Communicate Romantically With Music

As Tolstoy said, “music is the shorthand of emotion.” Here, composers, music executives, band mates and lifelong fans share their thoughts on why nothing else affects the heart like a great song.

By Kent Miller

hakespeare wrote, “Music is the food of love.” How true! The first love song we ever hear is often a lullaby, sung by our mothers. Researchers have discovered that babies as young as two days old demonstrate a preference for their mother’s voice.

As we grow and listen, songs continue to cast their mysterious spells over us by appealing to both sides of our ever-expanding brains — lyrics primarily stimulate the left side, and the melody itself affecting the right side. What we hear becomes deeply entangled with all our other memories, leading to that remarkable experience every adult
The first love song we ever hear is often a lullaby.
has experienced at some point: “You hear a song from your teenaged years and you’re transported back to that summer when something special happened,” says Shara Sand, a New York City-based psychologist in private practice who has worked with many musicians.

Understanding the score
Aaron Zigman has composed scores for dozens of movies, including The Notebook, Sex and the City 1 and Sex and the City 2, and Madea’s Big Happy Family. He explains: “Romantic comedy is the hardest genre to write for, mainly because you can change directions so fast. You can go from neutral to emotional, funny to quirky and back to emotional again. And all these can overlap! My general style is to be as subtle as possible, so you come up with a theme that doesn’t sound too syrupy or saccharine and you’re not hitting someone over the head with it.”

How music brings us together
The holy grail of every would-be Casanova is a song that will seduce any woman — anywhere, anytime. Of course, no such song exists. However, there is a process called “entrainment” in which music is played to match a person’s mood; then, through gradual steps, the listener’s mood is guided in a different direction. Anyone who’s ever put on a downbeat tune and wound up dancing happily around the living room hours later has entrained themselves. And yes, this power of music to make people feel better is amazing — but far more exhilarating is the mutual entrainment experience. This happens, says Sand, when “you’re on a date and you’re really getting to know somebody and what [music] makes that person happy. If you both enjoy that same music, it can really shift the moods of the two of you together.”

Great songwriting matters
Minneapolis-based writer Michael Miller ( has written The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Singing and many other popular books. He talks enthusiastically about the dazzling interplay of chords, melody and lyrics in deceptively simple love songs, such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. “[King] uses complex chord structures. You’re waiting, you’re on the edge of the cliff that’s really important, and then there’s tension and release. Because that’s all that love is about, isn’t it? Tension and release?” This rare combination of ingenuity and passion underlies all great romantic music from composers as diverse as King and Goffin to Antonín Dvoøák, Miller says.

Coincidence, or...?
Average number of beats per minute, adult heart: 72
Average number of beats per minute, romantic ballad: 72

Pump up your profile with music memories
“Putting your music out there is like using a perfume to attract suitors. I think music, more than movies, is a way to express your personality,” says Eric Alper, the Toronto-based director of media relations and label acquisitions for independent label distributor, eOne Music ( Eric heeded his own advice and put his passion front and center when crafting his online dating profile; it worked, obviously — that’s how he met his wife. Exhorts Eric: “Put in your first concert; put in the
Sharing music and sound allows you and your partner to have fun together.
top five frequently played songs from your iPod; put in your favorite song, the song that makes you happy, the song that makes you cry. Putting all these in [your profile] isn’t so much a statement of who you are as it is a conversation starter.” Eric, who’s worked for artists ranging from Ringo Starr to Snoop Dogg, notes that “man has been using music to woo woman for hundreds of years. It’s still the exact same thing: this is my record collection, damn it, and I’m proud of it!”

Two hearts beating in concert…
Simon Tam, bassist for Portland, OR-based “Chinatown dance rock” band The Slants (, whose influences include Asian music and Depeche Mode, estimates that “60 to 70 percent of our fan base is [comprised of] girls and women. That’s something that guys have picked up on, because they come to our concerts to meet women.” Tam and his band mates have had the glorious experience of pausing concerts long enough for a fan to propose to his girlfriend. “It’s dance music. It’s fun. It’s upbeat. Of course girls like it,” Tam enthuses.

Harmonizing in the key of “we”
“It’s important for couples, when they choose a favorite song, to choose lyrics that are on the same love wavelength [they] both want for their relationship,” advises Hadley Finch, an author and songwriter ( from Chicago, IL who’s a strong believer in the message of Clint and Lisa Hartman Black’s ballad, “When I Said I Do.” Ignore the naysayers who’ve hurt your feelings by saying, “Hey you, with the frog voice!” Husband and wife Dean and Dudley Evenson ( of Bellingham, WA urge lovers to sing, hum, whistle, bang pots or drum on a table together. Says Dudley: “Sharing music and sound — for whatever reason — allows you and your partner to have fun together.”

Expand your musical horizons
Professional singer and certified opera fanatic Katherine Latham ( of Washington, D.C., raves about the Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition broadcasts to state-of-the-art theaters around the world. Leave the tuxedo and the Dior gown at home, Latham says: “You can go in blue jeans and T-shirts. And they do wonderful interviews during intermission that help you learn about this great, romantic music.”

Love and let live
You and your partner could be the world’s biggest fans of Laotian mouth-organ music (which is quite lovely, actually), but conflicts are inevitable — especially on long car trips. So imagine the challenge faced by Jamie Tellier and Steve Carey of Dallas, TX: clean-cut Tellier adores modern-rock heroes 311 and Incubus, while the heavily dreadlocked Carey pays aural allegiance to ‘70s folk-rock favorites, the Grateful Dead and Neil Young. Their solution is, of course, the one that powers all great relationships: mutual respect. This enchanting couple has been rock-solid in their relationship for 12 years. Advises Tellier: “Pick your battles, learn to be tolerant, and invest in a good pair of headphones.”

Kent Miller is currently writing a comic young adult novel. His articles have appeared in Nintendo Power magazine, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The San Francisco Chronicle and The St. Petersburg Times (Florida).
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