Our Brains on Electronic Music
Music is such a big part of our lives and the ways listening to it affect us, our
mood and behaviour are fantastic. Listening to music doesn’t only brings us
joy and pleasure, but it can help us pay a little more attention, get more
creative and even improve our productivity and memory. It also strengthens
our bonds with other people by helping us understand each other’s feelings.
What happens to our body when we listen to music?
We all have many common interests, but when it comes to music, the
difference between our preferences become noticeable almost immediately.
However, when trying to understand what happens in our brain when we
listen to certain type of rhythms and sounds, an emotional connection is
more important and relevant than our taste in music.
When a song is playing, the limbic system, which is the part of the brain
involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, shows much more
activity than usual. Also, recent studies have shown dramatic effects on the
amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and other regions of the cortex of
the brain that are associated to emotion. The cortex of the brain processes
the tone, pitch and volume of the music in the auditory cortex, then sends
this information to other parts of the brain. When it gets to the amygdala,
the integrative center for emotions, motivation and emotional behavior, the
brain releases dopamine, a chemical messenger between neurons strongly
related to reward, pleasure and motivation.
Therefore, music and certain sounds have a significant effect on our moods, memories, emotions, thoughts and movements.
But what about electronic music specifically?
When we take part in a conversation about electronic music, it is still very
common to hear that “it has no emotion because it’s made on a computer
and not with real instruments”.
Electronic music is usually generated through certain electronic devices,
such as the synthesizer or sampler and can be conceived entirely from the
sounds and melodies that these machines produce.
However, it can also be composed from other sound resources, such as
recordings of natural sounds picked up by microphones that are then edited
into a permanent form, or songs that have already been recorded and
finished by an artist, which are modified through the application of this
technology, resulting in a new creation that will maintain the lyrics and
sounds of the original.
So, except for live electronic music, which refers to real-time generation
and manipulation of traditional electronic sound-generating devices and
computers, electronic music is only played back through loudspeakers,
either by itself or accompanied by actual musical instruments.
Just as any instrument is played, a computer can be programmed to create a melody or recreate a sound that evokes and stimulates the emotion that the user desires, and this doesn’t mean it is any easier to produce a good piece of this kind of music using this technology rather than an actual instrument.
Creating melody, harmony and rhythm with these techniques takes a great amount of knowledge, hard work and ear training before a track can even sound remotely professional. In addition to that, trying to connect or express emotions and feelings that
truly excite or bring something to the person who is listening to it requires a lot of skill and experience.
Why do we choose electronic music?
Musical tastes can be influenced by factors such as culture and life
experiences, but our preferences in music mostly reveal our inner thoughts
and emotions, given that music satisfies three important psychological
needs. Scientific studies reveal that people listen to music so they can
improve their efficiency and performance on certain tasks, encourage
intrinsic motivation and cognitive development, and influence their own
emotional states to achieve a desired mood.
First, we must consider that ‘electronic’ is a very wide term that includes a
lot of genres of electronic music. Taking into account that many subgenres
of it exist, electronic music can affect how our brain works in several ways.
Not all electronic music is the same. As in every music genre, some
subgenres can make you want to dance with extreme energy and others have
more of a deep and emotional feeling to it. Whether you like techno, house,
minimal, dubstep, psychedelic trance, ambient, Electronic Dance Music
(also known as EDM), IDM (a version of EDM but with a slower tempo,
quieter sounds and more complex rhythms) or any other genre.
Ambient house, downtempo and chillout can facilitate concentration with
the aid of repetitive patterns and mellow mid-tempo rhythms that are
gentle, discreet and stimulating. Some of these mid-tempo electronic tracks
are free from vocals, which help calming the senses and ease the mind.
Genres like dubstep, trance, and EDM are known for repeating melodic
phrases, and a musical structure that creates tension. Tracks often
culminate in peaks and drops, building up a climax that is both sensory and
exciting. DJs manipulate tension and release in the mix between songs,
managing to heighten the peak emotional moments in the melody, which
intensity depends on the length of anticipation during the build up.
Other elements can be considered, such as rhythm and danceability, timbral
complexity and unconventionality. Research shows a clear relationship
between rhythms in the brain and rhythms in music, which is for sure a
factor in the enjoyment of this genre, since most electronic music is built
around a very strong rhythmic essence and loop-based sequencing
compositions. Moreover, nearly all of electronic music is very much
functional on a dance floor. Repetitive rhythms with various shifting
musical layers make us track pulse, tempo and rhythm, and we move in
response, mostly when done with a group.
Overall, every good music has a similar effect on all brains, as we naturally
respond positively to rhythm, melody and harmony, no matter the genre,
instrumentation or composition. Music develops deep and intense feelings,
engages your emotions and produces pleasure and delight, and electronic
music is no exception. Even though it is still ‘electronic’, a real
instrument-like feeling remains in its sounds, something that disarms the
stereotype that electronic music has no power to stimulate strong emotions
Although some variations of this genre seem to be very popular amongst
music enthusiasts right now, others will surely perish in a few years.
Electronic music, however, will live much longer and will keep on
developing some of the most refined and recognized artists in music