Can music actually help us relax? Studies show yes! Which is why some years ago (2011 to be exact) a British band helped to compose some perfect songs (like the ones on this list by makeuseof.com) to bring every part of you into a perfect and relaxing state of zen relaxation.
• A study from the 1990s showed that the “mood” of the music we listened to influenced our perceptions of others.
• A study from 2002 showed that arithmetic performance in primary school pupils could be improved by playing calming music. More aggressive music had a negative impact on performance.
• A study from 1998 showed that listening to grunge music increased levels of hostility, sadness, and tension. “New Age” music had varying results. “Designer Music” (music engineered for specific reactions) could improve mental clarity, caring, and relaxation.
1. Marconi Union - Weightless
According to Shortlist, this song is “even more relaxing than a massage, walk, or cup of tea”. The engineering behind the song was drawn from scientific theory to slow breathing and reduce mental activity. Its strategic bass-lines, rhythms, and harmonies work to induce a biting sleepiness. Enough sleepiness, in fact, for motorists to be warned not to listen to the song while driving. As reported in The Telegraph:
“Studies found Weightless was 11 percent more relaxing than any other song and even made many of the women ‘drowsy’ in the lab … It induced a 65 per cent reduction in overall anxiety and brought them to a level 35 per cent lower than their usual resting rates.”
After around five minutes of listening to a song, your heart starts to match the beat of the music, or is at least heavily influenced by that beat. This is called “entrainment”, and explains why Weightless (YouTube, Spotify) starts at 60 beats per minute, later slowing to 50 beats per minute. This lowered heart rate naturally leads to a fall in blood pressure and eases anxiety.
Founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, Liz Cooper, goes on to explain:
“The harmonic intervals – or gaps between notes – have been chosen to create a feeling of euphoria and comfort. And there is no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next … Instead, there are random chimes, which helps to induce a deeper sense of relaxation. The final element is the low, whooshing sounds and hums that are like buddhist chants [that] put you in a trance-like state.”
If you’re curating your own Relaxation playlist, you should keep all of that in mind. Enough of the science though. The vast majority of listeners to Weightless concur in their view as to its calming influence. After listening to it myself while having a lie down, I’ll admit struggling to climb back out of bed at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
All is not uniform in the public opinion department, however. Despite Time Magazine dubbing the song “8 min. 10 sec. of aural bliss,” some people don’t succumb to its charms. This may be due to different wiring, or simply because the sample size of the study wasn’t enough to draw a universal conclusion.
So if Weightless just isn’t doing it for you, try one of these other relaxing songs that were included in the study. There’s bound to be one that can soothe and calm those wrecked nerves of yours. The following are the remaining nine songs of the Top 10, with Marconi Union’s Weightless coming in at Number 1. Most of these will be available to listen to on Spotify or Apple Music.
Drown out the noise and allow your mind to sink into itself with this edition of music you can download for free, aka Sound Sunday.