In 2011, a British band joined forces with a group of sound therapists to create “The Most Relaxing Tune Ever”. Yet since 2011 the world has somehow become more stressed out, strung-up, and on edge. It’s about time we revisited some of those more tranquilizing numbers.
Can Music Really Help Us Relax?
Since classical antiquity, when Apollo was the God of Music, people have held that music has the power to penetrate the soul. That its powers stretch further than the mere ability to vibrate our eardrums. That music can actually heal our mind, body, and soul.
Whether or not you take this view, there’s no denying that music has a powerful ability to shape our environment. It’s the subtle chord changes, the tempo, the rhythm, and the harmonies. This is what affects the emotions, performance, and even purchase intentions of ourselves and those around us.
- A study from the 1990s showed that the “mood” of the music we listened to influenced our perceptions of others.
- A study from 2002 showed that arithmetic performance in primary school pupils could be improved by playing calming music. More aggressive music had a negative impact on performance.
- A study from 1998 showed that listening to grunge music increased levels of hostility, sadness, and tension. “New Age” music had varying results. “Designer Music” (music engineered for specific reactions) could improve mental clarity, caring, and relaxation.
The idea that music can be designed to evoke specific reactions is what’s fascinating here. Take the sessions that produced the “Most Relaxing Tune Ever”. The aim was to create a song to induce a serenity and calmness in people that surpassed anything else out there. The result was Weightless by Manchester Trio, Marconi Union…
According to Shortlist, this song is “even more relaxing than a massage, walk, or cup of tea”. The engineering behind the song was drawn from scientific theory to slow breathing and reduce mental activity. Its strategic bass-lines, rhythms, and harmonies work to induce a biting sleepiness. Enough sleepiness, in fact, for motorists to be warned not to listen to the song while driving. As reported in The Telegraph:
“Studies found Weightless was 11 per cent more relaxing than any other song and even made many of the women ‘drowsy’ in the lab … It induced a 65 per cent reduction in overall anxiety and brought them to a level 35 per cent lower than their usual resting rates.”
After around five minutes of listening to a song, your heart starts to match the beat of the music, or is at least heavily influenced by that beat. This is called “entrainment”, and explains why Weightless (YouTube, Spotify) starts at 60 beats per minute, later slowing to 50 beats per minute. This lowered heart rate naturally leads to a fall in blood pressure and eases anxiety.
Founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy, Liz Cooper, goes on to explain:
“The harmonic intervals – or gaps between notes – have been chosen to create a feeling of euphoria and comfort. And there is no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next … Instead, there are random chimes, which helps to induce a deeper sense of relaxation. The final element is the low, whooshing sounds and hums that are like buddhist chants [that] put you in a trance-like state.”
If you’re curating your own Relaxation playlist, you should keep all of that in mind. Enough of the science though. The vast majority of listeners to Weightless concur in their view as to its calming influence. After listening to it myself while having a lie down, I’ll admit struggling to climb back out of bed at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
All is not uniform in the public opinion department, however. Despite Time Magazine dubbing the song “8 min. 10 sec. of aural bliss,” some people don’t succumb to its charms. This may be due to different wiring, or simply because the sample size of the study wasn’t enough to draw a universal conclusion.
So if Weightless just isn’t doing it for you, try one of these other relaxing songs that were included in the study. There’s bound to be one that can soothe and calm those wrecked nerves of yours. The following are the remaining nine songs of the Top 10, with Marcuni Union’s Weightless coming in at Number 1. Most of these will be available to listen to on Spotify (see our write-up) or Apple Music (see our write-up).
2. Airstream – Electra
Sit back and alleviate your mind with Airstream’s 6 minutes of perfect chillout. Some viewers suggest playing the music at 0.5 speed (Settings > Speed > 0.5) for added meditative qualities, though there’s a lot to be said for listening at 2x speed. For that purpose, you may want to look at the best meditation apps instead.
3. DJ Shah – Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix)
This tune from DJ Shah’s Chill Out Mix appeared in Vsauce’s most relaxing music playlist. Unfortunately, the beat is slightly faster than most people’s resting heart-rate, so you’re unlikely to experience entrainment. However, you’ll almost certainly sink deep into your mattress.
And if you’re listening to YouTube or Spotify on your Android device, you might also use one of these blue light filter apps to help you relax when it’s time for bed.
Enjoyed by almost 20 million listeners on YouTube alone, Enya truly managed to strike a chord with this release. As YouTube user MissDistarr60 put it: “We can live tens of thousands of miles apart, yet this music has the same affect on each and every one of us. It touches the emotions that we all share.”
In terms of music videos, they don’t come much more entertaining than this one. Yet on top of this, the soft instrumentals and whispered vocals massage your nerves, and (surprisingly for this band) lift your mood like few other songs out there. Good work, Coldplay.
6. Barcelona – Please Don’t Go
This truly powerful song, for some, serves more to churn the emotions than to act as a relaxant. But its steady, placid chords and poignant sting instrumentals add elements that are sure to evoke either tears of sadness, or previously unknown depths of sleep.
Listen on YouTube.
7. All Saints – Pure Shores
A strange addition to the list, but nonetheless, Pure Shores does indeed offer a chillout vibe that you may previously have overlooked. Turn the lights out, insert your earphones, and hear it for yourself. Just don’t blame me if you end up dancing like it’s the year 2000 all over again.
8. Adele- Someone Like You
Few need an introduction to Adele’s iconic Someone Like You. Viewed by well over 500 million people on YouTube, it’s a song that the artist can live off for the remainder of her life. Yet it’s not necessarily the incredible vocals or touching lyrics that are to thank for its ubiquity; it’s science.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Someone Like You is “sprinkled with ornamental notes similar to appoggiaturas”, which build tension in the audience and illicit strong emotional responses.
9. Mozart – Canzonetta Sull’aria
The only classical song in the list, Mozart’s Canzonetta Sull’aria is recognizable to many due to its appearance in The Shawshank Redemption. Originally from the opera Marriage of Figaro, it’s sure to add a beautiful end to any stressful period.
10. Cafe Del Mar – We Can Fly
Imagine you’re sat on a beach as the wistful instrumentals of We Can Fly jet you off to some far-flung destination. Reminiscent of bygone travel shows, Cafe Del Mar have perfected the feel of some much-needed downtime with this one.
Listen on YouTube.
Which Songs Help You Relax?
Of course, there are plenty of other songs that are as equally relaxing as some of those in the study. These will usually incorporate some, or all, of the calming features that were identified in Weightless. Here are a few more to add to your list:
- Enya – Carribean Blue
- Mogwai- Take Me Somewhere Nice
- Massive Attack – Teardrop
- Radiohead – High and Dry
- Pink Floyd – Learning to Fly
So if you’re looking for calming ways to destress your mind, or easy ways to fall asleep faster, these songs will be a welcome addition to your repertoire. It’s hopefully a better alternative than watching relaxing Netflix shows.
Which songs have a tranquilizing effect on you? And what do you think it is that makes them so effective at reducing your anxiety?
Image Credits: laying on the bench by Marjan Apostolovic via Shutterstock