The Power of Music
Music has been a staple to human well-being since the beginning of mankind. The vibration of sound created by any kind of instrument (including the voice), has evoked a distinct feeling in listeners. Add meaningful lyrics, and a motivational song can be born.
Let’s Start Motivating
The definition of motivation according to Mirriam-Webster is “the condition of being eager to act or work.” The main reason a person becomes motivated is because there is a force that compels them; that particular compulsion is for some type of reward. Basically, motivation is propelled by a personal prize.
Motivation, Music, and Your Brain
Ideally, we all want to feel motivated—we want that prize. That reward can be: increased self-confidence, weight loss, career or educational success, the attention of someone romantically, financial gain, etc. These are all motivating factors. So how can music give us that experience? Let’s ask the brain.
Studies have been conducted for decades on how music affects our feelings, which are generated by brain activity. Music used to be considered just an “art.” In 1969, Lola Cuddy set up a music psychology lab at Queen’s University in Canada. That program was paramount to the ensuing studies conducted on parts of the brain in which music affects our memory and feelings.
Music is more than a simple sound; it is processed by several different sections of the brain. At least eight parts of the mind are positively affected by music. Some benefits are: increased cognitive and motor skills, language, reasoning, and visual ability. If finding out why music motivates us, then we want to focus on the centers that affect emotions and make us feel rewarded.
Motivational Musical Brain Centers
At the 2013 Annual Society of Neuroscience Conference, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug talked about music as a multisensory experience. He infers that it essentially “engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain.”
The Cerebellum – this cortex allows for the emotional reaction to music. When you hear a song and you start dancing involuntarily, or your foot starts tapping on its own, this is your cerebellum responding to the tune being played.
The Amygdala – this center is quite primitive; it is the fight/flight, fear area. One of the reasons the amygdala plays a part in listening to a song, is that it responds immediately to a trigger. The response system is sudden, so a song with a memory of motivation (or reward) is instant.
Nucleus Accumben – this area creates an emotional reaction to songs and music in general. It forms expectations; it expects an approaching reward. So if there is increased brain activity in the nucleus accumben, it means that the song is creating motivation.
Songs with Words
Lyrics have their own set of motivators. Words (in a song) cast from memory of good-feeling and accomplishment can propel a listener to feel empowered. This is one of the reasons why we love to sing along!
Singing aloud (whether on key or not) may create a physiological reaction that releases serotonin. Serotonin is basically one of the feel-good, brain chemicals. Your brain has elasticity and, obviously, memory. So when particular words and/or lyrics trigger empowerment/motivation, it will release an amount of serotonin; it is a chemical that has memory of positive feeling.
Another theory for motivation derived from music is that, as humans, we seek companionship and unity. Music, especially specific songs, brings people together. Unconscious bonds form. A person who abhors large crowds may still be compelled to go to a concert with 10,000 others because there is an unspoken kinship. That unified feeling feeds the brain, and hence the music/the songs motivate the individuals.
The “psychology of music” informs on specifics of keys and tempo in regards to how we react to certain songs. Without lyrics, the emotional response is dependent on the instrumental. Specific keys definitely create a variety of emotions.
The key of F-minor is said to evoke depression, funereal emotion. Lullabies, for example, are meant to calm babies so they can drift off to sleep more easily. Chopin and Beethoven wrote sonatas and nocturnes in E flat major. That key is often used in our children’s bedtime songs and lullabies. The expression “Music soothes the savage beast,” may hold some truth.
Alternately, then what “Riles the wild?” According to gradfree.com, the key of D is known as a key of “triumph…victory rejoicing.” Hence, choosing an appropriate key like D-major or B flat-major will promote feelings of positivity and motivation. Whether we understand musicality, we understand instinctively which keys (without having to know what they are) make us feel a certain way.
The Top Twenty Most Motivational Songs
Now that we’ve established and understand what makes a song so empowering, let’s explore 20 of the best. With the introduction of video, the visuals definitely impact feelings as well. This is a very eclectic group of songs spanning over centuries, so many on the list should please both young in age as well as those young in spirit and heart.
20.) Vivaldi – “Winter” from his Four Seasons. Obviously watching the violinist and the entire orchestra is inspiring. Watch and listen. Then, play it again, this time with your eyes closed and with a goal in mind. This classic piece will make you feel like you can achieve whatever you dream.
19.) Beethoven – 5th Symphony (1st movement). Again, listening with eyes closed allows your auditory senses to indulge in any emotional response you might have. It’s no coincidence that this YouTube video (with no video, just sound) has had almost 20-million visitors. This piece by Beethoven has most undoubtedly inspired many.
18.) Aretha Franklin – Think (Freedom). This is a song that doesn’t require visuals to get the mind excited. The tune, lyrics, and Franklin’s energy evoke a sensation of excitement and determination.
17.) Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode. The guitar and piano riffs will distract anyone from any negativity. Here’s a song with a catchy beat and simple lyrics. A quick motivational pick-up.
16.) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Can’t Hold Us. This contemporary song excites and motivates from its first musical note.
15.) Rolling Stones – Let’s Spend the Night Together. The piano music and energy from Mick Jagger bursts through in this classic hit.
14.) Meat Loaf – All Revved Up. The title says it all. This tune from the Bat Out of Hell album will motivate you, especially after minute 3; it gets wild and gnarly.
13.) Queen/David Bowie – Under Pressure. This is a classic-rock hit in the original key of D major. No wonder this a feel-good staple; incredible musicianship, arrangement, and brilliant voices make this an overall, superb, motivational song.
12.) Journey – Any Way You Want It. There are several Journey songs that are uplifting, but this one in particular empowers and motivates. From its original release in 1980, it’s shown a resurgence amongst today’s younger population.
11.) Michael Jackson – Beat It. This extraordinarily talented writer, singer, dancer inspired audiences over decades. This song will make your toes tap whether you’re 3 or 93. The video never gets stale either; Jackson’s moves motivate.
10.) Pharell – Happy. Getting happy or happier will happen when listening to this song. It is aptly named.
9.) Gypsy Kings – Bamboleo. Dare to sit still during this high-energy guitar masterpiece. The band may be from France and sing in Spanish, but they groove internationally.
8.) 2001: A Space Odyssey Theme Song. The build-up excites the listener; once those deep, recognizable drums join in, we are fully committed. By the grand finale, we are pretending to conduct the orchestra.
7.) Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling. This song is a great example of people wanting to share an experience. You can’t help but get motivated and have a good time, and rock the house.
6.) Rocky Horror Picture Show- Time Warp. This song was the 20th century’s version of the Macarena. This is a fun pick-me-up. Take note in the video of a 20-something Susan Sarandon.
5.) All the Single Ladies. The song is really fun, but if you attempt to dance like Beyoncé does in the video, you will have a great time!
4.) Beatles – Birthday Song. If this song doesn’t elevate your spirits, that’s pretty sad. Even if it’s not your birthday, this uplifting tune should make it a better day!
3.) Aillen Quinn – Tomorrow. This tune from the Broadway show and film “Annie” warms even the coldest. Annie said that singing this song when she was in the orphanage cheered her up. Now, that’s a motivational song.
2.) Kelly Clarkson – Stronger. Another empowering bonding song. Women, especially, can relate to the lyrics. Dancing is not required, but jumping up and down may happen.
1.) Psy – Gangnam Style. The video has been watched almost 2 BILLION times. That’s inspirational unto itself. Push judgment aside on this one and just let it make you smile.
Take a Chance
Some of these songs may be familiar, others completely unknown. When you’re feeling like you could use a spiritual boost, click on a link to one of these motivational songs. Odds are you will feel lighter, yet stronger in just a beat, a heartbeat.
Let me know what you think of my list and what your favorite motivation songs are.