Music is for many a self-prescribed method of relaxation. Listening to relaxing music is a way to engage your mind in a simple activity and allow yourself to decompress. Many of us are instinctively drawn to music to seek to destress and relax. So what is the power of relaxing music? Why and how can music help us relax? We tell you about that and more in this blog post.
[Scroll down for the list of relaxing music and links.]
Science backs it up
Studies have indicated that music can induce a relaxation response. This happens by lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels and increasing oxytocin levels. A recent study in the Music and Medicine Journal, for example, suggested that good quality relaxing music could lower blood pressure(1).
The study focused on individuals at high risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers wrote a song for the study at approximately 56 bpm. They designed it to promote a meditative state with long and suspension tones. The frequency of the music was also varied from 440 to 432 Hz. Their conclusion was that “listening to low-frequency music has benefits including slowing heart rate and promoting relaxation” (p. 179).e
In another study in the same journal(2), participants listened to what the authors called relaxation music. They used a song entitled “Peaceful Journey” by composer and sound therapist Jonathan Goldman. They chose the music according to recommendations for relaxing music by other music therapists. Their conclusion was that “the combination of music therapy and resonance breathing seems to be a well-received and effective way to induce relaxation and well-being in healthy adults” (p. 104).
Relaxing music can also have an impact on mental fatigue. A peer-reviewed article on PLOS investigated the effects of relaxing music on mental fatigue and performance after a continuous task. Their results suggested that listening to relaxing music alleviated mental fatigue. Have you ever tried listening to music while working on something else? Did you notice a difference in your performance? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
These studies suggest that relaxing music can well, help us relax. But it can do a lot more beyond that. It can help with the tasks we are performing and it can be part of our self-care routine.
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Oxytocin and Cortisol
Another possible underlying mechanism of music effect could be oxytocin, which is a neuro-hormone with bonding and relaxing effects. Alexander Legge also argues in a paper that listening to relaxing music decreases blood levels of cortisol—a marker for stress. The effect on both oxytocin and cortisol levels could then be an explanation of why some music seems to help us relax.
Is Relaxing Music Universally Relaxing?
It is still elusive what types of music or what elements of music induce relaxation. The types of music more commonly known or claimed to be used for relaxation are sonic mantras, drones, sounds of nature, and brainwave entrainment music. But there are certainly people who relax better listening to Beethoven or to their favorite singer.
Gender, cultural background, time, age, and many other factors influence the effect music has on us. We have put together a list of music specifically for relaxation. If they do not have an effect on you try exploring by yourself. Perhaps what is most important is to disconnect from your digital and everyday life and let the music wash away your problems.
Using Relaxing Music to Sleep
Using relaxing music to sleep is not unheard of. Personally, there was a time when I would listen to music if I had trouble sleeping. (Nowadays I just fall asleep quite easily). Sleep after all is a state of deep relaxation and rest. Some ways in which relaxing music can help sleep are:
Calming an anxious mind
Have you ever had the experience of not being able to sleep because your mind would not let you? Often times, we ruminate on so many things at the end of the day. This can be a serious impediment to let you sleep.
Relaxing music for sleep could then be something to focus on and calm your mind. By focusing on the music you can stop thinking about the things you did or did not do today. Or the things you have to do tomorrow.
Lowering your heart rate
When we sleep, our heart rate decreases. It also means that by lowering our heart rate we can fall asleep easier. I use a technique all the time that does not use music. I basically count my heartbeats but I count them slower than they actually are. Because of entrainment, my heartbeats slow down, this usually helps me fall asleep in a min or two!
You can also do this with relaxing music. Relaxing music tends to follow slower tempos. The slower tempos can also help your heart rate decrease, thus helping you enter a state of sleep more easily.
Lowering your breathing rate
Breathing is closely linked to heart rate. And just as heart rate is slower while sleeping, breathing rate is slower as well. The logic also follows that if using relaxing music to sleep lowers your heart rate, it will also lower your breathing rate.
In short, there is nothing specific that makes relaxing music for sleeping different. Yet, the principles that make music for relaxing can also help you sleep!
List of Relaxing Pieces
Here it is, a list of 10 relaxing songs compiled from music therapy papers, music therapists, and music therapy students:
This was recommended by Pelletier and Grocke & Wigram for physiologically relaxing music. If you like the sound of flowing water, this song would be great for you. There’s an overall feeling of floating on water throughout the 26 minutes. The melodies are very gentle, played on flutes, harps, and other instruments.
(Laraaji, Sarah Benson, and Jonathan Goldman, track from De-Stress), 23:23.
This song follows a similar style as “Peaceful Journey.” There is the constant sound of water running. You can hear sounds and melodies swelling in and out.
(The Cambridge Singers)
Music therapist Douglas Keith recommended this choral song. It shows that not everybody likes the same relaxing music. There are general things to look out for in relaxing music, but everybody has their preference.
This is a simple composition with piano sounds and some other instruments.
I am personally a fan of Debussy and find this composition relaxing.
This song was recommended by another music therapy student. It has a set tempo and rhythm so it is more activating than other recommendations here.
This is a nice and simple piano piece. A threnody is a wailing ode, song, hymn, or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person. You can hear the sadness and poignancy in this song. Yet, it can also be a relaxing experience.
Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones
I cannot attest to the efficiency of binaural beats, but it is accessible out there if you find it helpful to relax.
This is one of my favorite pieces on this list. It does not have a clear beat but rather it is like a waterfall of sounds interacting with each other. Chihei Hatakeyama is an electronic music artist from Tokyo, Japan. He released his first full-length album, Minima Moralia on Kranky in 2006. Hatakeyama’s music is characteristically very slow, composed by repeatedly processing guitars, pianos, and vibraphones on a laptop.
“Masayoshi Fujita is a Japanese vibraphonist and composer based in Berlin. He first learned how to play the drums, followed by extensive vibraphone training to craft and play his own compositions.
Determined not to stick to traditional vibraphone styles or techniques and theory of composition, he seeks his own sound of vibraphone and new possibility of it. Masayoshi also prepares his instrument with strings of bead, strips of foil and similar objects. The resulting new sounds, akin to distortions, help to expand the vibraphone spectrum without eroding the instrument’s intrinsic character or even abandoning it altogether.”
Jonathan Julian Hopkins (born 15 August 1979) is an English musician and producer who writes and performs electronic music. He began his career playing keyboard for Imogen Heap, and has produced or contributed to albums by Brian Eno, Coldplay, David Holmes, and others.
This piece is from his album also entitled “Immunity.” Immunity is Hopkins’ fourth studio album, released on 4 June 2013, by Domino Records. Immunity peaked at no. 13 on Top Electronic Albums by Billboard in the United States. In Britain, it was nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize for best album.
Nils Frahm had an early introduction to music, learning the piano throughout his childhood. It was through this that Nils began to immerse himself in the styles of classical pianists from previous generations as well as the music of contemporary composers, before forging his own musical path through composition.
Today Nils Frahm continues to work as an accomplished composer, producer, and celebrated performer from his Berlin-based studio at the renowned Funkhaus. His unconventional approach to an age-old instrument, played contemplatively and intimately, and on a mesmerizing scale through his vast stage shows, has won him many fans around the world. Nils has gained global notoriety for his highly developed sense of control and restraint in his work, as well as a breath-taking level of emotion and personality.
““Maverick cellist” is the phrase most often assigned to Grammy-winning artist, David Darling, but it hardly captures the richness, diversity, breadth, and sense of humor of a man who literally redefines the way the cello is played and the way music is taught. His prolific collection of recordings and innovative performance style represent an eclectic variety of musical genres. His playful and unconventional teaching methods have helped open the world of music and improvisation to thousands of individuals.”
Relaxing Music with Nature Sounds
I thought about including this one to also give you a chance to listen to some nature sounds.
Check out the songs in Spotify:
Thank you for reading this blog post on relaxing music! Let us know what you think in the comments and what other songs you think we should include in this list.
- Halbert, J. D., Van Tuyll, D. R., Purdy, C., Hao, G., Cauthron, S., Crookhall, C., . . . Kapuku, G. K. (2018). Low Frequency Music Slows Heart Rate and Decreases Sympathetic Activity. Music & Medicine, 10(4), 179-184.
- Fuchs, D., Hillecke, T. K., & Warth, M. (2018). Relaxation Effects of Musically Guided Resonance Breathing: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Music & Medicine, 10(2), 104-112.
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