Exploring the Connection between Music and Self-Expression for College Students

College can be a hard time for young adults, as they often find themselves away from their friends and family and immersed in an entirely new part of society.

With the culture shock behind transitioning to college life, it’s important that students find a way to stay true to themselves. Music is the key to do just that, as well as to provide students a powerful stress outlet.

In fact, the relaxing benefits of playing and listening to music are being explored in many fields, and the results of many of these studies can also be applied to college students.

In a 2016 International Journal of Nursing Students article by Timothy Onosahwo Iyendo titled “Exploring the Effect of Sound and Music on Health in Hospital Settings: A Narrative Review,” Iyendo explains how music and noise can affect hospital patients by analyzing previous studies and adding his own information and insight.

“Listening to music activates the brain regions that trigger positive feelings.”

— Timothy Onosahwo Iyendo

The review held that “music perception was demonstrated to bring about positive change in patient-reported outcomes, such as eliciting positive emotion and decreasing the levels of stressful conditions.”

When considering these results in the context of anxious and over-stressed college students, it’s no wonder why music is such a strong part of their social lives.

Interestingly, my own college of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (a.k.a. “Cal Poly”) was ranked number one in Spotify’s Top 40 Most Musical Universities in America (in order of plays per student subscriber) back in 2014.

As a student with particular interest in the local music scene, I can confirm that music is at the heart of student life here. Whether it be for partying, studying, relaxing or self expression, college students crave to be surrounded by music.

Keeping in mind the proven results from the hospital study that music can decrease stress and elicit positive emotions, one can see why music is an important form of self-expression.

For instance, Hunter Beck, a first-year landscape architecture major at Cal Poly, said, “Music helps me visualize and expel everything that bothers me.”

Beck uses music as a positive emotional outlet to deal with the stresses of being a college student. He can channel his emotions through music and feels better in doing so.

Music expression can go deeper than that, though, often extending to the expression of one’s culture.

Arun Shriram, a first-year software engineering major at Cal Poly, uses music to express his Indian heritage and remind him of his family.

His instrument of choice is a South Indian instrument called a mridangam.

Arun Shriram’s mridangam, a traditional South Indian percussion instrument used in Carnatic accompaniments.

“Well, everyone in my family has played traditional South Indian music for nearly 400 years, and I’m the latest addition to that lineage,” Shriram said.

He explained how although his family has either sang traditional South Indian music (also called “Carnatic music”) or played the Indian violin for years, his father was the first member of the family to “break up and play this drum, which is the main accompaniment instrument to Carnatic concerts.”

Shriram was first taught how to play the mridangam by his father at four years old, and he feels responsible to continue the family tradition of playing Carnatic music.

I was given the great opportunity to watch Shriram perform a demonstration on the mridangam, and he even dressed in traditional attire to do so.

At a school with a real diversity issue, it’s important for students to express their culture whenever possible. Music supports that expression and lets others experience new cultures in a way that only music can allow for.


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