“Soothing” Music

It’s a funny thing about music, isn’t it? It can tap directly into our emotional state, giving a cheery boost, smoothing jangled nerves, creating mental clarity, and triggering nostalgia, among many other sensations. One word I frequently hear people use to describe the emotional benefit of listening to classical music is “soothing.” The word “soothing” implies something quiet, slow and gentle, like a balm. But where listening to music is concerned, “soothing” transcends tempo, dynamic level and character. Whether it’s big, loud and bombastic, quiet and meditative, or moderately paced and reserved, listeners often describe classical music as “soothing.”

It’s puzzling. I have even heard fellow musicians express frustration or annoyance over the term because they take it as a subtle putdown, as though the word “soothing” implies the music is boring or nondescript or being used merely as background. But I think they might be taking it too literally and missing the more important point. I think it may be the ACT of listening to music that is soothing for so many people. It’s a pleasurable activity and because it taps into our emotional state in all those wonderful ways, it feels satisfying and it feels soothing. Turn on a favorite piece and sing along, or air-conduct, or just close your eyes and — WOW — it feels great. It doesn’t matter if the music is fast or slow, or if it’s a big orchestra or solo piano, it goes straight to the heart. If it’s something that appeals to you and touches you on an emotional level, the act of listening will feel good. Soothing! It’s a treat you’ve given yourself. I compare it to my daily runs. I am breathless and sweaty as I expend considerable energy, but it feels great during and after. It feels “soothing” overall — physically and mentally — because it’s my “me time.”

We live in such a busy, hectic world and daily life is often devoid of these treats. So when a simple pleasure such as music is introduced into the mix it feels good. Whether it’s quiet and introspective or loud and bold, it feels satisfying. It feels SOOTHING. And that’s not a contradiction — it’s a little treat you give yourself!