What is this magical medium that moves, enchants, energizes and heals us?
In an instant, music can uplift our soul. It awakens within us the spirit of prayer, compassion, and love. It clears our minds and has been known to make us smarter.
Music can dance and sing our blues away. It conjures up memories of lost lovers or deceased friends. It lets the child in us play, the monk in us pray, the cowgirl in us line dance, the hero in us surmount all obstacles. It helps the stroke patient find language and expression.
Music is a holy place, a cathedral so majestic that we can sense the magnificence of the universe, and also a hovel so simple and private that none of us can plumb its deepest secrets.
Music helps plants grow, drives our neighbors to distraction, lulls children to sleep, and marches men to war.
Music can drum out evil spirits, sing the praises of the Virgin Mary, invoke the Buddha of Universal Salvation, enchant leaders and nations, captivate and soothe, resurrect and transform.
Yet it is more than all of these things. It is the sounds of earth and sky, of tides and storms. It is the echo of a train in the distance, the pounding reverberations of a carpenter at work. From the first cry of life to the last sigh of death, from the beating of our hearts to the soaring of our imaginations, we are enveloped by sound and vibration every moment of our lives. It is the primal breath of creation itself, the speech of angels and atoms, the stuff of which life and dreams, souls and stars, are ultimately fashioned.
Most of us enjoy listening to music without being fully aware of its impact. Sometimes it’s stimulating, at other times overstimulating – even invasive. Whatever our response, music produces mental and physical effects. To come to understand how to heal with music, we have to look more deeply at what it actually does. Once we have this knowledge, we can – no matter what our level of musicality – learn to change our “sound channels” as effortlessly as we would our television channels so as to produce the specific effects we want. Here are some of music’s possible therapeutic uses:
Music can slow down and equalize brain waves. It has been demonstrated repeatedly: brain waves can be modified by both music and self-generated sounds. Ordinary consciousness consists of beta waves, which vibrate from fourteen to twenty hertz. Beta waves occur when we focus on daily activities in the external world, as well as when we experience strong negative emotions. Heightened awareness and calm are characterized by alpha waves, which cycle from eight to thirteen hertz. Periods of peak creativity, meditation, and sleep are characterized by theta waves, from four to seven hertz, and deep sleep, deep meditation and unconsciousness produce delta waves, ranging to .5 to three hertz. The slower the brain waves, the more relaxed, contented and peaceful we feel.
From the first cry of life to the last sigh of death, from the beating of our hearts to the soaring of our imaginations, we are enveloped by sound and vibration every moment of our lives.
Like meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and other practices designed to unify mind and body, music with a pulse of about sixty beats per minute can shift consciousness from the beta toward the alpha range, enhancing alertness and general wellbeing. Shamanic drumming can take the listener into the theta range, resulting in altered states of consciousness.
Music affects the heartbeat, pulse rate and blood pressure. The human heartbeat is particularly attuned to sound and music. The heart rate responds to musical variables such as frequency, tempo, and volume and tends to speed up or slow down to match the rhythm of a sound. The faster the music, the faster the heart will beat; the slower the music, the slower the heart beats, all within a moderate range. As with breathing rates, a lower heartbeat creates less physical tension and stress, calms the mind, and helps the body heal itself. Music is a natural energizer.
Music can also change blood pressure. A study of expectant mothers conducted at the College of Nursing at Haohsiung Medical University in Taiwan found that they showed significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression after just two weeks as a result of listening to CDs of a Brahms lullaby, music by Beethoven and Debussy, nature sounds and traditional Chinese children’s songs.*
*Source: Campbell, Don & Doman, Alex. Healing at the Speed of Sound, to be published in 2010.
Like meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and other practices designed to unify mind and body, music with a pulse of about sixty beats per minute can shift consciousness from the beta toward the alpha range, enhancing alertness and general well-being.
Music can regulate stress-related hormones. Anesthesiologists report that the level of stress hormones in the blood declines significantly in those listening to relaxing, ambient music – in some cases replacing the need for medication. Those hormones include adrenocorticotrophic (ACTH), prolactic, and human growth (HGH) hormone. Political leaders, trial lawyers, surgeons, moms and other people who operate under great stress intuitively sense the power of music to calm and relax. “I cannot listen to music too often,” Lenin confessed after listening to a soothing Beethoven sonata. “It makes me want to say kind, stupid things, and pat the heads of people.”
Music and sound can boost the immune function. If the body proves successful at resisting disease, it is because the system works in harmony; the blood, lymph, and other fluids circulate properly and the liver, spleen, and kidneys maintain their overall integrity. Research in immunology suggests that insufficient oxygen in the blood may be a major cause of immune deficiency and degenerative disease. Scientists in a study at Michigan State University reported that listening to music for only fifteen minutes could increase levels of interlukin-1 (IL-1) in the blood from 12.5 to 14 percent. Interlukins are a family of proteins associated with blood and platelet production, lymphocyte stimulation, and cellular protection against AIDS, cancer, and other diseases.
Music can boost productivity. Research into health and memory in work environments has radically changed the way music is used in the workplace. The University of Wisconsin reported that in a study of ninety people copyediting a manuscript, accuracy in the group listening to light classical music for ninety minutes increased by 21.3 percent. By contrast, the skills of those listening to a popular commercial radio format improved by only 2.4 percent. Meanwhile, those subjects editing in silence were 8.3 less accurate than those working alongside the usual office noise. AT&T and Dupont have cut training time in half with creative music programs. Equitable Life Insurance increased the output of transcribers by 17 % after introducing music to the office for six weeks, and Mississippi Power & Light raised efficiency in the billing department by 18.6 percent after instituting a nine-month office listening program.
Scientists in a study at Michigan State University reported that listening to music for only fifteen minutes could increase levels of interlukin-1 (IL-1) in the blood from 12.5 to 14 percent.
Music can strengthen memory and learning. When we exercise, music can extend our stamina. The same is true when we study. Playing light, easily paced music (for example, Mozart or Vivaldi) in the background helps some people to concentrate for longer periods; others it may distract. Listening to Baroque music while studying can enhance one’s ability to memorize spellings, poetry and foreign words.
In addition to noting how rhythm aids memory, researchers have found that memory has its own circadian rhythm. Shortterm memory processes are at their peak in the morning, while long-term storage is best attempted in the afternoon. That is why many parents try to get their kids to learn how to play piano, to boost their memory and learning capabilities. Playing an instrument or participating in a music program in school (or incorporating music into classroom activities in such areas as history and science) has been shown to have broadly positive effects on learning, motivation, and behavior.
The University of Wisconsin reported that in a study of ninety people copyediting a manuscript, accuracy in the group listening to light classical music for ninety minutes increased by 21.3 percent. By contrast, the skills of those listening to a popular commercial radio format improved by only 2.4 percent.
A high percentage of environmental input is provided through the ears, and the evidence is clear that from approximately eighteen weeks of gestation on, music plays a crucial role in the process of wiring a young child’s brain. As a child is born and progresses through the years, music will enhance his physiology, his intelligence, and his behavior. Such effects are real and measurable. Studies have shown, for example, that:
- Music can calm or stimulate the movement and heart rate of a baby in the womb.
- Premature infants who listen to classical music in their intensive care units gain more weight, leave the hospital earlier, and have a better chance of survival.
- Young children who receive regular music training demonstrate better motor skills, math ability, and reading performance than those who don’t.
- High school students who sing or play an instrument score up to fifty-two points higher on SAT scores than those who do not.
- College students who listen to ten minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major tend to score higher on the spatial-temporal portion of IQ tests immediately afterward.
- Adult musicians’ brains generally exhibit more EEG (brainwave) coherence than those of nonmusicians – and even differ anatomically in cases where the musicians began their training before age seven.
For the past century, we have looked at how to move music and the arts into the sciences, but it may be more useful to see the sciences as a subset of music and the arts. “Music for the millennium” does not imply that we will have ten times more albums to buy, while being stimulated by marketresearch- driven music beamed into our local department store by satellite. Rather, it suggests that music holds the map to integrating multiple systems of intelligence, with broad applications in health, education, and business.
Playing an instrument or participating in a music program in school (or incorporating music into classroom activities in such areas as history and science) has been shown to have broadly positive effects on learning, motivation, and behavior.
Music might be a polyglot, but its many languages are understood instinctively by nearly everyone. Through its judicious use in our schools, workplaces, and daily lives, we can stimulate our intelligence and unlock our creative potentials. In its broadest sense, the Mozart Effect reveals a path to a higher, more comprehensive IQ than any of us had previously envisioned.