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The Sound of Summer Listening to seasonal noises, music, and silence

Read more Last updated: August 2020
In collection Sounds
Reading duration: 6 minutes

The months between late June and mid-September are characterized by diverse sounds. Everyday noises alone give us that typical summer feeling. On top of that, there is cheerful music that provides a good mood and the tonality of estival nature. Let’s explore the sound of summer together!

An acoustic journey through summer

It is still dark when the first chirping of birds permeates your bedroom through the open window. Not much later on a typical summer morning, a neighbor starts the lawnmower and rudely awakens you for good. A radio is running somewhere; next door, dishes are clattering. Children on their bikes are speeding through the streets, wildly ringing their bells; on the playground, swingsets and seesaws are squeaking. The best place to enjoy the sun is by the water, so you’re heading to the beach.

A quick ride past the construction site with its booming jackhammers, and you are in nature, where bees are humming, and a gentle breeze is blowing. Crickets and cicadas are chirping, boats are rocking on the water. Ringing children’s laughter and the barking of dogs excited with the water is superimposed over the gurgling sound. Back at home, you have a barbecue, the sizzling and hissing enhanced by the clinking of glasses. Mosquitoes gather at the pond and accompany the croaking frogs with their whir.

A light wind rises, and the leaves of the trees are rustling. From a distance, you hear a rumble – a storm is coming. Run back to the house before the tempest whips your backyard! Thunder, wind, and lighting give way to steady rain, whose gentle drumming on the windows lulls you to sleep.

The soundtrack of summer

The typical soundtrack of summer consists of many different everyday and natural sounds – and a lot of music! According to a study from 2019, our hearing preferences vary depending on the season. In summer, we prefer to listen to particularly intense songs. The intensity is determined by factors such as volume and tempo, vocals, and, last but not least, the mood: Summery music needs to be cheerful, even euphoric. Textbook examples of recent summer hits are “Happy” by Pharrell Williams or “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee; the classics include “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry and “Lambada” by Kaoma.

According to the American media scientist Michael Grabowski, we generally prefer listening to pop in summer. Pop music is a clever combination of repetitive and new, surprising elements – and our brain recognizes the structures quickly and effortlessly. As a reward, dopamine is released, and we feel happy!

What happens in the brain during the summer months

A lot is going on in the warmest season of the year – also in our brains. The various facets of summer set in motion numerous neurological processes that affect our performance and well-being.

The heat makes us lazy

In summer, we generally take it easy and prefer to have breaks during the hottest period of the day – the most famous example being the Spanish concept of siesta. However, we are not suddenly lazy or devote ourselves to summer idleness rather than to work. In fact, our brain is unable to do the same as it does in winter, as a study published in PNAS Journal in 2016 shows. The research focus of the team led by Christelle Meyer from the University of Liège was the seasonality of human brain functions – and the results are positive: During the summer months, the areas of the brain responsible for attention, such as the amygdala, are most active. This means that the brain needs significantly more resources and time to solve even simple tasks.

Sunlight lifts our spirits

During the dog days of summer in July and August, people are more sluggish than usual, but on the other hand, most are in a much better mood – for a good reason. As a 2004 study by the University of Michigan shows, half an hour of sunlight is enough to cheer us up. Later research by the same university, in turn, shows that our mood improves simply by being outside.

In summer, not only pleasant temperatures invite us to leave the house. We also benefit from significantly more daylight than in autumn and winter. It is already light when we go to work and night falls late. With rising temperatures, we shift our lives more and more outside and let it take place in streetside cafés, open-air movie theaters, and swimming pools. The increased dose of fresh air and vitamin D promotes creativity and memory, while at the same time, it reduces stress, and provides relaxation.

The sound of summer lets us unwind

The heat, light, and the sound of summer put us in a different, more pleasant state. In particular, nature sounds have proven to be a real miracle cure for stress – for example, the sound of the ocean.

The NBC interviewed American psychologist Richard Shuster for an article on the positive effects of the beach on the brain. Shuster identifies the ebbing and flowing of the ocean as a crucial factor. According to his statement, the sound of the waves de-stimulates the brain: Instead of encouraging it to be more active, it has a calming effect. Together with the visual stimuli, according to psychologist Sally Nazari, the sound of the ocean activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The PSNS, on the one hand, allows us to relax and, on the other hand, increases our attention. Therefore, we experience the moment very consciously.

Natural sounds
Summer and its sounds - especially when out and about in nature - help us to calm down and relax.
© Getty Images

Sound and silence: deep listening in nature

The beach, the mountains, a forest, or a meadow – nature sounds and silence have been proven to positively influence our health. Above all, they offer us the opportunity for contemplation. Acoustic meditation played a central role in the life and work of the American composer Pauline Oliveros: With Deep Listening, she created a program that aimed to combine meditation and music; her eponymous album is considered a milestone of sound art. She defined the practice of deep listening as “a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible, to hear no matter what you are doing”. Subjects of listening are everyday noises and music, your own thoughts, and nature.

Pauline Oliveros recommends a walk at night for a full experience of nature and says: “Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.” The sounds in our natural environment uniquely increase our perception, even more than visual stimuli ever could. With its long days and pleasant temperatures, summer offers the perfect opportunity to embark on an acoustic journey through nature. Which sounds are we familiar with, which are new? Which ones have we ignored so far because we took them for granted? Concentrating on the sound and silence of nature can help us to hold communion with ourselves and to define our place in the world.

Hear summer in all its facets

The sound of summer calls for full attention: From the bee’s buzz to talking to friends to the lawnmower’s rattling, you want to hear everything. Since it can get quite loud at times, it is essential to protect your hearing. Healthy, good hearing means active participation and increased quality of life. Have you noticed that you have a hard time following a conversation or orienting yourself in various background noises? Do not hesitate to take a hearing test. If you are diagnosed with a hearing deficit, there are numerous adequate solutions. This way, you will be able to enjoy summer in all its acoustic facets!

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