whether that be happiness, sadness, fear, or anger. The musical instruments can be 'gates' for their emotions, and playing them allows these emotions to come through. Appropriate self-expression springs from a sense of self; music (especially early music education) can help immensely.

Feelings of stress, anxiety, or tension can also be addressed through music. Childhood stress has increased in the past few decades, with around 40 percent of kids reporting that they feel they worry too much. We tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don't have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?

Sadly, the answer is plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree. Academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) can create stress. In short, stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed—even children. Music has the potential to influence the mood of children and can be used to reduce stress, process emotions, and improve a sense of well-being in the following ways:

  • Distraction As music demands their attention, it acts as a distraction while also helping them explore their emotions. It also keeps them focused and prevents their mind from wandering to negative thoughts or worries.
  • Mindfulness Music allows them to lose themselves in the moment as they enjoy the sounds they're making or hearing. By playing an instrument, they bring themselves into the here and now, and it helps them take a break from their anxieties.
  • Creative Self-Expression While simply listening to music can reduce stress, creating music has the added benefit of expression and involvement, which focuses attention. Active participation in playing music and music appreciation has been shown to increase self-esteem.

Music can allow children to express themselves, unleash their creativity, be inspired and uplifted, relax, and relieve stress and tension.

Making music with other people improves children's social and emotional skills. They learn to work together as a team and develop their sense of empathy with others. Researchers have found that when children play music together—from simple rhythms to larger group performances—they are better able to tune into other people's emotions.

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Emotions are one of the most fascinating features of the human mind. Music is an equally extraordinary characteristic. Understanding the unique interaction between the two may take us closer to understanding the fundamental nature of both. There is little doubt that music can alter our mood and stir emotions; it has a powerful pull, and you don't need to be a scientist to confirm this fact. Music has been reported to evoke the full range of human emotions, including:

  • Patriotic or Loyal – National anthems and other music associated with a country or geographic area. Music and sounds are associated with sports events, schools, clubs, and other organizations.
  • Spiritual – Hymns, chants, gospel, and other music associated with religion or faith
  • Nostalgic – Music can remind us of the past, both good and bad.
  • Love – Music can be used to express love and signify affection.
  • Violent/Hatred – Music can be used in war or violence to promote anger.
  • Energetic – Rhythms in music can make us move faster and aid physical exercise.
  • Happy or Sad – Music can lift our mood and make us smile or laugh. Alternatively, music can make us feel melancholy and can even make us cry.
  • Irritated – Music we don't like can irritate us, as can a tune that gets stuck in your head and is repeated over and over.
  • Scared – Music can make us feel scared or tense, for example, during some 'dark' moment in a movie.
  • Calm – Certain music can help the mind slow down and initiate the relaxation response.

Perhaps the greatest gift of music lies in its capacity to allow people to experience emotions without having to experience the life events that lead to them. We can experience even extreme emotions in a controlled manner, at will, in safe and comfortable circumstances.

Most of all, though, playing music makes people happy! Few pleasures in this world can be compared to the high you feel from letting your soul flow through your body and out through improvisation and music-making. Discover the stress-relieving power of playing your own song.

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