Although it is only in recent times that scientists have started to document the effects of music, the qualities of music were understood even in earliest times. Evidence suggests that dance and song preceded speech, which means that music is the original language of humans. Researcher’s have found that about two-thirds of the inner ear’s cilia resonate only at the higher frequencies that are commonly found in music (3,000 – 20,000 Hz). This seems to indicate that primitive humans communicated primarily through song or tone.
The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, best known for his work in mathematics, thought the whole universe was comprised of sounds and numbers. There has long been an awareness that music affects us, even if the reasons are not clear. Around 900 B.C., David played the harp “to cure Saul’s derangement” (Gonzalez-Crussi). One os the world’s oldest medical documents, the Ebers Papyrus (circa 1500 B.C.), prescribed incantations that Egyptian physicians chanted to heal the sick. This is perhaps the first recorded use of music for therapy. The positive influence of music may have also saved Beethoven’s life in the early eighteenth century. In a letter he wrote, “I would have ended my life-it was only my art that held me back” (Kamien).
Every human civilization has developed some sort of musical idiom and has used it as a form of tranquilizer, as a lullaby. Great civilizations have developed without the wheel, without a written language, without money, but the use of soothing sounds seems to be a very basic component of human physiology. There are distinct differences between compositions of different societies, but in spite of this, they can convey the same moods, the same feelings, in all people.
As Louis Pasteur’s Germ Theory of Illness launched the era of scientific medicine, music largely faded from formal medical settings. Fortunately, it never completely disappeared. American medicine first started experimenting with the therapeutic use of music during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As early as 1804, Edwin Atlee, wrote an essay in which he hoped to show that music, “has a powerful influence upon the mind, and consequently on the body.” Modern music therapy began to develop in the 1940’s when psychotherapists used music to calm anxious patients, and music therapy programs were established in several university psychology departments. The relatively new field of neuro-musicology has been developed to experiment with music as a tool and to dissect and shape it to the needs of society.
The visible portion of the ear consists of an external shell, with an aperture known as the meatus or auditory canal in the lower half. At the other end of this canal, about an inch inside the head is a small membrane of skin about 3/1000 of an inch thick. This piece of skin is stretched tightly over a framework of bone much like skin is stretched over a frame of wood to make a drum, and hence the name eardrum. Just behind the eardrum lies a chain of three small bones known as ossicles. The first ossicle is in contact with the eardrum, and the last presses against the oval window that leads to the cochlea. The ossicles serve to amplify the tiny changes in air pressure. The oval window passes the motion on to the fluid inside the cochlea. The neural tissue in the cochlea lies on the basilar membrane. The basilar membrane holds the auditory receptors, tiny hair cells called cilia. Waves in the fluid of the ear stimulate the hair cells to send signals to through the thalamus to the temporal lobes of the brain.
Sound reaches the ear in the form of waves which have traveled through the surrounding air. When the waves reach the ear, they exert varying pressures on the ear-drum and it is sent into motion. This motion is eventually detected by nerves and sent to the brain (as described above). The ear-drum is a remarkably sensitive instrument, an air displacement of only a ten-billionth of an inch is enough to send a signal to the brain. This is far more sensitive than the best barometers that scientists have today. Although the ear is very sensitive to minute changes in air pressure, it is only when these pressure changes are repeated in rapid succession that the messages are passed to the brain.
The latest research demonstrates that music therapy has a variety of healing effects. A study was conducted on three separate coronary care units in hospitals. One group received only standard care, the second group practiced a form of meditation, and the third group listened to sedative classical and popular music. The patients who received only the standard care all showed high levels of stress hormones in their blood, and rapid heart rates. These are both undesirable reactions that can impair the immune system and slow healing. The meditation and music groups showed significantly lower heart rates and levels of stress hormones. The music group was the least stressed.
In a study at the Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh, fifteen adults suffering from a variety of cancers were receiving chemotherapy. Common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea and vomiting. A music-imagery program significantly reduced the nausea and the amount of vomiting.
Stress triggers the release of certain hormones that suppress the immune system. In one study of night-shift nurses who suffered from health problems, a twenty-minutes tape of sedative music and guided imagery reduced their levels of stress hormones.
A study at the State University of New York suggests that music could help prevent the rise in blood pressure that some people experience while performing potentially stressful tasks. The study tested the effects of music on 50 male surgeons as they performed mental arithmetic tasks. The surgeons performed this task under three conditions: while listening to music of their own choice, listening to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, and in silence. Blood pressures increased the least when the surgeons were listening to music of their own choice. Blood pressure rose when the surgeons performed the task while listening to Pachelbel, and increased the most in complete silence. The average heart rate followed a pattern similar to the blood pressure. Speed and accuracy was the best while listening to Pachelbel. The type of music that the surgeons selected for themselves did not seem to affect their outcomes. Forty-six of the participants selected classical music, two selected jazz, and two selected Irish folk. This study gives strong evidence that a soothing environment can help reduce blood-pressure elevations that result from psychological stress.
The entrainment effect offers one other explanation for the physiological effects of music. Entrainment is the bodies ability to synchronize its rhythms with the rhythms of vibrating bodies around it. For example, babies in neonatal care units have been known to synchronize their natural rhythms with those generated by nearby computer monitors, matching their heart rate to the monitor’s beeping. Studies on adults have also been able to duplicate this effect with music. When volunteers were subjected to stress, their heart rates rose as expected. However, when they listened to a simulated slow heart beat, their tension levels decreased and their heart rates slowed. It is possible to change a person’s heart rate with music that is written in a specific tempo. When patients with a racing heart listen to music with about 50 to 60 beats per minute, their heart rate usually slows down to synchronize with the slower rhythm of the music.
Nonverbal communication between and autistic child playing the drums and a therapist on the piano can serve to bring a child out of isolation, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported. Clive E. Robbins, Ph.D., says “it’s a way of reaching into the child’s mind.” He compared the musical interaction to verbal communication. “As we speak, we improvise, you ask a question, I respond. So it is with music. It can be used as flexibly as we use speech to reach children with language problems. It bypasses those difficulties. Neurologic research is discovering that the brain comes into synthetic activity in response to music. Some say the brain is fundamentally programmed so that the organic connections are symphonic rather than mechanistic.”
Light rock music is often used in various exercise programs. It helps the body to move to an even rhythm, and the muscles to work more smoothly. It also has the effect of increasing stamina, boosting endurance and lowering heart rate.
The right hemisphere of the brain, which has to do with feelings, imagery, and the unconscious, is activated by music. Janalea Hoffman, a therapists works with a lot of adults who have experienced major gaps in their memories of childhood. Using music, they are often able to recall lost or suppressed experiences, which in turn may eliminate the emotional underpinning for their physical ailments.
Paul Newham, founder of the International Association for Voice and Movement Therapy in London, explored the therapeutic difference between speaking and singing. Whereas Sigmund Freud pioneered the talking cure, in which patients free associations offered a “royal road” to the unconscious mind, Newham believes that the singing voice offers a more direct route to the unconscious mind. He says, “the whole purpose of psychoanalysis is to disable the controlling domination of the conscious, particularly the superego, to see what emerges when the language of the unconscious is allowed to speak. Freud did that through language, through free association. I think that it’s one stage further to strip away verbility itself and to allow the voice to speak directly through song.”
It has been repeatedly demonstrated that brain waves can be modified by both music and self-generated sounds. Ordinary consciousness consists of beta waves, which vibrate from 14 to 20 Hz. Beta waves occur when we focus on daily activities in teh external world, as well as when we experience negative emotions. Heightened awareness and calm are characterized by alpha waves, which cycle from 8 to 13 Hz. Periods of peak creativity, meditation, and sleep are characterized by theta waves, from 4 to 7 Hz. Deep sleep, and deep meditation and unconsciousness produce delta waves that range from .5 to 3 Hz. The slower the brain waves, the more relaxed, contended, and peaceful a person feels. Music with about 60 beats per minute can shift conscouisness from the beta toward the alpha range, enhancing alertness and well-being.
While most people respond physically and emotionally to music, a few go beyond that. For some music therapy is mystical experience used to transport them into altered states of consciousness. Patients sometimes report transpersonal experiences with music, and the impression it leaves may linger for months or even years. These experiences can have a therapeutic effect by changing the individual at a deep spiritual level.
Gregorian Chant – creates a sense of relaxed spaciousness, reduces stress, deepens breathing
Baroque – invokes sense of stability, order, and safety and creates a mentally stimulating environment, increases rate of learning and memory retention
Classical – can improve memory, concentration, and spatial perception
Romantic – enhances sympathy, love, and compassion, invokes theme of individualism or mysticism
Impressionist – evokes dreamlike images, can unlock creative impulses
Jazz and Blues – helps to release deep joy and sadness
Big Band – inspires light movement, creates sense of well-being
Rock – stimulates active movement, may increase tension and stress
New Age – increases sense of space and time, induces state of relaxed alertness
Heavy metal – stimulates the nervous system. It is typically an outward exhibition of inner turmoil
Country – has been known to increases suicidal tendencies
Alfred Tomatis, M.D., a French physician has spent five decades studying the healing and creative effects of music, particularly that of Mozart. He has tested over 100,000 clients in listening centers all over the world. Lately, researchers have learned that the music of one composer in particular rises above all other types in its ability to heal, namely that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The unique ability of this music to heal the body, and strengthen the mind is known as the Mozart Effect.
One of Tomatis’ patients included the well-known French actor Gerard Depardieu. Early in his career, the man struggled to become an actor. Depardieu could not express himself, the more he tried, the worse his stammering became. Tomatis traced the cause of Depardieu’s voice and memory problems to deeper emotional problems. Depardieu’s treatment consisted of listening to Mozart two hours a day for several months. Soon his appetite improved, he slept better, and eventually he began to speak more clearly. He went on to become a popular actor known for his mellifluous voice. Tomatis consistently found that regardless of a listener’s tastes or previous exposure to the composer, the music of Mozart calmed listeners, improved spatial perception, and allowed them to express themselves more clearly. He found that Mozart achieved the best long-term results.
In 1993, Frances H. Rauscher, Ph.D., demonstrated that ten minutes of listening to Mozart can temporarily increase intelligence. He had thirty-six students stake a standard intelligence test after listening to either silence, a relaxing guided imagery tape, or Mozart. After the period of silence, the average student score was 110. After the guided imagery tape, the average score was 111. After listening to Mozart the score significantly increased to 119. Even people who said they did not like the music had higher scores. Rauscher says that, “listening to complex, nonrepetitive music like Mozart may stimulate neural pathways that are important in thinking” (Castleman). Rauscher used the same experimental design to test other types of music. In a later study, Rauscher was able to duplicate the effect of Mozart’s music. He also tested compositions by Philip Glass and other highly rhythmic dance pieces. No increase in students IQ was observed after listening to this type of music. This seems to suggest that hypnotic musical structures will not enhance mental abilities.
In a different study, scientists explored the neurophysiological bases of this enhancement. Spatial intelligence was tested by projecting sixteen abstract figures similar to folded piece of paper on an overhead screen for one minute. The exercises tested whether seventy-nine could tell what the shapes would look like when they were unfolded. Over a five-day period, one group listened to Mozart, another to silence, and third to mixed sounds. The studies showed that all the groups improved their scores from day one to day two, but the Mozart group’s score rose 62% percent, compared to 14% for the silent group, and 11% for the mixed-sound group. The Mozart group continued to achieve the highest scores on subsequent days.
Rauscher also conducted a study that showed that music lessons or listening to music can enhance spatial reasoning performance. The spatial reasoning of 19 preschool children who received eight months of music lessons far exceeded the spatial reasoning performance of 15 preschoolers who did not receive music lessons.
A variety of other people have been discovering the benefits of Mozart’s music. For example, in monasteries in Britain, monks play music to the animals in their care, and have found that cows serenaded with Mozart give more milk. In Washington State, Department of Immigration and Naturalization officials play Mozart and Baroque music during English classes for new arrivals and reports that it speeds up their learning.The city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada plays Mozart’s string quartets into the city squares to calm pedestrian traffic. Officials have found, in addition to other benefits, drug dealings have decreased.
Many theories have been proposed to explain the Mozart Effect. According to Gordon Shaw, a theoretical physicist, Mozart’s music may give the brain a warm up. He suspects that complex music facilitates certain complex neuronal patterns involved in high brain activities like math and chess.
According to David Sobel, M.D., “At least part of the thrill of music seems to come from the release of endorphines, the powerful opiate-like chemicals produced in the brain that induce euphoria and relieve pain. Administering drugs that block endorphin production significantly blunts the joy of music” (Castleman). Sedative music reduces the levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, and has a calming effect on the limbic system of the brain, which plays a key role in emotion.
Using special instruments, Tomatis discovered that burnout, fatigue, and the debilitating effects of stress come when the central gray nuclei cells of the brain run low on electrical potential. These cells act like small batteries, they generate the electricity for brain waves that can be detected on EEGs. Before and after brain maps made from EEGs, show that the brain is stimulated by high frequency sound. Interestingly, these cells are not recharged by body metabolism. These cells are charged up by something outside the body, namely sound. In particular, high frequency sounds from 5,000 – 8,000 Hz. Interestingly, before babies are born, they hear their mother’s voice at frequencies of about 8,000 Hz as a result of the distortion when sound travels through fluid. After checking the music of many different composers, Tomatis found that the music of Mozart was richest in these higher frequencies.
In Cymatics, Hans Jenny, a Swiss engineer and doctor, describes the science of how sound and vibration interact with matter. Jenny shows that intricate geometric figures can be formed by sound. He has produced oscillating figures in liquids and gases. The forms and shapes that can be created by sound are infinite and can be varied simply by changing the pitch, the harmonics of the tone, and the material that is vibrating. Sounds, especially music, can have a similar effect on cells, tissues and organs. “Vibrating sounds form patterns and create energy fields of resonance and movement in the surrounding space. We absorb these energies, and they subtly alter our breath, blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature, and other internal rhythms” (Campbell). Through this type of research, scientists and physicians have become aware that the vibrations transmitted by music can have positive effects on patients (or negative effects if the wrong type of music is used). A great deal of music has a rhythm analogous to the average human heart beat (70-80 beats per minute). We know the rhythms of music affect the rhythms of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates a vast a array of systems in our body. Therefore, we can understand the physiological and psychological importance of music.
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