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Monday, October 11, 2010

Health Potential of Music

 We are born within and with rhythms, not only natural rhythms that engage our beings but also internal rhythms that stream life to our mortal bodies. A human's perception of rhythm is the ability to master the otherwise invisible dimension of time. Comprised of sounds and silences, rhythm relates to all the elements (accent, meter, tempo) that comprise the forward movement of music. Since rhythm is registered in regular recurring motions, it offers a much-needed symmetry to needy souls in an otherwise confusing world.  

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to "ideas worth spreading." It makes its ideas available through its website ( Julian Treasure, author of Sound Business and chairman of the UK-based audio branding specialist The Sound Agency, recently posted an article about sound in which Treasure claims our well-being is now being seriously damaged by modern sound. The article features ten pieces of information about sound and health that "you may not know." Today, I would like to explore one of those informative statements. TED site =

Treasure states,  "The fundamental characteristic of nature is periodic functioning in frequency, or musical pitch. Matter is vibrating energy; therefore, we are a collection of vibrations of many kinds, which can be considered a chord." Then, Julian Treasure shares this insight about sound: One definition of health may be that chord is in complete harmony. ("10 Things You Didn't Know About Sound," CNN Opinion, October 10 2010)

One definition of health may be that that chord is in complete harmony. 

The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" which opens at least three dimensions to the concept.

On a philosophical level, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and Confucius all wrote at length about the relationship between harmony, music and health (both social and physical). Here's Socrates: "Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful." And in the words of Plato:

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”





Music Therapy

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Here are some of the findings by the American Music Therapy Association. AMTA site =

* Brain Waves - Music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats bringing sharper concentration and more alert thinking, and a slower tempo promoting a calm, meditative state.

* Breathing and Heart Rate - These functions can also be altered by the changes music can bring. This can mean slower breathing, slower heart rate, and an activation of the relaxation response, among other things.

* State of Mind - Music can also be used to bring a more positive state of mind, helping to keep depression and anxiety at bay. This can help prevent the stress response from wreaking havoc on the body, and can help keep creativity and optimism levels higher.

Sound Research

A team at Stanford University's School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging to gauge activity in 18 people's brains as they listened to obscure 18th-century symphonies. The team found that activity in the regions of the brain associated with paying attention, making predictions and updating events peaked during the short periods of silence between movements. The study provides a glimpse of how the brain organizes events, says lead author Vinod Menon, and suggests that listening to music can help sharpen the ability to anticipate events and sustain focus. (Vinod Menon, Neuron, August 2 2007)

Finnish researchers have found that music could help aid cognitive recovery soon after a stroke. The study, which followed 54 patients and was published in the journal Brain, found that patients who listened to a few hours of music each day soon after a stroke also improved their verbal memory and were in a better mood compared to patients who did not listen to music or used audio books, the researchers said. Music therapy has long been used in a range of treatments but this study is the first to show the effect in people, they added. "These findings demonstrate for the first time that music listening during the early post-stroke stage can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood," the researchers wrote. (Teppo Sarkamo, "Music Listening Enhances Cognitive Recovery and Mood After Middle Cerebral Artery Stroke," Brain, February 20 2008)

Listening to some favorite music can also promote the functioning of blood vessels, according to a new study out of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Researchers found that the diameter of the average upper-arm blood vessel expanded by 26% when subjects listened to music they had previously selected for making them feel joyful. The diameter constricted by 6% when subjects listened to music that made them feel anxious. Blood-vessel expansion indicates nitric oxide is being released, which can reduce the formation of blood clots and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, according to Michael Miller, the study's principal investigator and director of preventive cardiology at the medical center. The results were before the American Heart Association. (M. Miller, V. Beach, C. Mangano, RA Vogel. “Positive Emotions and the Endothelium: Does Joyful Music Improve Vascular Health?” Oral Presentation. American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, November 11 2008)

A study published the Cochrane Collaboration, a London-based nonprofit that publishes reviews of health-care interventions, suggests that listening to or making music with trained therapists can help in treating depression. Music therapy is accepted by people with depression and is associated with improvements in mood. The group found five randomized studies that examined music therapy; four reported that depression symptoms lessened more among those who were randomly assigned to music therapy than those who received treatment that did not involve music. ( A. Maratos, C. Gold, X Wang, M. Crawford. "Music Therapy for Depression." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 1 2008)

Other new studies confirm old hunches. A team at Brunel University in England found that certain music deemed motivational can enhance a recreational athlete's endurance and increase pleasure while exercising. In blind experiments on 30 participants, tracks from artists like Queen, Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers increased endurance on a treadmill by up to 15%, says Costas Karageorghis, author and reader in sports psychology at Brunel. Recreational athletes might be served well by picking workout music that is up-tempo, has "bright, major harmonies" and is studded with encouraging phrases, says Mr. Karageorghis. (C.I. Karageorghis, L. Jones, & D.P. Stuart. "Psychological Effects of Music Tempi." International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29, 2008)

One of the most important elements, Dr. Karageorghis found, is a song’s tempo, which should be between 120 and 140 beats-per-minute, or B.P.M. That pace coincides with the range of most commercial dance music, and many rock songs are near that range, which leads people to develop “an aesthetic appreciation for that tempo,” he said. It also roughly corresponds to the average person’s heart rate during a routine workout — say, 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer by a person who is more casual exerciser than fitness warrior. (Steven Kurutz, "They're Playing My Song. Time To Work Out," The New York Times, January 10 2008)

Music therapy is increasingly used in hospitals to reduce the need for medication during childbirth and to complement the use of anesthesia during surgery. It is also used to help ease the pain of chronic ailments such as headache.

Music therapy can also improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients and enhance the well-being of the elderly, including those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. It has also been used to complement the treatment of AIDS, Parkinson's, and cancer. Those with learning disabilities and speech and hearing problems may find music therapy helpful.

Juliet Chung's Wall Street Journal article =

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