Try This Music Mindfulness Activity for Improving Empathy

Published by Riley on

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There are a ton of different ways to experience music:

  • keeping it on as background noise
  • singing along at the top of your lungs
  • kicking back and soaking up the melody
  • feeling the lyrics in your bones
  • analyzing it with a musician’s ear

…the list goes on!

This music mindfulness activity for improving empathy is just one more way to engage with the world of song.

In this post, we’ll look at what mindful music listening is, and how it can help you grow your empathy and compassion.

Let’s get groovin’!

What Is Mindful Music Listening?

Photo by Jusdevoyage on Unsplash

This mindfulness music activity is a concept I stumbled upon after struggling to meditate in silence one morning.

I put on some music, having officially “given up” on my meditation for the day.

But then, I started listening to the lyrics, and feeling the melody…

I ended up feeling really connected with the artist through this outpouring of their soul into song.

I don’t even remember what song it was, but I ended up “meditating” to it in a whole new way!

Mindful music listening is as simple as that.

Listening to music mindfully means consciously engaging with the various elements of a song.

Paying closer attention to the melody, lyrics, and emotional undertones of a song creates space for a more profound and enriching experience with music.

This intentional engagement leads us to enter a mindful state, and expand our capacity for compassion.

How to Cultivate Empathy Through Music Mindfulness

Is empathy one of your personal values?

It’s definitely one of mine, and further cultivating it through this music mindfulness activity has been so rewarding.

Immersing myself in the emotional journeys conveyed through music has enabled me to be more in touch with my own heart.

By focusing on the thoughts and feelings expressed in various songs, we can practice empathy by actively seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the artists’ experiences.

This practice broadens our perspective and fosters compassion as we connect with the shared humanity reflected in music.

What Are the Best Types of Songs to Meditate To?

Believe it or not, you can practice mindful listening to any type of music!

  • It can be instrumental. In fact, sometimes an instrumental song will express emotions in even deeper ways than songs with lyrics do!
  • It can be any genre. Consciously connecting to musicians from genres you don’t usually enjoy is actually a great way to stretch your capacity for empathy!
  • It can be silly! Meditating on music doesn’t have to be serious. Sometimes, a good goofy song can help you appreciate the diverse senses of humor found in different humans.

Point is, it’s not the song that matters; it’s how you engage with it.

Consciously listening to a song and making an effort to see the human(s) behind the music is what truly makes this activity so powerful!

Other Benefits of the Mindful Music Listening Experience

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Mindfully listening to music isn’t just one of the best ways to grow empathy.

It also enhances the overall music experience by prompting you to fully immerse yourself in the tunes pumping through your headphones!

Focusing on the music with mindful intent will lead you to notice subtle elements that make the song special.

That guitar solo isn’t just a funky sound anymore; you’re really taking it in and appreciating what the musicians worked so hard to create!

It’s also a valid form of mindfulness meditation.

You don’t have to sit in complete silence in order to meditate!

All “mindfulness” is, really, is slowing down and being more intentional about how you process things.

If, like me, you struggle to sit still for a full guided meditation, this music listening exercise is a great way to make sure you get 3-5 minutes of mindfulness in your day!

Mindful Listening to Music as a Regular Habit

If you give this mindfulness music activity a try and end up liking it, why not make it part of your morning routine?

Or, if you prefer to wind down with some chill tunes, consider adding it to your evening routine.

It’s also a great thing to add to your list of go-to Self Care to-do’s!

Whatever the case, incorporating mindful music listening into our daily lives is a powerful way to nurture empathy and compassion.

By dedicating just a few minutes each day to fully immerse ourselves in carefully (or randomly!) chosen songs, we create a space for reflection and emotional connection.

Making this a consistent practice strengthens our ability to understand and empathize with others, fostering a more compassionate outlook in our interactions with the world.

And, hey, the actual music part is nice, too!

A Few Song Recs Before You Go

If you’re not sure where to start with your own conscious music listening, I’ve got a few songs to get you going!

One of my personal favorites when engaging in this mindfulness music exercise is this one:

The Downeaster “Alexa” by Billy Joel

In this song, Billy Joel sings from the perspective of a fisherman struggling to get by and provide for his family.

I’ve never been fishing, nor do I have a family to take care of, but when mindfully listening to this song, I am filled with empathy for this character.

Maybe I’m just too big of a Billy Joel fan, but I believe that this song is an excellent example of the powerful emotions and storytelling that music can convey.

Few songs evoke so much empathy out of me as this one does!

Another great emotionally-moving song to practice empathy to is this classic:

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and it sure as hell gets in mine when I hear that guy wail over love lost!

In a similar vein, try empathizing with this classic rock tune about a guy pleading his girlfriend not to break his heart:

Pamela by Toto

…Okay, so maybe I just really wanted to feature a Toto song because I’m lowkey (read: extremely) obsessed with them.

In my defense, the way he begs, “Don’t break this heart of mine!” at around the 3:49 mark is just gut-wrenching, as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, not all mindful music listening has to center around angst and heartbreak!

This sweet song is a great way to empathize with a person who’s feeling cozy and comfortable in their relationship:

The Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson

And if you want a challenge, try connecting to artists who sing about worldviews that you don’t share!

Sometimes, I’ll listen to Christian music as part of my mindfulness music exercise.

A Little More by Jennifer Knapp

Since leaving my religious upbringing in my early 20s, this song is one that I can’t personally relate to at all anymore.

I don’t believe in the deity that she praises for saving her from her “sin”, but when I’m in the right headspace, I can empathize with and recognize the beauty of this honest expression.

In a world so divided, it’s vital that we practice mindful empathy and compassion every chance we get.

I invite you to join me on this journey of mindful listening, using music as a catalyst for personal growth and fostering a more compassionate and empathetic society.


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Looking for more music recs? Check out this morning playlist, with songs ranging from chill tunes to energizing bops!

Speaking of mindfulness, here are 21 affirmations for Mondays to start your week with a fresh mindset!

Have you tried this mindful music listening exercise? What songs do YOU recommend?

Please, drop ’em in the comments below!
I’m always looking for more to shuffle through when I do this activity.

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