The World's Most Calming (And Rousing) Anthems – New Study
“God Save The Queen” may be the world’s “most calming” national anthem and “The Star Spangled Banner” the “most rousing” – according to a study by Northumbria University in the UK.
Even “God Save The Queen”, the UK’s national anthem, however, was found to be less calming than the only international anthem in the study – the European Union (EU) anthem, known officially as the “Anthem of Europe” and, it turns out, the most relaxing of all.
The study was commissioned by Calm and led by Dr Jason Ellis, Professor of Sleep Science and Director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at Northumbria University.
“Listening to soothing music before bed has been shown to relax us, help us get off to sleep and enhance our experience of sleep”, says Professor Ellis.
Indeed, this may be why Calm Music, the music section of Calm, with nearly 200 tracks of soothing music, is attracting such a fast-growing audience.
So, might listening to the right national – or international – anthems be a new way to beat stress and wind down before bed?
The study measured the effect on “Pre-Sleep Arousal Levels” of listening before bed on successive nights to the music only – minus lyrics – of nine national anthems and one international.
“God Save The Queen” proved the single most relaxing national anthem studied, ahead of “La Marseillaise” (France), “Flower of Scotland” and “Arise Australia Fair”.
This may be for reasons including that the UK anthem is in a triple metre, like many classic lullabies, including “Rock-A-Bye Baby” and “Brahms Lullaby”.
“The fact that the EU’s anthem proved the most soothing anthem of all and the US anthem the most stirring makes sense”, says Michael Acton Smith, one of Calm’s two British co-founders.
“The Star-Spangled Banner was, after all, written as a rallying call, designed, like most national anthems, to stir a sense of patriotism; the EU anthem, in contrast, was designed to celebrate peace and shared values. They clearly both do their job well.”
The British national anthem comprises more of a single, flowing movement than do a number of the other anthems.
“‘God Save the Queen’ has a really slow tempo”, says Dr Freya Bailes, Associate Professor in Music Psychology at the University of Leeds. “It’s an example of music that feels low in energy, which can be relaxing.”
Alex Tew, Calm’s other co-founder, asks: “Might the historical stability of the UK down the years owe something to the fact that our national anthem is so calming?”
The study’s 40 participants listened to the anthems just before bed and their responses were recorded in “Sleep diaries”, completed the next morning.
Listening to the EU anthem produced the lowest overall scores for both “Mental Arousal” and “Physical Tension” – and hence for overall “Pre-Sleep Arousal Levels”, based on a combined average score for both.
This made the EU anthem – which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – the “most calming” or relaxing anthem of all 10 studied.
The US anthem was the opposite of the EU’s. It had the highest arousal scores, making it the “most rousing” or stirring.
“The fact that the US anthem was the most rousing and the EU anthem the most calming both mentally and physically seems a pretty robust result”, says Professor Ellis.
The US anthem, says Dr Bailes, involves a rousing use of percussive, brass instruments, which have both a military association and a sense of energy.
“It also has a relatively quick, march-like rhythm, while the music tends to use quite wide intervals between notes, which could well be communicating greater energy. There’s also a sense of building up to quite a rousing conclusion.”
While the tempo in many of the 10 anthems studied changes throughout, the more consistent – even if fairly quick – tempo of the EU anthem may be the reason that participants found it so relaxing.
“The EU anthem is ‘legato’, or really smooth”, says Dr Bailes. “It’s also quite repetitive and predictable, with a gentle-build-up – all things associated with being comforting and soothing. We tend to find repeated patterns in music relaxing, because if we can predict what’s coming next, we can relax into it.”
The Anthem of Europe is based on the prelude to Ode to Joy, from the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, composed in 1823 – itself based on a poem of the same name written in 1785 by Friedrich Schiller, the great German poet, as “a celebration of the brotherhood of man”.
It is the official anthem of both the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe and is played by both organisations on official occasions.
The other anthems in the study were those of Canada, Australia, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy and Mexico.
“Arise Australia Fair”, Australia’s anthem, ranked the fifth “most calming” of the 10 anthems studied. “It is structured around repeated phrases, and a common, and so familiar, sequence of chords”, says Dr Bailes. “The rhythms are also simple. This combination of familiarity and simplicity may well have a relatively calming effect on its listeners.”
“O Canada”, Canada’s anthem, ranked as only the seventh “most calming” – or third “most rousing” – anthem of the 10 studied. “Although this is a stately piece, the harmonic structure of the music heightens our sense of anticipation: the music modulates to new tonal areas, perhaps creating a tension response as we wait for the triumphant return to the home key”, says Dr Bailes.
“Flower of Scotland”, Scotland’s anthem, was the fourth “most calming” in the study. It makes heavy use of both drums and bagpipes, neither commonly associated with relaxation. “But again, the melody is slow in pace”, says Dr Bailes.
The Five “Most Calming” Anthems
The EU (“Ode to Joy”)
The UK (“God Save The Queen”)
France (“La Marseillaise”)
Scotland (“Flower of Scotland”)
Australia (“Advance Australia Fair”)
The Five “Most Rousing” Anthems
The US (“The Star-Spangled Banner”)
Canada (“O Canada”)
Mexico (“Himno Nacional Mexicano”)
Italy (“Il Canto degli Italiani”)