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The pop world is aware of names like Freddie Mercury of band Queen, Syd Barett of Pink Floyd, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and many other artists. They have successfully given us songs which even now are popular among the youth. From Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, they have continued to give us immense pleasure. Apart from being exceptionally talented, there is one thing more which a lot of musicians had and still have in common: mental illness.

Biographies and researches explain a lot of reason why the music industry has always seen a lot of cases of mental illness: immense pressures due to stardom to lead to feelings of detachment from the reality, the fear of going out of business, believing that they are not giving their 100% and so on. But, if we see their interviews or review their songs, we can see that they have always expressed how creating music was their getaway. It is even true if we apply this to us: listening to music in times of distress lightens our mood and helps to figure out ways to cope with situations. A little bit of blues for dealing with low behaviours and a little bit of rock and roll when we have high spirits, all of them influence our mood.

“Something has been taken

From deep inside of me

A secret I’ve kept locked away

No one can ever see

Wounds so deep they never show

They never go away

Like moving pictures in my head

For years and years they’ve played.”

These are lyrics of the song Easier to Run by Linkin Park written by Chester. If we try understanding them, they are indicative of his psyche: how he misses a part of him which caused him pain and how its absence is haunting for him. ‘I Want to Break Free’ by the band Queen starts like this:

 ‘I want to break free

I want to break free

I want to break free from your lies

You're so self-satisfied I don't need you

I've got to break free

God knows, God knows I want to break free.’

The lyrics were written by lead vocalist Freddie Mercury which is indicative of how he wanted to liberate himself from the bonds of society. So was Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’: ‘I'm so happy because today I've found my friends, they're in my head’ which indicated his battle with depression and substance abuse. 

Music is not only a getaway for those who listen to it rather it is a getaway for those who create it as well. Due to this, music has been used as a medium to help patients with different problems. In music therapy, all the facets or aspects of the music are used by the therapist to help patients improve, restore and maintain their health(Bruscia, 1991). There are mainly two contexts in which music therapy takes place: one when the therapist tries to understand the perception of the client of the music and the other being how our different brain areas react to it.

Music therapy generally is of two main types: a ‘receptive’ listening based method where already existing music pieces are used and ‘active’ listening based method where the patients are encouraged to learn to play instruments or compose music. The former is used in the treatment of anxiety, depression and cognitive disorders whereas the latter in case of helping patients to use an artistic medium to overcome their issues just like many musicians have done and continue to do so. In case of receptive listening, a technique like lyric analysis, where the patient is asked to express what they understand from the lyrics of a song dear to them or any music piece selected as such, can be used. In the case of active listening, techniques like the improvisation of music playing or actively listening to a music piece can be used.

Different areas of our brain perform different functions and the effects of music are also different on them. Two professors of the University of Central Florida tried to understand how different areas of the brain are impacted and found the following:

  1. The frontal lobe can increase its decision-making tendencies when exposed to music. Guess that is why we feel calm and can make a better decision after listening to our favourites.

  2. The occipital lobe is used by professional musicians. They can visualize or see a musical score while the are listening to it.

  3. The cerebellum is responsible for movement and stores physical memory. In the case of Alzheimer’s patients it was seen that an old man was not able to recognize his wife but when he sat near the piano, he started playing it with ease.

  4. The amygdala helps us to process emotions. So in case of anger or fear, listening to the music which calms you down is recorded here.

In the research, they also found out that the kind of music we like and prefer or the musical preferences we have influences and impacts different areas of our brain. For instance, in case someone feels angry, for one individual, heavy metal could help them to cool down and for the other, blues could work out.Everyone relates to music in ways which they find the best: for both the composers and listeners, it is, has and always will be a coping mechanism for people. To sum up my emotions with music below goes a little piece named ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”. The title has been taken from a song by Porcupine Tree.

“I cherish things which start with music. I love how beautifully things become when they move with the rhythm of its beats.

Whether it’s my happiness going in sync with jazz or my sadness which finds its own type, I cherish everything which starts with music.

Our existence is linked with it.

Every emotion you feel is in itself a melody.

It always leads us to somewhere. With each beat, comes an emotion:

Sometimes, they are ones which we have felt earlier and it makes us nostalgic when we relive it again.

Sometimes, it makes us experience a new one. The kind we never felt, which discomforts us, but then, gives us comfort in a way nothing else ever will.

It makes you insecure too.

The fear you have while sharing your favourite pieces with someone that whether or not, they can keep it with them the way you did.

The wave of emotions which comes up when you listen to a piece you earlier shared with someone. It kills you from within and that piece then never ever is the same.

Then there are some, which are just for us. No one can take it away from us because we are too protective about it.

You don’t want to share those with anyone because, in it, you get the peace which nothing can ever offer you.

There will always be a part of you which stays with every music piece you ever listen to or is it the other way round: a part of music always stays with you? Which one of these is true for you?”

To conclude, below is a link for two playlists: one is an attempt to encapsulate the spirit of 70s summer, whereas the second has those which helped to get going in the lockdown period and still continue to do so.

Playlist-1: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2IOgRmAzDOUMYg8Uvac8nc?si=MlcCWSgmRdWZwthuHUQL6Q

Playlist-2: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4WyHVhGN39WgKBg1pJ4wLs?si=0I3PtCJUTyS8w6Y0lwKstw


  1. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/The-Impact-of-Music-Therapy-on-Mental-Health

  2. https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/your-brain-on-music/

  3. https://positivepsychology.com/music-therapy/

by - Itti Mahajan

Graphic by - Niharika Suri

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