Frisson: When Music Gives You Goosebumps
For as long as I can remember, certain music, or parts of songs, made my body tingle, go numb, or break out in bumps. It was strange. I could feel a wave of numbness, goosebumps or the chills on the back of my neck, and even my upper torso in some cases. The feeling lasted only as long as the musical passage. It was always a passage I very much enjoyed hearing, and almost never for an entire song. This is in no way associated with being brought to tears of sadness or joy when a particular passage or riff comes on. This is a unique, yet very pleasurable, bodily response to the stimulus of music. Weird, right?
The First Chills
I first noticed it around age 6, when either my brothers or father brought me home the latest Beatles 45. On this particular occasion, I put on the a-side, “All You Need Is Love.” I’d heard it for a few days on WIBG (“Wibbage!”) It was pure joy from start to finish. I flipped the disc over and on came “Baby You’re A Rich Man.” Again, the track was incredible and I loved it, hearing it for the first time on my little turntable. At precisely 1:45 into the song, right at the start of the third verse, and continuing until 1:57, I started feeling tingly all over the upper bart of my body, right as I was grooving on the opening of the third verse. It peaked as John and Paul sang “tuned to a natural E!” On the “E”, I got, and still often get, an intense rush. Only a handful of songs/passages affect me this way, interestingly.
I’m Not Alone, This Is An Actual Thing
It wasn’t until I started browsing the good old internet back in the mid-90s, that I stumbled onto some article that actually addressed this, and gave it a name: frisson. It’s a French word, meaning literally, “a shiver.” Certain events in our lives can cause this sensation outside of music, but I was simply fascinated by the effect a tune could have on me.
Back in 2016, several distinguished doctors published a study, which was later quoted in less technical terms in a Discovery.com article, that shed some interesting light on this phenomenon. One takeaway is that roughly only 50 percent of people experience these sensations. Also, they pointed to a possibility that people’s brains are wired differently who have felt frisson, due to excess wiring attached to the emotion receptors of the brain.
Now that I know I’m not alone, do YOU experience this sensation? I’d love to hear if you do, and which songs do that to you. Let me know on the MGK Facebook page.