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By Heidi Bitsoli
Music has been part of human culture since time immemorial. The oldest surviving music notation, known as the Hurrian Hymn, is an enchanting and relaxing lyre melody that is over 3,400 years old and was inscribed on a clay tablet in Cuneiform. (The tablet was found in the 1950s in modern-day Syria.) The song was written for Nikkal, the Hurrian goddess of orchards, but the melody by itself is a calming one, reflecting tree branches waving in the breeze.
One of many reasons people listen to music is to reduce stress. Scientific evidence suggests that music stimulates dopamine in the brain, causing a reduction of stress and a feeling of well-being. Today, it is used as an effective tool in therapy, but anyone can enjoy a few moments of instant stress reduction simply by pulling up a song.
Performed by Jessica Darrow, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Surprised to see a song from a Disney movie here? This song isn’t about finding the prince or wanting adventure in a new world. This is a song about feeling stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations of others.In the context of the Oscar-winning animated film Encanto, 19-year-old Luisa Madrigal has the gift of super strength and is often called upon to do things like round up donkeys (which she carries like they were kittens) or move buildings and bridges. Luisa puts on a show of being a quiet pillar of strength, but in truth, she feels like she’s falling apart from the inside. This reggaeton number is not only a character study, but something many people stressed out by responsibilities can relate to.
Composed by Gregorio Allegri
Allegri’s Miserere is a choral composition that had a young Mozart in awe. This Latin psalm dating back to the late Renaissance was actually used in a study on the effect of music on human stress response. The results of the study found that baseline cortisol levels were reached the fastest in the groups that listened to the relaxing music. The Latin translates as the usual hymnal lyrics; sin is bad, God is good, etc. The first line “Miserere mei, Deus” translates as “Have Mercy on me, God.” If you want, you can ignore the guilt trip lyrics (easy if you’re not fluent in Latin) and focus on the calm and relaxing choral song featuring nine voices weaving together in harmony to make a pleasant, soothing melody.
Performed by Shakira, written by Sia and Stargate
Last Disney song, I swear! This one differs from “Surface Pressure” in that it’s not so much a show tune as an in-universe performance piece that just happens to reflect on the actions taken by the main character. In Zootopia, Judy Hopps listens to this pop song by the famous singer Gazelle while she rides the train taking her to her new home. The song is reprised over the end credits as Judy and her new friends attend a Gazelle concert. The lyrics acknowledge that no one is perfect, but they shouldn’t let that stop them from trying to improve themselves. It’s peppy, but it avoids the toxic positivity of many “feel good” songs.
Performed by The Commodores, written by Lionel Richie.
Like Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” this is an R&B ballad with a slow and smooth rhythm that is about someone who is ready to leave a relationship and get on with living better than they were. “Easy” is a gentle-sounding song that is often mistaken for a love song rather than a break-up song. Despite the use of the word “girl” in the first verse, the song could be about getting rid of anything that makes you unhappy, such as a drug habit or an oppressive contract with Motown. (Which Richie was really writing about.) The song’s melody fits the title, and the lyrics celebrate the calming freedom of just being one’s true self.
“Return to Innocence”
Performed by Enigma, written by John “Bonzo” Bonham, Michael Cretu, Kuo Hsiu-chu and Kuo Ying-nan
It almost goes without saying that a new age song would make the list. The drumbeat of this song is so gentle, you’d almost never guess the drummer from the hard rock band Led Zeppelin came up with it. The native Taiwanese chant adds to the otherworldly nature of the song. The lyrics encourage the listener to have an honest expression of their emotions, whether sad or happy. The lyrics along with the melody are conducive to getting in touch with one’s true self and letting go of the stress of trying to be what other people want.
“Piano Sonata No. 14”
Composed by Ludwig von Beethoven
Beethoven called this piece Sonata quasi una fantasia, “sonata in the manner of a fantasy.” The German music critic Ludwig Rellstab compared the first movement to moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne. This earned Beethoven’s most famous sonata the nickname “Mondscheinsonate” or “The Moonlight Sonata.” The slow, melancholy melody of the first movement is what many people are most familiar with. The second movement is a bit more cheerful, but still calming and relaxing. The third movement is quite energetic. This classic piece is a timeless must for any relaxation playlist.
“And I Love Her”
Performed by the Beatles, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
The Beatles had a song for every emotion. “And I Love Her” is about love, of course, but a calm, secure and peaceful love as eternal as the moon and stars while still retaining all the tenderness love should have. Ringo played congas in this song, producing a more mellow sound than his usual snares. Simple and repetitive as the song is, sometimes that’s all you need. Much like love, to quote another Beatles’ song.
“Clair de Lune”
Composed by Claude Debussy
This is the third movement of Suite bergamasque and is the best known of Debussy’s piano suites. This Baroque piece inspired by the poetry of Paul Verlaine is simple and straightforward, but it still speaks to the soul in calm and relaxing tones. The tune is in turns melancholy and meditative, a calming reflection on the mysterious coolness of the night sky. Debussy once said that “Music is the space between the notes.” Nowhere is that truer than in the reverberating and contemplative notes of Clair de Lune.
Performed by Peach Hips, written by Naoko Takeuchi and Akiko Kosaka
The Japanese lyrics to this song were written by the mangaka behind Sailor Moon, and it was the fourth ending theme song for the anime starring the magical heroine. Translated, the lyrics are about a desire for a love so great it encompasses the galaxy. The melody is calmer than your typical J-Pop, as is appropriate for a ballad. Like with the aforementioned “Miserere,” if you’re not accustomed to the language, the focus is on the beauty of the tone of the vocals rather than the words themselves.
Performed and written by David Bowie and Queen
This is a song that acknowledges the presence of stress in everyday lives. While the pressure is external, the stress is internal. You could simply ignore them or try to be neutral about them, but that is not the best idea. The answer is to love ourselves and each other, challenging as that in itself is. The underscoring bass line is a heavy, rhythmic beat cooled by melodious piano chords. Freddie Mercury’s jazzy improvised scat singing adds some easy going levity to a heavy rock song.
We jumped all over the place when it comes to music genres, didn’t we? Many people would suggest classical or new age music to relax and reduce stress. But, as we’ve seen, there are pop, rock and R&B songs that are great stress relievers as well. The secret is to find what does the trick for you.
classicfm.com – Listen to the enchanting sound of the world’s oldest song, the Hurrian Hymn
canr.msu.edu – The Role of Music in Stress Management
disney.fandom.com – Surface Pressure
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response
classicfm.com – What are the origins of Allegri’s Miserere, and what do the lyrics mean?
zootopia.fandom.com -Try Everything
songfacts.com – Easy by Commodores
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – San Jose’s Top Addiction Resource & Information Guide
songfacts.com/facts.com – Return to Innocence by Enigma
tonara.com – History of Moonlight Sonata
beatlesbible.com – And I Love Her
wikimoon.org – Tuxedo Mirage
justrandomthings.com – Queen – Under Pressure (Lyrics Review and Song Meaning)