Mood Music: How the Iso Principle Can Help You Shift Your Mood

Music has the uncanny ability to help us shift our mood. When we’re feeling low, the right music can cheer us up; when we’re stressed or anxious, music can help calm and relax us. How does music accomplish this, and how can we best harness the power of music to manage our ups and downs? How does one use music for mental health support or motivation? In this post, we’ll explore how music affects the brain and what we can learn from music therapy’s use of the iso principle.


Psychological effects of music on the brain

There is a growing body of scientific research and literature on the connection between music and the brain. Neurologically, humans are hard-wired to respond in predictable ways to music. Music is a powerful stimulus for the nervous system, affecting core brain pathways that regulate mood, reward, arousal, stress, and anxiety. Listening to carefully curated music can potentially amplify our good mood and motivation, and it can also decrease feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.


Getting results with the iso principle used in music therapy

In music therapy, the iso principle describes a technique for helping the client manage their moods through the strategic use of music. At the session's outset, the music therapist selects music that matches the client’s mood. Then, the therapist slowly adjusts the music over the course of the session to assist the client in transitioning to a different mood. This practice is rooted in the idea of meeting the client where they are and working from there towards the client’s goals.

Relaxing music arc based on iso principle
Why is the iso principle so effective as a mood-shifting strategy? A recently published research study examines the impact of playing music that is congruent with a subject’s emotions (the iso principle) compared to playing music that is not congruent (the compensatory principle). In this experiment, all participants watched a movie clip designed to induce sadness. Afterwards, one set of participants listened to a sad song and then a happy song (the iso principle group), and the other set listened to two happy songs (the compensatory principle group). 

Upon completion of the songs, the members of the iso group reported less negative affect (i.e., less sadness) than the compensatory group. As to the mechanism by which the iso principle works, the authors write, “It has been proposed that when patients listen to music that is congruent with their current state, their internal and external experiences match. They may experience solace and feelings of being understood in the present moment. The supportive nature of these experiences helps patients to have new external experiences.”


Functional music: Putting music to work for you

When we use music for a particular purpose—for example, to help us relax and unwind after a stressful experience—we call that “functional music.” Functional music has many possible applications, particularly in the areas of wellness and performance. 

Music’s power as a mood shifter makes it an ideal tool for increasing productivity by enhancing motivation and focus. Alternatively, functional music can be extremely relaxing—calming anxiety, supporting a meditation practice, or providing a soothing environment for falling asleep. 


Woman listening to relaxing music for sleep

Designing a mood music playlist using the iso principle

Mood music playlists are surging in popularity as people discover the benefits of shifting their moods gently and naturally with music. Not just any music will do the trick, though; the best mood music apps offer carefully curated playlists that effectively support the user’s goal. The qualities of the music are more important than the category or genre; not all piano music is relaxing, for example. 

Knowing which tones and rhythms work best for helping people relax versus helping them get motivated and focused is key to creating a mood music playlist that provides optimal benefits. In addition, it’s helpful to use the iso principle to match the music to the listener’s current mood initially and then gradually transition it towards the desired state, according to the process described earlier.


woman listening to mood music on wellness app outside

Functional music for business apps

Given the potential of functional music to enhance people’s lives, forward-thinking businesses are adding streaming music to their apps, resulting in increased customer engagement and loyalty and improved client and patient outcomes. Many apps can benefit from offering mood-shifting streaming music, including apps that focus on coaching, reducing anxiety, supporting mental health, addressing substance abuse, and more. Keep the iso principle in mind when creating a strategy for music in your business, and when in doubt, lean towards calming, stress-reducing music for applications like hold music or wait music.


The right partner can help you get into the mood (music)

If you’re curious about integrating mood-shifting music into your business app but aren’t sure where to begin, we’ve got you covered. has been helping businesses license and integrate music into their apps for nearly a decade, and our unified music system handles every aspect of the process from beginning to end. 

Want to learn how using the iso principle and incorporating functional music or music for wellness can take your app to the next level?