Music has been used as a form of entertainment throughout history but did you know that it can also be used to improve brain function and relaxation?
Classical music and relaxation go hand in hand; the soft sounds from string instruments are both beautiful to listen to and calming. While studies have been done on the effects of listening to music on the human psyche, there is something in particular about classical music that relaxes and “heals” the body.
Classical Music and the Brain
Why is that? Anyone who listens to music knows that it puts you in a good mood, especially when it’s your favorite music. Yet, it’s the structure and slow tunes of most classical music, specifically, that creates a calming effect on the listener. This is due to the release of dopamine which is the body’s natural happy chemical that improves a person’s mood, and also blocks the release of stress. When you’re happy, you’re less stressed, and vice versa. There are a variety of activities that release dopamine and listening to classical music is one of them.
Aside from improving a person’s mood and helping them to relax, there are a wide range of benefits from listening to classical music that affect all ages, and all stages of life, from babies to the elderly. Such beneficial effects include:
- Improved sleep
- Reduced stress
- Better memory
- Lowers blood pressure
- Higher emotional intelligence
Listening to classical music can have these effects and more, but it’s important to choose the right music, especially when it comes to relaxation. You wouldn’t want to choose classical music that is loud and blaring and relies on brass instruments.
Since classical music form is usually associated with the Classical Period in Western history and the composer Mozart, many guides suggest listening to Mozart for the benefits of classical music and relaxation (more on that below), but any classical music piece can do. Classical music forms from non-European countries, like China, can be just as relaxing due to the similarities in sound and music, and even modern classical music with similar structures and patterns can be found playing softly in many spas.
The Mozart Effect
Are you familiar with the parenting technique of playing classical music to help a baby sleep? Studies show that classical music helps calm babies down, and some parents believe it even makes the baby smarter. This last idea is known as The Mozart Effect, popularized by a 1993 study in which researchers analyzed students listening to classical music before some tests. The researchers found that the students performed better when answering questions after listening to classical music.
While the Mozart Effect doesn’t make you permanently smarter, it does make you more relaxed, and therefore able to tackle a task with confidence. The calming effect of classical music takes away any jitters or nervousness, and can help to decrease your heart rate and anxiety. The Mozart Effect relies on listening to classical music while performing a task, which helps to focus on the task at hand and improve memory retention.
How does classical music help with relaxation? Many say that the melodic harmonies are soothing, which in turn has positive effects on the brain. Because classical music is similar to lullabies, it also helps with sleep, causing the listener to go to sleep faster. Classical music and relaxation is almost like a form of meditation, due to all these positive effects, and can even make someone more empathetic and emotionally intelligent, because their body and mind is at peace.
Classical Music at AIRE Ancient Baths
Classical music might not be the first thing you think of when headed to a spa. But at AIRE Ancient Baths, we aim to offer relaxation on all levels for guests. That’s why we’ve partnered with the Dub Sutra Group, who have created relaxing and ambient songs to play in all AIRE centers. The worldly, classical-inspired music is played throughout AIRE centers to complete the ambiance, but also to provide further relaxation.
The music paired with a massage session or an AIRE Thermal Bath experience will guarantee the ultimate relaxation experience as visitors can close their eyes, listen to the music, and enjoy the luxurious sensations and sounds around them.
Grieg – Morning Mood
Evocative, rich and lyrical, the Norwegian composer’s music is always very special. ‘Morning Mood’, from the Peer Gynt Suite No.1, is Grieg’s depiction of the sun rising in the Moroccan desert, in music. It begins with a light touch, before expanding into a glorious, full-bodied work for symphony orchestra. Sunshine music, at its best.
Einaudi – Primavera
The gentle, lyrical pianism of this Italian composer-pianist is an instant late-night winner and the perfect way to ease the stresses of the day. Our weekday Smooth Classics presenter Margherita Taylor says: “Anything by Einaudi transports me to another world, where I can dream to my heart’s content.” His critically acclaimed ‘Primavera’ from Divenire (2004) is utterly delightful – take a listen below.
Bach – Air on the G String
This perfectly poised piece comes from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D. It features one of the Baroque composer’s finest melodies over a slowly pulsing accompaniment. As with all of Bach’s music, you can listen to each line of the music as a melody of its own. For a moment of musical meditation put this piece on at night, close your eyes and follow the notes of the bass line – and marvel at its beautiful melody.
Phamie Gow – War Song
Scottish composer, pianist, harpist and singer Phamie Gow has made a lasting impression with her classical-Celtic crossover sound. The soft, lilting and free-flowing nature of her solo piano ‘War Song’, from the 2013 album Softly Spoken, makes for delightful evening listening.
Satie – Gymnopédie No.1
Erik Satie was a bit of an eccentric in life, but wrote some of the early 20th century’s most sublime and visionary music. In his Gymnopédies, there’s a wonderful sense of musical distillation: the melodies are beautifully simple; nothing is rushed, and everything feels just as it should be. It’s almost impossible to hear them and not feel relaxed afterwards.
Coleridge-Taylor – ‘Children’s Intermezzo’ from Othello
Based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Othello Suite comprises five movements, the second of which is the rather wonderful ‘Children’s Intermezzo’. Clarinets lead the melody, as an accompaniment of plucked strings play out underneath, forming a reassuringly steady texture for that glorious, expanding melody.
Debussy – Clair de lune
This beautiful piece from his Suite Bergamasque is Debussy’s musical description of moonlight. The French impressionist composer was a master of pianistic colour, gentle melody and subtlety. There’s a wonderful hint of jazzy harmony in there too.
There’s much to discover in Debussy’s other piano music, but this is the perfect piece for relaxing. Find a cosy corner, listen and imagine that glistening light of the moon.
Pärt – Spiegel im Spiegel
In Pärt’s masterpiece Spiegel im Spiegel, a simple arpeggio on the piano is combined with a slow-moving melody line from the cello. The simplicity and stillness of the result is just divine. The title translates as ‘mirror in the mirror’, referring to a state of infinity. Hypnotically slow, the sparse accompaniment from the piano evokes a gentle drip of water or the tolling of a distant bell. We think this exquisite, other-worldly music provides the perfect soundtrack to lull you into a deep state of relaxation.
Craig Armstrong – Romeo and Juliet
Classic FM Requests presenter Anne-Marie Minhall says: “If there’s been a stressful journey home (pretty much the norm), I like to travel to a different place and listen to something like Craig Armstrong’s big screen music from Romeo & Juliet or Nigel Hess’s Piano Concerto played by Lang Lang. Piano music rules at home; sometimes nothing else will do whilst pondering over a crossword.”
Brahms – Wiegenlied (Lullaby)
This is surely the most famous lullaby in the world, and you can’t help but sing ‘Go to sleep, go to sleep’ along with it. It’s a beautiful Brahms tune (he wrote such lovely melodies). Here’s one of the world’s greatest cellists to play it for you…
We think these are the best pieces of classical music to make your day more relaxing.
Classical music can be a powerful tool for relieving everyday stress, helping you sleep and supporting your mental health.
From modern minimalist master Ludovico Einaudi, to the divine string sounds of J.S. Bach, here are 10 of the very best pieces of pieces to help you relax.
Listen on Global Player: Classic FM Relax, our live playlist of calming music