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Meet Robert Woody, a music psychologist

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”
Did you know music can tell you a lot about a person? From their personality, to their politics, to their lifestyle. I had the honor to interview Robert Woody, who earned his Bachelor of Music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his PHD in music education from Florida State University.
Let’s dive into the topic of music psychology, a field of study that integrates how to learn with the power of music. 

1. What is it about music that made you become a music psychologist?
I arrived at my interest in music psychology after first focusing on music performance, and then music education. Now I primarily work with people who are preparing for careers as music teachers (undergraduate music  education students), or people who are already in-service music teachers (graduate students). I find that people in music education are almost always experts in their knowledge of music, but are comparatively much less so in their knowledge of how human beings learn. So my interest in music psychology mainly serves my desire to help musicians make their own activities more rewarding and to help music teachers be more effective in their work.
2. Music and emotions go hand in hand together. Why is it that the mind turns toward music during emotional situations?
Music is a powerful human phenomenon. I think music may be especially powerful even compared to other art forms—perhaps because music happens across time (like human experience), and musical expressiveness can be sudden and huge, or gradual and subtle (like human experience). But I don’t think the “magic of music” rests in the music itself but in the amazing human mind.
3. I love singing; music really helps me with my anxiety, depression, and whenever I’m having a bad day. How does music relax the mind and relieve stress? 
Music is especially helpful in these ways when people get to choose the music they listen to. Perhaps there is power in exerting that control. And in the act of selecting and using the music of their choice, people likely acknowledge their emotional needs at that time, and likely do so in a way that is safe to themselves. They can feel the emotions they need to feel (toward acceptance) without having to ruminate on the painful or traumatic life situations responsible for a bad mood. As I’ve said in my most recent post at my Live… In Concert blog at PsychologyToday.com, people’s use of sad music specifically seems to accommodate emotional healing by allowing them to safely get in touch with negative emotions that might otherwise be repressed.
4. Are musical emotions different from other emotions?
Yes, but not always. I believe people do experience emotions with music that they only experience with music. There are other times, however, when people use music simply as a stimulus or cue to bring to mind emotions that were originally generated as a result of life experiences.
5. Do you believe that music can determine the type of personality traits a person has?
I believe that most people use the music of their lives as badges of identity. The music they listen to and the music activities in which they participate are important means by which people tell themselves and others “who they are.”
6. I remember reading articles about this, but it seems difficult to believe. Is it really possible that music can help cure illness and diseases? 

As I allude to above, I don’t believe music has any kind of magical healing power. But I do think the human mind is more powerful than we probably fully understand. There is a definite body-mind connection within human beings. People’s psychological condition can have a huge effect on their physical condition, and vice versa. Because music is something so loved by people and given so much importance in their lives, it is something that can play a major role in people’s psychological lives, which in turn can greatly affect their dealings with illness and disease.

7. What is your favorite type of music to listen to?
My favorite styles of music are classic rock (I’m a child of the ‘80s), jazz (trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker is a favorite), and sometimes classical music (Mahler rules!). But my absolute favorite music Dave Matthews Band. They are all amazing musicians and their music has a huge stylistic and expressive breadth, so I can always find the perfect song for me no matter what mood or situation I’m in. And DMB’s live concerts have been life-changing experiences for me.
8. With your huge passion for music, have you ever thought of becoming a musician?
I consider myself a musician. Though not a professional performer, I cherish opportunities to make music with other people; it’s usually in an informal setting with my family or as part of community activities.
9. I’m someone who listens to music and can easily remember the melody and lyrics after a few listens. Why is it that music is easy to memorize when studying doesn’t stick in my brain?
Most of the time—especially when people get to choose the music they listen to—people have a very positive orientation toward music. It makes the activity very intrinsically motivating, meaning the main reason the person does the activity is for the rewards of the activity itself (unlike studying, which is extrinsically motivated, i.e., done for a separate anticipated reward of earning a good grade). Intrinsic motivation can be like a “warp drive” for learning. Formal schooling can constantly struggle to teach subject matter that students personally don’t care about or they even dislike. In contrast, learning what you love can be quick and long-lasting.

“Behind everyone’s favorite song is an untold story.”

What’s your story? We would love to hear it! Comment below!

Edited by Ariel S.

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Written by Yumi

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A passionate writer, animal lover and a mom to 4 dogs.
Graduate in the Veterinary Industry, HR Resource, and Marketing Director.

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Meet Robert Woody, a music psychologist