What do emotions sound like? Have you really ever stopped to think about it? While I believe there’s some universality to how we hear the expression of different emotions, I also believe that it’s a little different for all of us. For one person, anger may sound like a loud voice, to another breaking glass, and to another complete silence. It all depends on our own experiences with anger.
One of the songwriting therapy units I use with clients and workshop participants is called “Sound of Emotions,” where we explore how different emotions sound. Activities range from listening to music and identifying emotions conveyed through the lyrics and/or instruments to creating our own sounds to convey specific emotions.
It is important to note that sound can stir up some vivid memories. I bet you’ve experienced this when you hear songs from your past that can transport you back in time. People who have experienced traumatic events may associate certain sounds with the trauma, so it is especially important when working with trauma survivors for them to be in a somewhat stable place and already have worked through ways to feel safe, relaxation strategies, tell their story, etc. When I am doing sound of emotions exercises in workshops, I stick to “positive” emotions, such as joy and happiness because I don’t know everyone’s personal histories.
Here’s some ideas you might try (yourself or with clients) to explore the sound of emotions:
•Pick a song you like and listen to it, focusing on one part at a time. If the song has lyrics, listen first to the singer and the words. Then, think about (and/or discuss) what emotions were conveyed in the lyrics, the singer’s voice and how he/she sang certain words and phrases. Listen to the same song again, but focus on a different part, such as the bass, drums, lead guitar, etc. Pick out the emotions conveyed through that instrument and discuss whether or not it seemed to match the lyrics and singer’s part. Continue listening to the song as many times as needed to go through different parts of the song, comparing and identifying emotions.
•Think of a time when you were feeling happy (or any emotion you choose). Imagine the circumstances. What was going on, who was there, what was happening? Once you have connected with the feeling and the memory, inhale deeply and let out a sound on your exhale that represents the feeling. Continue the inhale and exhale of a sound representing the feeling for several minutes. You might want to journal about the experience or even record your sound and listen to it later to see if you can recreate the feeling with just the sound.
•Do a body scan to find any areas of tension, discomfort, or pain in the body. Take a few deep breaths. Then give a voice to that area of the body that holds tension, discomfort, or pain by letting out a sound (i.e. if your tension had a voice, what would it sound like).
I’d love to hear about your experiments with the sound of emotions.
Krylyn Peters is a counselor and singer/songwriter who uses the power of music and sound for healing. www.krylyn.com