music health and anxiety

Music, Identity, & Mental Health

Words by Shubhanga Pyakurel and Kritika Niroula

Music is a universal language that transcends barriers. It has long been associated with emotional expression and catharsis. Beyond its artistic and entertainment value, music has demonstrated a powerful influence on mental health, offering a harmonious way to alleviate stress, manage emotions, and enhance overall well-being.

Music is created through the manipulation of sound and vibration, often involving the use of musical instruments and the human voice. The relationship between sound and vibration lies in the cause-and-effect connection. Vibrations in an object generate sound waves, which are disturbances in the surrounding medium.

When an object vibrates, it causes air molecules (or particles in other media) to move in a specific pattern, creating areas of increased and decreased pressure. These pressure variations then travel through the air as sound waves, which our ears detect and perceive as sound.

For instance, when a guitar string is plucked, it begins to vibrate. The vibrations of the string cause the surrounding air molecules to also vibrate, creating compressions and rarefactions in the air.

These pressure changes travel as sound waves, and when they reach our ears, we perceive the vibrations as musical notes. Sound and vibration are interconnected phenomena where vibrations in an object lead to the propagation of sound waves through a medium.

Understanding this relationship is crucial in fields such as acoustics, music, engineering, and communication. Musicians, whether using traditional instruments or modern technology, harness the power of sound and vibration to compose and perform the art of music. This article delves into the intricate relationship between music and mental health, examining recent studies and the diverse music preferences across different age groups.

History of Music

Music has a deep-rooted history that spans the length of human existence. Its emergence can be traced back to our earliest ancestors, marking a pivotal point in the evolution of human expression and communication.

Vocalization played a fundamental role in the early stages of musical development. Mimicking the sounds of nature and imitating the world around them, our ancestors experimented with various vocal tones and patterns. The imitation of natural sounds and the human voice not only facilitated communication but also cultivated an appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of sound, thus paving the way for the birth of music.

Rhythmic activities, such as clapping, stomping, and tapping, were also instrumental in the emergence of music. These rhythmic patterns, initially used to synchronize group activities and coordinate tasks, gradually evolved into more intricate and deliberate sequences.

As humans gathered in communal settings for rituals and ceremonies, the rhythmic elements intertwined with vocalizations, creating a rudimentary form of musical performance that united individuals through shared experiences.

Cultural exchange and migration further enriched the development of music. As humans migrated across different regions and encountered diverse cultures, musical ideas intermingled and merged. Each society contributed its own unique musical traditions, instruments, and techniques, resulting in the cross-pollination of musical styles that gave rise to a tapestry of melodic expressions.

Present-day music is a dynamic fusion of diverse genres and cultural influences, driven by the digital revolution. Artists experiment with genre-blending, resulting in a rich tapestry of sound that transcends traditional boundaries.

Streaming platforms provide easy access to a global array of musical styles, empowering both established musicians and emerging independent artists. Social media and visually captivating music videos enhance the music experience, while technology allows for innovative production techniques.

Music today serves as a reflection of our interconnected world, where artists engage with fans directly and use their platform to address social and political issues, making it a powerful and ever-evolving medium of expression.

From using simple percussion instruments like rattles, as well as wind instruments made from hollowed-out objects such as bone or shells to the emergence of piano, guitar, violin and virtual instruments that replicate sounds using software, illustrates the transformative journey of music as it has evolved over the years.

Age groups and music preferences

Musical preferences can vary significantly among different age groups. Different age groups often gravitate towards distinct types of music, driven by personal experiences, cultural influences, and generational trends. These preferences can significantly influence the ways in which music impacts mental health.

Here are some general overviews of musical preferences in various age groups:

  1. Generation Z (Born mid-1990s to early 2010s):

Generation Z tends to lean towards genres like Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B, EDM, and Indie. They embrace digital platforms and are more likely to discover music through streaming services and social media. Artists who address social and political issues or emphasize authenticity often resonate with this generation.


  1. Millennials (Born early 1980s to mid-1990s):

Millennials often have diverse musical tastes, influenced by the emergence of genres like Alternative Rock, Pop-Punk, R&B, and Hip-Hop during their formative years. They experienced the transition from physical media to digital music and may appreciate a mix of nostalgic hits and contemporary tracks.


  1. Generation X (Born mid-1960s to early 1980s):

Generation X grew up during the rise of Classic Rock, New-Wave, and Pop music. They appreciate the music of their youth but also enjoy genres that have evolved since then. Their preferences might range from rock ballads to alternative and dance music.


  1. Baby Boomers (Born mid-1940s to mid-1960s):

Baby boomers experienced the golden age of Rock and Roll, Motown, and Folk music. They often have a deep appreciation for the music of the 1960s and 1970s, which reflected the social and cultural changes of that era.


  1. Silent Generation (Born mid-1920s to mid-1940s):

The Silent Generation’s musical preferences are influenced by Big Band, Swing, and Traditional Pop music. They might have a fondness for the music of their youth and enjoy listening to the standards of the past.

It’s important to note that these preferences are general trends and can vary widely among individuals within each age group. Most old people in our society engage in listening to religious hymns, matras and stories of the Gods backed by classical eastern music instruments like tabala, harmonium, bansuri, veena and more.

In a recent survey in one of the colleges in Kathmandu, most of youth reported to have listened to loud and fast music when they feel like dancing and feeling happy. On the other hand they claimed to love soft and soothing music while they are alone.

Unlike older population youth are equally interested and invested in lyrical content, tone and rhythm. More youth in cities are inclined towards western influenced genres of music which use instruments like electric guitars, drums, keyboards and various computer generated sounds and loops.

Additionally, as technology has made music more accessible, many people explore a wide range of genres beyond those associated with their generation. Musical tastes are often shaped by personal experiences, cultural influences, and exposure to various styles throughout one’s life.

Not limited to these factors, current social viral trend, multi-media, peer and family influence and social situations may be other related factors. Most of the Nepali people in family tour/ picnic sing along and ressam firiri will be one song that we can’t miss and every generation sings along. Some songs incite national sentiment like “Yo maan ta mero Nepali ho”, which is almost an anthem among majority of youth population.


The Therapeutic Power of Music

Recent research has shed light on the profound impact of music on mental health. Numerous studies have shown that listening to music can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.

A study conducted by Thoma et al. (2013) found that participants who listened to classical music experienced lowered levels of stress hormone cortisol compared to those who did not listen to music. This suggests that music has the potential to regulate stress responses and contribute to a more relaxed state of mind.

Music serves as a potent coping mechanism for individuals facing mental health challenges. Listening to music can provide an emotional outlet, allowing people to express and process their feelings.

In a study by Saarikallio and Erkkilä (2007), participants reported using music to manage stress, sadness, and anger. Engaging with music helps individuals channel their emotions constructively, fostering a sense of control and empowerment.

Incorporating music into daily routines can be a simple yet effective way to support mental well-being. Whether it’s a morning playlist to set a positive tone for the day or an evening ritual of calming melodies to unwind, music can become a reliable companion in the journey towards better mental health.

The harmonious connection between music and mental health is a testament to the profound impact of artistic expression on human well-being. As studies continue to unveil the therapeutic potential of music, it becomes increasingly evident that the melodies we choose to embrace can resonate deeply within our minds and hearts. Regardless of age, genre preferences, or life circumstances, music offers a universal source of solace and inspiration.

Discordant effects and Downside of Music

While music often has positive effects on mental health, such as improving mood and reducing stress, there are instances where it can also contribute to negative outcomes.

These effects could include triggering negative emotions, exacerbating anxiety or depression, promoting unhealthy coping mechanisms, or even contributing to sensory overload in certain individuals. It’s important to recognize that individual responses to music vary, and what might have a discordant effect on one person’s mental health may not necessarily affect another person in the same way.

A study conducted by Anderson, C. A., & Dill, K. E. (2000), says that some genres of music, particularly those with explicit or aggressive lyrics, can have a negative impact on mental health. Exposure to lyrics that promote substance abuse or misogyny can contribute to negative emotions and attitudes.

On the other hand, the music industry’s focus on appearance and success can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem among listeners. Unrealistic body image standards depicted in music videos and lyrics can lead to body dissatisfaction and related mental health issues. In urban settings, excessive exposure to loud music or noise pollution can lead to stress, sleep disturbances, and anxiety. Noise-related stressors can negatively impact mental health over time.



Music emerges as a vibrant thread that weaves together experiences, emotions, and cultures. Its historical evolution has rendered it an ageless companion, and its melodies effortlessly traverse the realms of emotion, providing solace and companionship in moments of joy and despair alike.

As research continues to unveil its therapeutic prowess, it becomes evident that music is not merely a collection of sounds, but a symphony of healing and transformation. From the rhythmic beats that shaped our earliest societies to the contemporary fusion of genres in our interconnected world, music resonates as an ambassador of mental well-being.


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