Music psychology is regarded both as a branch of musicology and a form of complementary psychology studies. It examines the effect of music on people, on both an individual and societal level. Now formally studied at several universities, music psychology has become a fascinating branch of science, still relatively new in its testing and impact.
Possibly without exception, human culture involves music. Whether through chanting, percussion, vocal or created instruments, music is one of the few near-universal constants of society. In most industrialized nations, music is an everyday experience: in commercial jingles or in elevators, playing on radios and iPods, civilization is almost entirely surrounded by music. Clearly, on a cultural level, music is important to humans. The study of music psychology attempts to determine what mental and physical effects music has on humans, and if certain psychological conditions can be altered or created by the application of some forms of music.
Music psychology is a broad field, combining elements of traditional music science with applied psychology studies, cultural anthropology, and the study of cognition, among other disciplines. Some of the areas currently studied involve the effects of music rituals such as concerts, psychological reasons for musical preferences, and the study of musical performance. Each of these areas can tell researchers a bit about the effects of music on people, and give clues into the importance of music to the brain.
Some people actively use music for its stimulating or relaxing effects. Drivers who suffer from anxiety are sometimes advised to keep quiet music on in their vehicles as a means of maintaining calm. Sporting events often use specific songs as a means of exciting the crowd and creating an atmosphere of anticipation. Music psychology attempts to understand why specific types of music create these effects, and how it can be harnessed to bring specific reactions from individuals.
Several prominent universities now offer specialization in the field of music psychology. Ohio State University in the United States and the Royal College of Music in London, England are both pioneers in the field of music psychology education. Moreover, prominent societies that employ both musicologists and psychologists have sprung up all over the world, studying the effects of regional music on local cultures.
Although it is a relatively new field, music psychology studies one of the oldest known cultural practices. The idea that the human brain reacts specifically to tonality, rhythmic patterns and learned musical practices is a fascinating concept worthy of scientific exploration. Using modern brain-mapping technology and sophisticated research techniques, it may be possible to identify and control the effects of music on the brain, leading to possible benefits to those with mental and even some physical problems. Only time will tell how valuable the research will become, but it looks likely to gain interest and adherents as it becomes a more prominent field of study.