Music Chills & Goosebumps

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Imagine listening to a particular song. It begins softly. At first you don’t really know what it is. You try to make sense of the instruments. Then it hits slowly. You hear the piano’s keystrokes & the cello’s strings begin to play, each chorusing in perfect harmony. You feel the music already connecting to your soul. You recognize this song. You know what will come next. Then it happens. The voice of the female vocalist, ever so familiar, fills your ears. Deep, soothing & beautiful. Something seems to have reached deep within you, moving your soul. At that moment, you feel a shiver in your spine as your hairs stand on end. And at that moment, you feel as if nothing else can be so wonderful. You love it.

The “Chilling” Science Behind It
It’s not a new or isolated phenomena. It happens to just about everyone, and curiously affects musicians a little bit more. Especially when they listen to their own instruments being played. Usually, our body shivers when the brain senses a drop in temperature around it. The rapid contraction & relaxation of the muscles would generate some extra heat for the body. Remember how we sometimes shiver as well when we pee? It’s the same science. Next is goose bumps, aka cutis anserina. Similar to our furry pets, our arrector pili muscles will force our skin to contract, raising each strand of our hairs. This allows more heat to be trapped in the fur. In biology speak, the process is called homeostasis, controlled by the hypothalamus. Goosebumps also happen when we are spooked. How come then, could such a reaction come out of a piece of beautiful music?

“Chilling” Trends
Curiously, music gets goose bumps out of people more from sadness than happy or excited feelings. Not surprisingly a particular group of people experience such chills when the song, or its lyrics, evoke a past bitter memory. Like the loss of a loved one, loneliness or breakup. Try playing a song you have not listened for some years. A song you liked. There is a high probability that you will get the chills.

The “Frisson” Behind It
The technical term for it is Frisson(Frey-sawn), first coined by musicologist David Huron. Think of it in these terms. A bolt of excitement. A shudder of emotion. These can hardly be caused by the weather, so we look at the next stimuli. Fear. Excitement. According to biomusicologist Oliver Grewe, it is the listener who gives life to the emotions in music, to recreate its meaning & the feelings it expresses. To put simply, a piece of music has the power to connect to us on such a level, that we shiver, only when it means something to us. Ears can only listen to sound, but it is the brain that hears music. Strangely we feel that a particular part of a song reflects deeply a particular part of our life, and this evokes intense emotion from within. Emotion that comes in a huge gush. The brain releases the chemicals to deal with the new emotional state, and the body shivers to get its cells heated up & working faster.

So don’t get chilled when you feel the chills. Especially from a beautiful piece of your favourite music. Just chill and enjoy it.

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