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From Our Community

Music and Mindfulness: Listen to Music, Mindfully

Young adult listening to music via headphones

By Mariann Johnson, mindfulness and wellbeing instructor at the University of Minnesota's Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing

Have you ever listened to a favorite piece of music to help inspire your house cleaning or soothe your nerves after an especially stressful day? Or, maybe you simply like to listen to music because it brings you joy?

Listening to music has been shown to enhance well-being and reduce stress. It’s also known to affect a number of areas in the brain, including regions involved in emotion, cognition, sensation and movement. Many of you can probably recall being brought to tears over a tender and beautifully-performed piece of music, or wanting to dance all night to a particularly happy or energizing song. Music moves us, and it can soothe our weary minds and hearts.

Regardless of what draws us to listen to music, or the type of music we prefer, we can enhance our enjoyment of music by bringing mindful awareness to our listening sessions. Mindfully listening to music can help us to slow down, to fully engage with the present moment and to more deeply appreciate the gift of music in our lives.

Tips for Listening to Music, Mindfully:

  1. Choose a piece of music to listen to. It can be helpful to start with instrumental pieces, as lyrics can make the mindful listening experience a bit more complex.
  2. Select a space and time free of distractions and interruptions for your listening session. Turn off your cell phone and any notifications. Make sure you are comfortable.
  3. Announce the beginning of your mindful music listening session with a “Fanfare.” A fanfare is a piece of music often played to announce the arrival of someone or something important. Allow your mindful intention—and 2 or 3 deeper and fuller breaths—to serve as your fanfare; to help turn your attention toward deeply listening.
  4. Become aware of your body sensations, ground yourself. Let go of the deeper, fuller breaths and take a few moments to notice the natural rhythmic qualities of your body breathing. Then, when you are ready, broaden your awareness to include the entire body, whether you are sitting, laying down or standing. Notice points of contact of the body with any physical surfaces (chair, shoes, floor, earth, etc.). Notice any areas of tightness or holding, and as best you can, invite a sense of relaxation throughout the body.
  5. Just listen. Use headphones or earbuds if you would like. Give yourself permission to deeply listen to the music, allowing it to wash over you. If it feels appropriate, you may choose to close your eyes.
  6. Observe and notice. Let yourself be aware of anything you notice, without judgment or self-criticism. For example, you may be drawn to the pace of the music one moment and the sounds of the different instruments in the next. You may notice shifts in volume. Notice if you’re more aware of certain parts of your body as you listen. Notice any thoughts or feelings that may arise—perhaps connected to a memory or maybe just a passing thought. Allow any thoughts or emotions that arise to just pass through your awareness, and then gently bring yourself back to listening to the sounds of the music.
  7. Take a moment to reflect at the conclusion of your listening session. Become aware of your breath and body sensations. Notice the overall quality and condition of your body, mind and heart now, having just completed your mindful music listening session. Open your eyes if they have been closed. Do you feel calmer or more relaxed? Also, perhaps take a moment to consider whether the music you selected was a good fit, or what you might look for in another piece for your next mindful music listening session.

Visit Orchestra Hall for Music & Meditation sessions with Mariann Johnson and Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

The Music & Meditation series is presented in collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, which has offered mindfulness classes for individuals, organizations, businesses, and communities for more than two decades. Learn more about the work of the Bakken Center by visiting the Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing website or viewing the Center's resources for supporting mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.