Listening to sad songs is not always negative

The biggest difference between cinema and real life is that the latter has no soundtrack. There are no powerful rhythms to let us know that it is time to run and jump, nor ironic music that tells us that what we are experiencing is a joke. However, perhaps the most prominent absence is the sad and languid piano that does not appear when we are down: those blue and melancholic notes that counterpoint the lowest moments of the protagonists of a film are absent.


A simple click on the play button and we gain immediate access to a torrent of tear gas songs that match our mood, reaffirming our pain by submerging ourselves in a foreign pool, deeper each time. Wouldn't it be better to listen to positive, tropical songs to lift your spirits?

Music: our emotional regulator

Professor Julián Céspedes Guevara, PhD in Music Psychology from the University of Sheffield, can shed some light on the matter. The first thing he tells us is to take into account an obvious observation: " all of us who listen to music use it, consciously or unconsciously, to regulate ourselves emotionally".

Even so, the truth is that scientific advances have not come to answer exactly why there is such a powerful identification between our mind and music. Therefore the song becomes, in a sense, a friend who listens to you: we project our interior into the music we listen to.

Based on this reasoning, Céspedes continues, what we would do when listening to music in response to an emotion is to use the narrative and the melody of the song to say. “Exactly, this is how I feel! That void that the singer talks about is exactly what happens to me ”, says more than one @ when listening to that low melody that, paradoxically, comforts him.

Sad music to accompany sadness?

Still, that's just a first step and doesn't quite answer the initial question: is it bad to listen to sad songs when we're bad? For Céspedes, it is a complex issue since "it has been shown that there are several ways of listening to this type of music." And it is not that only he says it. A study carried out by researcher Tuomas Eerola from thousands of surveys published in Plos One reaches the same conclusion.

Céspedes himself delves into the question and identifies the psychology of two large groups of listeners in relation to sad music: one of them will find it beneficial; to the other, harmful. In the first set we find people who are very empathetic or very “open to experiences”. They care a lot about the feelings of others and find in sad music the experience we talked about before: that of understanding another human being and feeling that another human being understands them. People categorized as "open to experiences" tend to be introverts and unafraid to analyze their own emotions. In this case, sad songs will provide them with a tool to learn more about themselves.

In the second group we find those people to whom sad music –especially in the lowest moments– negatively affects them, plunging the listener more into the whirlwind of emotions. It is what in psychology is called 'rumination': to return again and again to the same negative idea without being able to get out of the vicious circle. In this sense, the researcher Sandra Garrido confirmed in her research that sad music triggers this mechanism in people with a tendency to depression.

Therefore, back to the question with which we opened the article: is it bad to listen to sad songs when we are bad? The evidence seems to lean towards 'yes', although, as we have seen, the experience of listening to sad music varies from person to person. In addition, depending on whether you are immersed in moments of sadness or depression, this type of song can trigger your ruminant mechanism, a vicious circle. Luckily, life does not have a pre-installed soundtrack: we decide with which notes to decorate each moment.

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