Why some music is great and why you should listen to more of it.

By Journalism I student Greta Miller, ‘23.

Great music has the ability to influence society by changing the strongest of moods and encouraging different behaviors. What music influences you?

Since the earliest Egyptian percussion instruments dating back to 3,000 BC, humans have been influenced by beats and rhythms. To this day, a melodic voice or a strumming guitar can evoke strong emotional responses. With music now being instantaneously accessible, it has become intertwined with everyday life.

Yet with so many options available, particular pieces of music tend to stand out. So what makes a piece of music so great? 

First, it is probably a good idea to acknowledge the basic science of sound. There are various qualities of sound that come together to create a song. Tone, timbre and pitch are just a few significant musical qualities. To put the science of sound simply, pure tone sound waves mesh into one single wave resulting is an overall complex tone. Add some rhythm and harmonies and you have the recipe for something impactful. 

A listener’s response to what they hear involves how the music makes them feel. Emotions dominate great musical experiences and can result when music triggers memories, evokes different emotions, provides an escape, or helps the listener develop a sense of identity. Has a particular song ever given you the ‘chills?’ That is an emotional response. This involves the release of dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with a reward or drug addiction high.

Music affects emotional responses in other ways, too.

Research shows that anticipation is a key element in activating the reward system and provoking musical pleasure. Primary ways in which music provokes strong emotional responses are when music includes unexpected changes in intensity and tempo. While emotions are a significant driver of what makes music appealing, it is not the only thing.

Comfort and entertainment, two essential components of everyday life, are also provided by music. Great music’s effect can range from improving cognitive performance, reducing stress, improving sleep, combating depression and improving athletic performance. These benefits have been especially important throughout the year 2020. Social distancing and quarantine mandates can make people feel isolated and lonely, increasing stress and anxiety. Music is a perfect remedy. Music provides a soundtrack for our lives and it can help by invoking positive feelings and inspiring us to move, sing, dance and stop to feel the vibration. 

What qualities make a song great? When an artist can accomplish the perfect musical recipe that elicits an emotion, comforts the listener or purely entertains, the song will likely be one worth adding to a playlist.

So listen to more music! Find the pieces of music that trigger your emotions and fire up your brain. Listen to music when you wake up, when you go to sleep, and when you study for that big test. Listen to music when you need a laugh or want to cry. Great music truly moves you, and what moves you is great for you.  


Here are some of my recommendations of great music:

When I want empowerment: “Whenever You See Me” by Kitty, Daisy, & Lewis

When I want to cheer up: “Cooler Than Me – Single Mix” by Mike Posner and Gigamesh

When I want to cry: Charles Bradley performs a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes”

When I’m working out: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

When I’m studying: “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck

When I want to mellow out: “At My Worst” by Pink Sweat$ or “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson