‘Lean on Me,’ - Specific Example:
Theoretically, people every day are illustrating the positive effects of music upon psychological and neurological wellbeing; through listening to music to help them to overcome issues such as Depression. A large number of people with mood disorders turn to music for a form of catharsis and comfort; certain songs seem to resonate with a broader spectrum of sufferers; for example, Bill Withers’ famous ‘Lean on Me,’ is commonly stated as being ‘helpful’ when people are suffering a bout of Depression. The song is in the key of C major, the most commonly used and easy to play key. The time signature is commontime, 4/4, a standard, which is befitting of the calming nature of the song. It begins with just piano, lightly echoed with a funk styled guitar. The tempo is fairly slow and steady, and the drums are very far back within the mix, which ensures that there is no sense of pressure or anxiety presented by the piece, which can sometimes arise from a quickened and prominent drum beat.
The vocal melody is fairly simple and much like the aforementioned Vera Lynn piece, scaleic in nature. It ascends and descends the scale, giving the piece a flowing, and thereby soothing quality. The chorus builds in anticipation with the incorporation of additional layers of instruments, such as a synthesizer, which creates a denser sound. This structure fits with the lyrics as, in the verse, which is sparse in terms of instrumentation, Withers talks about ‘pains’ and ‘troubles’ of life, whereas in the chorus, the focus is shifted to the idea of support, with the suggestion to ‘lean on me,’ which makes the listening feel a sense of belonging and security. The richer texture of the music provides the chorus with a ‘‘warmer’ feel, emphasizing the positive lyrics about having unfailing support. Parallel with ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ we have a melody and chord structure that is relatively simple, but essentially rises to a climax, dips, and then returns to the climactic note, ultimately providing a sense of resolution for the listener. The immediately notable similarities between these two pieces, that are in some ways, very different, immediately suggests that there is a basic ‘formula’ for music that can provide some sense of relief to those struggling with their mental health. With more research, we may eventually be able to compose the ‘perfect’ piece of music, to eliminate as many aspects of poor mental health as possible.
The only notable criticism in regards to listening to music to enhance wellbeing, is due to the nature of Depression itself. Depression is very cyclical in nature; once you enter the chain of thought, they essentially overlap until all your thoughts become skewed by the Depression. As such, people with mood disorders can have a tendency to listen to music which may in fact exacerbate their negative emotions, e.g music in a minor key, with dramatic chords, and perhaps angry lyrics, e.g the popular, ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die,’ by Nirvana. As such, I think music as therapy would be better when guided by a medical professional, as they can support the patient and attempt to ensure that they listen to music that is more likely to be conducive for wellbeing rather than feed into their current state of Depression. Regardless, it would be foolish to argue if someone hurt themselves post listening to ‘depressing’ music, that is was the music or the artist at fault; it is rather a symptom of the person’s fragile state of mind, and the current crises occurring in the social care system.