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How the pandemic has changed our music listening habits — and why


Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels CC0

María José Fuenteálamo - Matthew Green - published on 06/16/20

If you stop to think about it, it makes so much sense that we're craving this kind of music now.

There are no concerts, no movies, and no theater in the countries where governments have issued stay-at-home orders. The only way to hear live music in person is if you, your children, or your neighbor is a musician.

Thanks to technology, however, we can still listen to live music on TV and over the internet, while YouTube and other streaming services give us the opportunity to hear music of all styles and eras. In fact, all over the world, countless musicians have created new songs full of solidarity and support in the fight against COVID-19.

The pandemic, however, has changed our music listening habits—at least temporarily. This change has been reported by the principal music streaming platforms, which have pointed out how in recent months there has been a growing tendency to listen to more comforting, familiar songs that appeal to our nostalgia.

In fact, according to data from Spotify, many recent songs have lost ground on the charts of the most played music. More relaxing and instrumental songs have gained ground.Rolling Stone reports that “in the first two months of social distancing, American listeners largely gravitated away from electric and electronic genres and toward the acoustic — to singer-songwriter classics and country jams, from Joan Baez to the Byrds and Bob Dylan.”

Music from previous decades

Similarly, Spotify reported in April that there was “a 54% increase in listeners making nostalgic-themed playlists, as well as an uptick in the share of listening to music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (with ’50s music listening increasing the most).”

And there are more data that confirm this trend. A survey conducted by Nielsen Music/MRC Data, reported by The Conversation, shows that more than half of the nearly 1,000 participants in the survey indicated that they have been “seeking comfort in familiar, nostalgic content” in the music they’re listening to during these difficult days.

Healing power

Since ancient times, people have believed that music has healing power. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks used music to help heal body and soul. It’s even biblical; David (before he became king) used to play music to calm King Saul (1 Samuel:14-23). Music is used today in a wide range of therapies, including the management of symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Even without any specialized knowledge, we all know that some kinds of music comfort us and make us feel more at peace, which is just what we’ve been looking for during these long days at home.

Looking for this effect, many people have turned to the music of their adolescence, which strongly influences what will be our favorite repertoire later in life. As mentioned above, many people also find instrumental and acoustic music calming, regardless of its (or their) age.

Incidentally, we can see the same trend happening in eating habits. Dietitian and nutrition researcher Carli Liguori reports that people responding to surveys have said they’re eating more comfort food than usual, such as pizza and ice cream. It’s food Liguori describes as “the stuff we ate as kids,” which people are choosing because “food can induce feelings of nostalgia that transport us back to simpler times.”

“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast”

The power of music has been studied since time immemorial and under the most extreme conditions, such as periods of war. We’ve all heard that music can “soothe the savage breast” (sometimes misquoted as “savage beast”). That’s precisely what we need when the beasts of anxiety, stress, and possibly anger dwell in our breast during this situation of uncertainty.

Scientific studies tell us that “listening to the music you love will make your brain release more dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter for humans’ emotional and cognitive functioning.” Dopamine is connected to experiencing pleasure and the sensation of being rewarded.

This helps to explain why the music we love calms us, consoles us, and distracts us from pain. Music can help in preparation for medical operations, or during childbirth: Many pregnant women prepare “birth playlists” or play their favorite music during labor.

In the light of all this, it makes perfect sense that listening to music we love would help us in our mental and even physical fight against COVID-19.

Musicians all over the world have dedicated themselves to composing and/or playing music to encourage us, and many recovered COVID-19 patients have said how music helped them in their most difficult moments. This is true not only of patients who have been isolated in hospitals, but also of those who have remained in their own homes.

It’s clear that nothing makes up for the lack of human contact, but a good song—whatever might be our personal favorite—can always help bring us calm and joy.

Read more:
6 Pieces of beautiful music that can bring you peace


Read more:
4 Heartwarming amateur music videos that capture the spirit of quarantine

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