Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Benefits of Loud Music

There are times when listening to music at high volumes is beneficial. I would put those benefits into three categories – distraction, venting, and association, though all three occur together in varying degrees.

Loud music can be used by people suffering from physical pain as a pain management strategy. As well, loud music is sometimes used by schizophrenics to drown out the noise of hallucinations. (An interesting aside: decreased PPI (Prepulse inhibition – reduces the startle response of a stimulus) in schizophrenics is being used as a diagnostic tool and research area for understanding positive symptoms in schizophrenia.)

Loud music can also be invigorating, and even depressing songs can be uplifting. They may inspire a depressed person to sing/scream along or dance/jump/stomp to the beat, all of which are more motivating than lying in bed lamenting. Once you’re up and moving, even if all you are moving are your vocal cords as you scream along to an angry song, you will be that much closer to taking the next step to feeling better.

On lazy or lethargic days, it can help you get out of bed in the morning, as irritating as it might be at 7:30am. And it can make monotonous work, like chores or running Matlab scripts over and over again, more tolerable, fun even.

The benefits of loud music to social situations are a decrease of the stress of verbal communication and an increase in non-verbal communication (though admittedly, this can be stressful as well, but it still allows us to develop an under-appreciated, yet extremely important, method of communication). The increased awareness of the physical self can be beneficial in dissociative states of psychiatric illnesses. (This is something that can be practiced at any time, without loud music, but if you are out at a club dancing, allow yourself to be aware, without concentrating too hard, of all the sensations around you – your dance partner’s hand on your arm, the different colours of the flashing lights, the tempo of the song, the beads of sweat on the back of your neck… Trust me, if you get good at this kind of mindful perception, you won’t need alcohol or drugs. A caveat though, even though there are no chemical, toxic side effects like those of drugs, this kind of mindfulness can have upsetting ‘highs’ and ‘lows.’ If at any time, during any mindfulness exercise, you feel yourself losing control or becoming uncomfortable, stop and do something else.

At home, you can still have lots of fun and lots of sensory awareness dancing with your spouse, kids, friends, or by yourself.

On the distraction side of sociability, a set of headphones can give you sense of personal space in public areas like a crowded bus or it can replace the really bad music they play at stores making your shopping experience more enjoyable. Even without headphones, a decent set of speakers can drown out irritating external environmental noises like your roommate having loud, obnoxious sex…again or the stupid humming of your out-of-date-but-the-landlord-won’t-replace-it refrigerator.

There is some music – classical, opera – which just simply must be listened to at higher volumes in order to appreciate all of the artistic nuances and variations.

Obviously, too much loud music is physically damaging. Also, you adjust to the volume of the music you are listening to, so be careful to watch if you are continually turning up the volume of your speakers. Try to pick a volume that isn't too loud, before you've listened to anything for an extended period of time, and leave the volume adjustment at that level. Except, of course, when you want to bang-out the Pixies on air guitar.

(see here for comic alt text)

If you are looking for some new music to add to your playlist, here are a few of my favourite high energy songs:
• Guitar Hero, Amanda Palmer
• Trompe le Monde, The Pixies
• At the Bottom of Everything, Bright Eyes
• Girl Anachronism, The Dresden Dolls
• Jason’s Basement, The Gossip
• Rod Stewart, The Lovely Feathers (probably my long-time favourite for chaotic, living room dancing)
• The entire We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank album, Modest Mouse (especially for summer cruisin’)
• Dirty Town, Mother Mother
• Wraith Pinned to the Mist, Of Montreal
• You’re So Damn Hot, Ok Go
• The Arm, Islands

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