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Music Powers Potential: Good, Bad and Ugly

How does music power up your life?

I can’t imagine life without music.

I love my music: it describes my life exactly.

I can’t live without my headphones!

If I don’t listen to my music I go into rage.

Music is on all night to keep me sleeping.

Stimulated by these comments, more ideas may spring forward as you reflect on the influence of music in your life. Is it possible that music not only stirs up the good, but the bad and the ugly, too? 1

  • What music creates a happy gathering place for folks, or creates conflict and war between people?
  • When does certain music trigger a memory that reminds you of a good time, or a bad one?
  • How does your favorite song describe your life when you achieve success, or survive problems?

The Power of Music

When considering all these ways music influences you, exactly how does the power of music activate your body?

Music activates the central nervous system, stimulating whole body responses three ways: physiological, emotional, and behavioral. The invisible power of music influences neurochemicals, blood pressure, heart rate, galvanic skin response (chill bumps or sweating), and respiration. 2

Life becomes more introspective when decoding the influence of music on physiology, emotions, behavior and thoughts.

B.F. Skinner affirms that “thoughts are behaviors we haven’t learned to observe yet.” When we observe how thoughts influence behaviors, we tap into the effects of our mindset. We realize that our mindset is a collection of thoughts and beliefs that shape thought habits.3 Thought habits connect to music listening habits which link to physiological, emotional, and behavioral responses. It’s an endless cycle of connectedness.

“You mean when I push play on music, that music’s really playing me?” ask clients in life recovery. “Yes,” is the answer.

Exploring Music Listening Habits

The cycle of connectedness begins to make sense when music listening habits are more deeply explored. A typical response is “music soothes the savage breast, or beast, or mindset.” Here is another way of understanding these four words as they relate to music listening habits.

  • Savage may refer to our instinctive responses when selecting music. When we scan the radio, iPod, cell, or other audio device, we push play when something feels good to us because we want to listen to it no matter what mood we’re in.
  • Breast may refer to our heart, or feelings. We may select music based upon our mood, what we’re feeling; or, what we desire, changing to a different mood.
  • Beast may refer to our physiological responses. We may want to slow down or rev up blood pressure, heart rate, or pace an athletic race with increased stamina.
  • Mindset refers to our thoughts which influence behaviors. When we notice a desire to influence how we act, we pay attention to shifting our mindset to influence behavior. Music may influence thoughts or mindset, which evolve into behaviors.

As we use music daily, we could be actively influencing all parts of our lives. Songs may describe life and grow to be life’s soundtrack.

When working with clients in recovery, the music often describes their life journey, the broad continuum of depicting active addiction to desired recovery.-Judith Pinkerton

When we relate to the musician’s life, or love the music genre, we may crave the music more often as it becomes a lifeline. The music may match our mood, provide relief, or gently nudge reminders of the life we want.

When working with clients in recovery, the music often describes their life journey, the broad continuum of depicting active addiction to desired recovery. Clients relate to musicians who are in recovery, with several listed in the 2015 ProTalk blog citing “Five Best Addiction and Recovery Songs.” 4

People may attach to these songs as their buddy, their friend, understanding what their life feels like, looks like, and acts like. These referenced songs may inspire listeners to take responsibility, reach out and order up life differently.

Here are excerpts of meaningful lyrics from these five best addiction and recovery songs:

  • “Just open your eyes…and see that life is beautiful.”  ~ Sixx AM “Life is Beautiful”
  • “Take me to the place I love, take me all the way.”  ~ Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under the Bridge”
  • “That’s the only way to live…Turnin’ negatives to positives.”  ~ Chris Rene “Young Homie”
  • “I’ve stretched myself beyond my means.”  ~ Staind “It’s Been Awhile”
  • “I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist.”  ~ Sia “Chandelier”

Here’s the oxymoron. These songs could also trigger relapse.

As a licensed, board-certified music therapist, I work with one hundred fifty clients weekly in substance use disorder treatment where I harness the power of music to influence client physiology, emotions, behavior, and mindset. Emotional tension is released through a specialized music therapy method called the Music 4 Life® Music Medicine Protocol. 5 Lyrics are analyzed to determine positive and negative influences. Beats are dissected to understand physiological consequences. Improvisation taps into healthy creative urges. Coping skills are learned to increase self-awareness, and improve emotion regulation and positive mindset to power up client potential to reclaim their life.

As described in the TEDxUNLV talk “Music Powers Potential,” instinctive music listening habits may match current mood states, funnel memories, or skip to the future to chill or become happier.6 These music listening habits may only be temporary solutions to effective stress management.

Out of Addiction and Into Recovery

Music Therapy offers a way out of addiction into recovery. The Music Medicine Protocol provides psycho-education and prescribes an effective, balanced diet of music to support a healthy lifestyle.

Start your journey by discovering your emotional shape and compare it to the healthy emotional shape to learn about your mood balance and possible solutions within the Music Medicine Protocol. The free self-assessment is available online at

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