Abstract Haydn, are able to relax and increase


Anxiety is an emotional problem
that is crippling our society in many bad ways. Hence, music has been proven to
be able to help calm a mind and ease a tensed person. Using past researches on
music therapy and different genres of music, this study is conducted to find
out whether classical music is better at contributing to ease anxiety than pop
music even though both genres of music have been proven to be useful in solving
part of this social problem. As such, two lists of questionnaires and music
clips were prepared and 40 participants were involved in the survey-cum-experiment.
A significant difference was discovered as results were collected, proving that
classical music is better at improving positive moods and decreasing negative
moods whereas pop music has an inconsistent impact on the participants making
the participants feel “confused”, “unsteady” and “worried”. This means that
classical music is consistent in stabilizing an individual’s mood and anxiety,
as the participants feel “in control” rather than feeling disturbed and prone
to have a panic attack anytime soon. In short, this review is a deeper study
into different genres of music and their effects on a person’s anxiety levels,
whether they might have a positive or negative outcome on this issue.

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1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of study

Music is globally known to everyone
that has the ability to hear and listen. Dating back into the ancient times
where music is used within royal families, philosophers, ceremonies and
festivals, there are so many different genres of music which are used for
various occasions and functions. Some of the famous music periods are Baroque,
Classical, and Romantic period. Until today, these musical pieces are still
passed on to the next generations to cherish and enjoy.

Present knowledge and research
about music shows a wide range of benefits and negative consequences as well.
Studies have shown that people who listen to calm and serene music such as
infamous classical pieces of Mozart and Haydn, are able to relax and increase
productivity performances in workplaces for adults, in classes for students.
Furthermore, music with meaningful and deep lyrics are able to help ease a
person’s mind and move on from the bad memories of life. On the other hand,
listening to music with explicit lyrics with references to drugs and sex are
the negative side of modern music.

Numerous studies have been
conducted to prove that different genres of music is able to affect a person
differently and more specifically, their anxiety levels might have vary from
each song they listen to. Anxiety is nothing uncommon in Malaysia, as every 3
out of 10 adults aged 16 years and above is prone to have mental health issues,
and anxiety is one of them, including social phobia, post-traumatic stress
disorder, OCD and many others more. Many at times, music is able to help bring
a positive effect to decrease anxiety levels, whereas there are music which
might increase an individual’s anxiety levels with negative feelings.
Meanwhile, there are opinions that all music genres have the same impact on
anxiety levels, indifferent from one and the other.

Statement of Problem

Apart from the studies conducted on
whether music in general helps to decrease anxiety levels, there is an urgent
need to determine whether different genres of music would have different
effects on an individual’s anxiety level and would the results be similar
without any changes, or would they differ. Random music are played in various locations
but they did not thoroughly inspect whether these music are suitable or not
being played in locations like shopping malls which are usually crowded and
causes crowd anxiety among individuals.

Purpose of study

Malaysians are exposed to many anxious
situations whether or not it is environmental factored or biological factored,
and there is little to no cure to this dilemma. Some examples are like OCDs,
crowded places, or even examination periods. It is very serious as anxiety can
lead to other mental health issues like depression and may cause indescribable
results. Hence, many developed countries have tried to use music as a cure,
finding out if there is a suitable genre for each kind of anxious situations.

Research Questions

1. Would different genres of music have different
effects on anxiety levels?

2. What is the best genre of music to reduce or ease

            1.5 Significance of Study

is important that this study be conducted because anxiety is not something to
be taken lightly of and it is aggravated whenever someone neglects this problem
or simply think that it is not something of significant. In fact, this study is
conducted among college students as a beginning contribution in aiding the
problem. This research is conducted in hope that Sunway University College
would recognize music therapy as a legitimate healing process and include the
contents of this subject into the syllabus of the pre-university courses. This
study is important that students would indulge in music to help ease anxiety
and to prevent them from choosing a wrong genre for anxious situations which
might result in severe mental disturbance and feeling of annoyance.


Literature Review

            2.1 Music and emotion

It is undeniable that music is able
to bring out emotions and this is proven in many past researches. Music has
been proven to be a form of therapy for all to find peace and relaxation.
Amongst them, Zentner, Grandjean & Scherer (2008), has proved that there
are powerful emotional effects of music that can effect infants as young as 4
months of age. In their research, they have shown there are differences between
emotions as perceived in the music, emotions as induced by the music, and also
everyday emotions without music. With participants of undergraduate psychology
students at the University of Geneva presented with five music genres
consisting of classical, jazz, pop/rock, Latin American, and techno. Since the
genres are ranged as such, the tempo, articulation and lyrical content of a
particular song or music piece is also very important in determining what kind
of emotions are prone to be produced or can be reported from. Furthermore, Rea,
MacDonald & Carnes (2010) quoted “people may listen to a certain genre of
music to seek a more positive mood, the listener may seek understanding from music
similar to their mood, or they may listen to music they know will enhance their
misery” (p. 1). According to McCraty, Choplin, Atkinson & Tomasino (1998),
music has the ability to facilitate anaesthesia during pregnancy and labor,
reducing stress and discomfort related to surgery or dental procedures, and
even heart attacks recovery. In addition, different genres of music have
different effects on hormones and even the autonomic nervous system. All in
all, there is a range of emotions caused by music from positive to negative,
from lively and energetic, calm and collected, to sad and gloomy. Moreover,
they have stated that a preferred genre would most probably evoke positive
emotions. Walworth (2003) attempted to discover the many influences music has on
human body and as a result, music has effected an individual in the
measurements of physiological, affective, behavioural and psychological
changes. She also argued that “when selecting music for patients and clients,
the preference of the patient/ client needs to be considered” (p. 4). Hence, it
is no doubt that music is able to effect a person’s mood positively and
negatively with a wide range of music genres available.

                        2.1.1 Classical music and emotion

Classical music is a genre where
the musical pieces are without any lyrical content and are composed and
performed by professional musicians. Rea et al. (2010) made a hypothesis that
classical would report more positive moods, and they used W.A.Mozart’s Violin
Concerto No. 5 in A, 2nd Movement, a
piece of 10 minutes length. After the experiment, participants reported
emotions like steadiness, relaxation and calmness which are positive feelings.
Zentner et al. (2008) stated that certain emotions appeared to be felt rather
than perceived for classical music. The range of classical music was narrowed
down because they were afraid that baroque and modern classical music “would
lead to excessively heterogeneous categories of reference” (p. 498). McCraty et
al. (1998) have stated that classical music has been used in many occasions
proving that it can reduce anxiety and depression. In general, classical music
has a great reduction on negative emotions’ scale albeit it is not quite
enjoyable for the teenage subgroup hence classical music did not have much effect
in this particular subgroup. Walworth (2003) further emphasized that music slow
in tempo and without lyrics are the best to reduce anxiety and increase
relaxation. In her research, she referred to Elliot (1994) stating that even if
an anxiety patient does not choose a preferred music, light instrumental
classical music is able to reduce anxiety.

Rock music and emotion

Rock music is a genre of pop music
and has vocals and electric instruments in them. Hill (n.d.) has stated in his
journal article that some genres of music causes mostly negative impact such as
violence and aggressiveness. Most of these songs contain explicit context like
sex, money, drugs, rape, gender degrading and much more. For the research
above, these music are separated into Mae (soft rock), Manson (hard rock) and a
control group which does not listen to any kind of music while filling in the
self-evaluation test. As a result, Mae was able to produce a positive response
towards stress and pressure, whereas Manson produced a stressful environment
contributing to negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Additionally, the
volunteers in the test absolutely did not enjoy hard rock as they mostly
contain explicit and undesired lyrics and rapping. Rea et al. (2010) on the
other hand have made a positive correlation between energetic and rhythmic
musical preferences and reports of relaxation. Overall, they concluded that
pop/rock music would bring about positive emotions like comfortableness and
decrease in tension, worry and confusion.

                        2.1.3 Jazz music and emotion

for blue notes, syncopation, improvisation, jazz music is a genre that requires
intense technical skills and musical knowledge from the musicians. McPherson,
Gonzalez, Rankin & Limb (2014) argued that musical emotions cannot simply
be explained with simplistic correlations such as a major key would cause a
happy feeling whereas a minor key would do the opposite. Focusing on the
listening surveys, there was a slight greater different for positive
improvisations than negative and ambiguous improvisations. Zentner et al.
(2008) has stated that complex and reflective emotions were mostly experienced
by classical and jazz music listeners, finding a peaceful and relaxed scenario.
Jazz is a slightly lesser heterogeneous genre as compared to classical, for
jazz pieces are made mostly of improvisation of blue scales. 

Preference of genre versus preference of song on anxiety

(2003) carried out an experiment to investigate whether a particular genre or a
particular song preferred by the subjects would have a better outcome on their
experimentally induced anxiety levels. With the thought of a music genre being
too broad in mind, the results were surprising as there is no difference
between the 2 experimented groups at all. In short, there is little to no
difference between preferred genre of music and preferred song selection as the
song would surely fit into the genre categorized in.

Music genre and anxiety levels

As music is able to both positively
and negatively affect an individual’s mood, a statement indicating that
classical music genre is sure to improve a person’s emotions, stability and
sense of relaxation and serenity. McCraty et al. (1998) was determined in their
research that classical music has the strength to reduce the negative scales in
their questionnaire, choosing Mozart’s Six German Dances (Nos. 1-3), K 509, and
Piano Concerto in D minor, K 466; 1st movement as to represent the
said genre. On the other hand, rock music and pop music has mixed results towards
anxiety. Hill (n.d.) in his research separated soft rock and hard rock, and
along with Rea et al. (2010) in their research proving that heavy metal
listeners for their experiment conducted showed them mentally strained and did
not show any positive feelings of pleasantness. For jazz music genre, the
research conducted by McPherson et al. (2014) resulted in an unclear
conclusion. It is stated in their research that the improvisations are so
random yet distinct with each other, and any kind of emotions whether it is
positive, negative or neutral are able to be reported when listeners listen to
jazz music. However, they did prove that there is no correlation between major
keys producing positive feelings and minor keys causing uneasiness towards
their subjects. Therefore, only classical music and rock music, separated into
soft and hard, are chosen for the current research on finding out whether
different genres of music would have different effects on an individual’s
anxiety levels after listening to the song chosen or music piece selected,
after giving the subjects a situation, more specifically a crowded place
scenario and a traffic jam scenario to help raise anxiety levels.





















Two self-evaluation surveys would
be created to measure anxiety levels of the subjects on the current research
and after listening to the music given. The surveys would be conducted online
by the researcher consisting of questions such as “I dislike crowded places”
and “I am not fond of shopping malls on weekends”, whereas the 2nd
survey is taken from STAI Form Y-1 developed by Spielberger (1983) where a list
of questionnaires is to be answered by the subjects after listening to the
music given, either a classical genre or pop genre. One of the songs selected would
be given to the subject to listen, and then fill up the 2nd survey
after that. All the questions are converted into Google Forms and sent via URL
link. The results are then collected and analysed.


The participants are Sunway College
students (SFP, AUSMAT, MUFY, CIMP, A-Levels and CAT/CFAB) aged between 17 to 20
years old. There are 2 groups in this experiment, consisting of 5 males and 5
females each group, a total of 20subjects to avoid any partiality. This group
of subjects are chosen because this experiment is conducted in Sunway College
and they are the most accessible to the researcher.


Pre-test anxiety
questionnaire (Google Form)

anxiety questionnaire (STAI Form Y-1 via Google Form)

Music pieces

Classical genre: Lágrima
by Francisco Tárrega

Pop genre: Complicated
by Avril Lavigne






Results and Discussion

Table 4.1

analysis of the entire sample will be reported first, followed by the analyses
of the first group and second group of the final part of the experiment.



For this experiment, the targeted
population were teenagers aged between 17 years old and 20 years old because
most teenagers are exposed to music every day, through the radio, mp3 players,
television, and the internet like Spotify and JOOX. Because of that, they are
the best to be experimented with since they are already exposed to music in
their everyday lives. The following results do contradict one of the past
research by McCraty et al. (1998), because this age group of participants were
affected by classical music and the response did proved the hypothesis that
classical music is better than pop music in easing anxiety and helps a person


Table 4.2


After the data is collected, the
results for the first part of the experiment is as shown in Table 4.1,
recording how severely anxious can the participants be in the listed situations
in the questionnaire. According to the data, there is more than 50% of
participants out of 40 pre-university students in Sunway University College
that states that they are mildly anxious to extremely anxious in those
situations, such as “First day in Sunway University College”. There is more
than 50% of them who scored 3 to 5 which means that only a few percentage is
not anxious in those situations, approximately five to ten percent (about 6
participants) stating so. This shows that most of the participants in this
experiment is quite anxious easily and they have slight anxiety disorder.

For the second part of the
experiment, participants of Group 1 (classical music clip) are reported to be
positively affected, almost all positive feelings have an average of 3.5 score
and above out of 4 whereas negative feelings have 1.35 and below as listed in
Table 4.2. Classical music has been proven in many other researches that it
reduces anxiety (McCraty et al., 1998). On the other hand, participants of
Group 2 (popular music clip) have a 3.45 score maximum for positive feelings,
whereas negative feelings are as high as 1.9. Although both types of music were
proven to increase comfortableness, relaxation and calmness, decrease of
tension, worry, and confusion (Rea et al., 2010), there is a distinct
difference between the results analysed. On average, after listening to
classical music, participants have 3.655 score, a very close figure to 4 albeit
4 is impossible. The standard deviation of these scores are 0.0879 which means
that they are not dispersed at all. However, listening to pop music,
participants of Group 2 have an average of 2.635 score, and a 0.2811 standard
deviation a little bit more than Group 1 only. If score 3.45 (Q20) was taken
out of the data for Group 2, the standard deviation would only be 0.0762 which
means that data 3.45 might be an outlier.

Table 4.2

Figure 4.3


It can be seen in Figure 4.3 that both groups have
better scores on the positive feelings than negative feelings. The range of the
combined groups for positive feelings is 2.4 to 3.85. When the participants
listen to the music clips there is an obvious positive outcome for most of
them, which is why the graph is such. As the scale is 1 to 4, score 1 means
that they do not feel those particular feelings which is why negative feelings
(Red and Yellow lines) are closer to 1. However, the distinct difference of the
two lines of negative feelings can be seen. Listening to classical music can be
so soothing and relaxing that the participants do not even feel anything but
positivity in the minds, such as calmness and steadiness which is why the
scores have only a maximum of 1.35/4 for Group 1.

Walworth (2003) stated that music that is slow in tempo and without lyrics are the best to help ease anxiety and make a person
relax, this is quite the reason why classical music had a higher positive score
and a lower negative score as compared to pop music. On a side note, it is
possible that since classical music does not have percussions included, the
sounds and noises from those instruments are not present to have any
interruption on the relaxation of the mind but all pop music have percussions
and electronic sounds nowadays.





This study was able to prove that
classical music is better at relieving anxiety in anxious situations than
popular music, giving more stability, calmness, comfortableness, and less
confusion, worries and uneasiness. However, limitations were present in this
study, namely this study was conducted on a small subgroup of the society aged
between 17 to 20 years old. It may or may not be the same if the sample space
was broaden to other generations too. The level of anxiety in the same
scenarios might not be the same as well because the study was not conducted on
them. Additionally, the music clips were only 3 minutes long each and if the
duration was changed, the findings of a different study might not be the same
as the current research. Hence, deeper and further study should be conducted
upon this area because music is already proven to be helpful in stressful and
anxious scenarios and classical music is better than pop music in doing so, but
there are more genres of music that were not included in this study and those
genres should be looked into and made into another study as well to find the
best solution in reducing anxiety in our everyday lives. Perhaps the next genre
of music to be looked into should be EDM (Electronic Dance Music), seeing as
EDM is already an influence in every song on the radio in this century.  




Rea, C., MacDonald, P., & Carnes, G. (2010).
Listening to classical, pop, and metal music: An investigation of mood. Emporia
State Research Studies, Vol. 46, no.1, 1-3.


Hill, J. (n.d.). Assessing the Influence of Rock
Music on Emotions. The Murray State University Journal of Undergraduate
Research, 27-33.


McCraty, R., Choplin, B. B.,
Atkinson, M., & Tomasino, D. (1998). The effects of different types of
music on mood, tension, and mental clarity. Alternative therapies in
health and medicine, Vol. 4, no. 1, 75-84.


McPherson M. J., Lopez-Gonzalez M.,
Rankin S. K. & Limb C. J. (2014). The Role of Emotion in Musical
Improvisation: An Analysis of Structural Features. PLoS One 9,


Walworth, D. D. (2003). The effect
of preferred music genre selection versus preferred song selection on
experimentally induced anxiety levels. Journal of Music Therapy, Vol.
XL.(1), 2-14.


Zentner, M., Grandjean, D., &
Scherer, K. R. (2008). Emotions Evoked by the Sound of Music: Characterization,
Classification, and Measurement. Emotion, Vol. 8, no.
4, 494-521.




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