On Musical Resonance and Mood Modification

(Epistemic Status: A thing I do and probably something most people do, I just like writing words about things most people do)

Have you ever found yourself waking up, and just knowing it was going to be a bad day? Have you ever just felt, like, tired on an existential level and done with things before the sun has even made it above the horizon? Have you ever just dragged yourself through every minute of your day, kicking and screaming? Have you ever listened to your favorite, most high energy song while in this state and…just gotten nothing out of it? This is a problem I have encountered sometimes and I wasn’t really sure how to resolve it for awhile. I had known for some time that I could meditate on an energetic song and kind of get emotional resonance and energy from listening to it, but this was often when I was in a state with high enough energy to want to listen to music. It mostly was increasing a feeling that was already basically there. It was one day when I started feeling this awful that I discovered the useful concept of musical resonance and opted to play something more in line with how I was feeling – slow, spaced out, depressing to a degree, and felt, if not more energetic, at least a little more at peace.

The interesting thing, was, however, the songs I chose after that. I picked a song with a bit more energy, but still in that lowkey territory. Then something that started a bit slow, but got faster and more intense. Then something mid to high intensity. Then something that resonates most strongly with my high energy state…and I discovered that I was in fact in a high energy, fighty state, right where I wanted to be. It turns out, musical resonance can be used to hack your mood, and in turn change the musical resonance to create a more desireable feedback loop. Essentially, if you create a playlist that gently guides your mood from the undesirable state to the desirable state and double down on it, you’ll generally have good control over how you’re feeling as long as you have enough time to do it properly.

The key to designing a playlist like this is largely noticing how you feel when certain songs are particularly resonant, what songs you are drawn to in certain moods, and how certain songs seem to be pulling you mood wise. Track this information, create a chart of songs for your various moods. Pay attention to songs that seem more mixed or universal – these are the most valuable songs because they form good transitions between states. Once you have enough data, you can design lists that guide you from one state to the other, as well as to various intermediaries. In my case, it’s relatively simple because I often round things to “low energy” and “high energy” and most frequently want to be high energy. For others with a bit more nuance, you might have to create more complex lists.

Overall, musical resonance is generally a feedback loop tool – it focuses attention on a given mood and intensifies it. Using it to guide your mood is a little more intensive and takes some time, but can often be worth it if you need to get into a certain state (hence why various playlists for the gym or for interviews often get made). Tracking your states and their relation to music is generally good practice from a systematizing perspective because it can increase ability to optimize reliably. Music in general has a lot of mind space effects that are worth exploring – it’s best to experiment and find out what works for you personally.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever used music to intensify or change an emotion? How well did it work if so? Is there anyone for which music doesn’t seem to affect valence? What is that like? What sorts of mood transitions are most valuable for you?

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