“Running Up That Hill”: How Music Affects the Brain


Art by Autumn Hardwick

In “stranger things» season 4, episode 6, Sadie sink plays Max Mayfield and escapes the Upside Down through the use of his favorite song, “Run up that hill (A deal with God)” by Kate Bush.

The new season of the series shows the transformative effects of music on the psyche. Showrunners of “Stranger Things”, the Duffer Brothersinstructed the musical supervisor of the series, Nora Felderwith the discovery of a song that “resonated with the intense and varied emotional experiences Max was going through,” according to a Variety article. Felder opted for “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” for its deep chords and interpretive lyrics. She understood the words to be a “desperate cry of love” in Max’s painful loneliness, following the loss of his brother, Billy.

Music has an undeniably powerful impact, said Pierre Tang, music teacher and director of instrumental ensembles. Tang teaches a freshman seminar titled “Performing and Consuming Music Together.” He said music is a way to bring people from all walks of life together.

“Especially in American culture, where there is a high degree of individualism, American adults are more likely to experience loneliness compared to other places,” Tang said.

After recognizing this problem of loneliness in American culture, Tang decided to look for solutions and discovered that music as a means of community building is extremely effective. Tang said those who are not musicians themselves can still participate in the industry. For example, a language student could help with pronunciation, or a marketing student could design a social media ad for a concert.

Stranger Things season 4 premiered in the summer of 2022. In the show, Max Mayfield uses music to escape the Upside Down and calm his mind.
Photo credit: Netflix. Stranger Things season 4 premiered in the summer of 2022. In the show, Max Mayfield uses music to escape the Upside Down and calm his mind.

Season 4 of “Stranger Things” features an extensive soundtrack with many 80s hits, such as Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”. The show propelled Bush’s 1985 song to the top of the Billboard Global 200 chart this summer.

“This [music] allows students to have free will, and I quickly learned that in a musical group, when members have free will, the sense of belonging is greatly increased,” Tang said.

Beyond the benefits of music creation, Tang said music consumption has emotional and social benefits.

“Music is so cathartic in a way that it can help express certain types of negative or positive emotions, in a shared way,” Tang said. “Music removes a lot of barriers and misunderstandings between people.”

Music impacts the individual on a personal level by altering their mood, said Ryan Board, professor of music history and director of choral activities. He said music has been influential for centuries and certain sounds and rhythms can emulate specific emotions.

“We’ve known for a long, long time that music affects mood,” Board said. “Even in Christian history, the church kind of had a love-hate relationship with music because they realized it was incredibly powerful.”

Because music affects mood so much, people in the early Roman Catholic Church feared that music used for evil would harm a person’s spirit. However, when used for good, they believed music would elevate a person to the highest spiritual level, Board said. Thus, the church attempted to define which types of notes produce “pleasant” and “pleasant” sounds.

“At first they said it’s things that are consonant, like a fourth or a fifth on the piano or an octave, it’s the idea that when you have proportional relationships in the vibrations, that, in a somehow hits the ears and makes a person go, “That’s good,” Board said.

The church created the idea of ​​musical modes, such as Major Minor, Dorian, Mixolydian, and Lydian. These modes each produce distinct sounds that portray a certain feeling for the listener. Even now, these fundamental ideas of music theory are used in music making, Board said.

“The majority of the music we listen to today is in major and minor, the two most popular modes,” Board said. “A lot of your sad songs, your love ballads, your breakup songs, that kind of stuff are in minor keys. Whereas a lot of your upbeat, fast, happy songs are in major keys.

Along with the modes used in music, rhythm and tempo play an equally important role in the mood a song can create, Board said. Additionally, listening to a punchy bass or soft pulse has subconscious effects on the body.

Music stimulates the brain in relation to the tempo. Slow music is believed to relax the body, while faster rhythms can increase ventilation, blood pressure, heart rate, middle cerebral artery flow velocity and baroreflex, according to research in the National Library of Medicine.

“It affects your physiology and your psyche,” Board said. “Your heart rate goes up, you can get restless or excited. It has this incredible power over us.

For those looking to learn more about the subject, Board said he recommends the book, “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brainby a neurologist Olivier Sacksfor an exploration of the mental effects of music.

“He [Sacks] talks a lot about how when you listen to music it activates certain parts of the brain,” Board said. “Then as soon as you are engaged in the manufacturing process, it goes through all the different hemispheres and parts of the brain. It’s hard to find this level of activity in just about anything else.

Music not only improves mood through emotional release, but also boosts brain performance, said Gloria Walters, psychologist and licensed therapist at the Counseling Center.

“I’ve seen research on older people, and what it showed was that if they listened to up-tempo music, it improved their processing speed, and if they listened to slower music, it tended to improve their memory,” Walters said. . “Music has been scientifically proven to improve cognitive performance.”

In addition to processing speed and memory, Walters said certain types of music, such as classical music, contribute to sleep quality. Other types of music, such as upbeat and upbeat songs, can improve motivation, and instrumental music can improve performance.

“Stranger Things” shows the power of music on its characters through breaking the curse of Vecna. The benefits of music are far from fictional and its effects on the brain extend to multiple areas: mood, memory, emotional release and agency. Therefore, there are many ways to channel your inner Max and enjoy all kinds of music.

Below is a list of songs that the students believe would save them from the Upside Down:

“Anything is Possible” by Bethel & Dante Bowe Dacia Hannel, senior

“I’m Not Worried” by One Republic StampLee Vick, second year

“Come With Me” by Surfaces Eva Toler, senior

“Need to Know” by Doja Cat Ava Moreno, second

“The Rhythm of Music” by Brett Elderidge Delaney Ermshar, Jr.

“Jireh” by Maverick City Music Xaree Reyes, second year

“Superbass” by Nicki Minaj Anna Brinkerhoff, first year

“865” by Morgan Wallen Neil Mehta, second year

“Fluorescent Teenager” from Arctic Monkeys Emily Ralph, first year

“High Note” by GAWVI Evan Pallis, second year

“Axel F” by Crazy Frog Laurel Allen, second year

“Without You” by Lana Del Rey Noelle Cottingham, second year


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Milena D’Andrea Email: [email protected]


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