Music and health: Is there a connection?

The world of music is infinite, and its power is undeniable - both positive and negative. It is a complex medium which can alter and intensify mood, outlook and perception through potent physiological and psychological effects. Specific rhythmic patterns, pitch, frequencies, harmonies and arrangements of music can have a constructive emotional impact and be a high quality type of vibrational nourishment for both body and mind. This begs for more clinical research into women healthand behaviour.

Little in life grants such therapeutic satisfaction as music. It affects mood and emotion, and more than any other medium, has the power to alter our perception of the world. It is capable of increasing endorphin levels, decreasing stress hormones, body tension, and masking unpleasant feelings. And with the right genre, even our heartbeat, blood pressure and respiration may be significantly altered.

Music also has particular sound frequencies which are more beneficial to us, and these are often present in instruments and works by certain composers. The end result is that they may actually help increase our intelligence and speed of learning. And often heard on television, there is also a moral component independent of any lyrics. Educators and researchers are finding this type of music affects the mental, verbal and behavioral development of our children.

Obviously all of the attributes may be used in constructive or destructive contexts, depending on the type of music one prefers. How can we know which genre is best for our mind, or which composition is harmful to our health? Fortunately there is a copious amount of solid empirical evidence pointing us in the right direction.

Music and health: What is music?

Ludwig van Beethoven once said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” Today, many would define such a description as too ambiguous, preferring a more structured or formal explanation. But even among modern experts, there are many disagreements. With all its harmony, melody, rhythm, tone, voice, or cultural diversity, music is a complex medium which we struggle to define.
Perhaps the only thing that all theorists agree on is that music is of necessity sound — a vibratory phenomenon of air particles which sets matter in motion. According to the Dovesong Foundation, this “Vibrational Sympathy” enters the ear as distinct notes. To this effect, the French ear specialist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis came to the conclusion that the ear is made not only for hearing, but is designed to energize the brain and body.

Music and health: An experiment on emotions and mood

In traditional societies, positive and uplifting music has always been the standard. Though lyrics are important, the most relaxing, calming, and mentally invigorating pieces are about the music itself.
During the early to middle part of the 19th century, songs were many times romantic, full of feeling and upbeat. Lyrics were clever and evocative, enjoyable and spirited. But times have changed. Now, the airwaves are filled with angry, tortured and angst driven wailing. So predominant is this genre that experts seek to understand the difference between positive and uplifting music, and that which is negative and unhealthy.
Surprisingly, pessimistic lyrics, depressing emotions and distorted beats are considered by many to be a pleasurable experience. But where did it all start? The Dovesong Foundation states that a Viennese classical composer named Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was the first person to openly create negative music early in the twentieth century. His music, which employed discordant intervals and harmonies, sometimes caused near riots because it made listeners feel uncomfortable and irritated.
His theory of twelve-tone music, where all notes assumed an equal identity and the principals of harmony were rejected, resulted in the incorporation of music which accompanies many crime programs and horror films. It has also morphed into mainstream staples such as heavy metal, acid and hard rock, punk, grunge and rap.

Music and health: Effects of aggressive lyrics

In their book, It’s Not Only Rock & Roll, Professors Donald Roberts and Peter Christenson say that it would be disingenuous to argue that music can have no serious effects simply because it’s “only entertainment.”
They add, “Music alters and intensifies people’s moods, furnishes much of their slang, dominates their conversations and provides the ambiance at their social gatherings. It also defines the crowds and cliques they run in and music personalities provide models for how they act and dress.”
Most arguments against the negative effects of such music come from young adults whose perceptions are already shaped by it. But researchers worry that popular music could have an impact on impressionable, younger children who are just developing a sense of identity and self-worth.
The American Psychological Association (APA) states that songs with violent lyrics increase aggression related thoughts and emotions which can skew and misrepresent the realities of the outside world.
And the National Institute on Media and the Family emphasizes that at-risk youth gravitate to heavy metal music, which correlates positively with casual sex, greater drug use, suicidal thoughts, drunk driving, conflict with parents and more school problems.
Rap music, a genre that was very much alternative fifteen years ago, is now also considered mainstream. Detractors have criticized it as a boastful promotion of violence and misogyny; others have admired it as an inventive manipulation of social and political awareness.
Whether for or against, it is hard to ignore the fact that numerous rappers are ex drug dealers, in and out of prison, or end up dead. They act as a powerful cultural force in showcasing their message through a catchy beat.
“From songs about violence, excessive wealth and high living (“bling bling” in the rap community), being surrounded with beautiful women – just being “da man”(Jay-Z, Ca$hMoney, etc.), the popular music landscape is full of hip-hop beats and bad boyz (Truth about Rap – True Education, 2001).
In a 2001 Newsweek cover story (The rap on rap), Queens, NY rapper Ja Rule said, “What else can you rap about but money, sex, murder or pimping? There isn’t a whole lot else going on in our world.”

Music and health: The stopped-anapestic rhythm

Another concern in popular music is what is called the “stopped-anapestic rhythm” which consists of a “short-short-long-pause pattern,” known to have stressful, negative effects on the body. This rhythm is the basis of most rock, pop and dance songs today, and is the opposite of the body’s natural rhythm.
According to twenty five years of research by Dr. John Diamond MD, ninety per cent of people exposed to this beat for extended periods experience a process known as switching, where the synchronization between the right and left hemispheres of the brain is lost. This, according to Diamond, causes confusion, irritability and stress on the body’s normal rhythm.
Diamond claimed he had tested twenty thousand pieces of music and found this rhythm only in rock music, with three exceptions. It appeared at the conclusion of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, Ravel’s ” La Valse,” and in a piece of Haitian Voodoo drumming.

Music and health: Uplifting music is beneficial

Looking at the flip side of the coin, uplifting, feel-good genres – from classical to Blues, Jazz to Folk – have many positive attributes. Relaxing music is an excellent tool for stress relief, as anyone who’s ever zoned out to their favorite CD after a hard day can attest to. Ditto for those who have trouble sleeping. A study published in the February 2005 edition of The Journal of Advanced Nursing found that older adults reported a 35 percent improvement in their sleep after listening to soft music at bed time.
With support from clinical research, music therapy is in some instances recognized as a safe and effective alternative to psychotropic medications. Results confirm that music helps reconnect Parkinson ’s disease patients to what the disease takes away: the ability to move. Therapeutically, it improves concentration and focus on physical tasks, which in turn helps them move (”Music Movement, Mood in Parkinson’s Patients,” WebMD Medical News Archive, June 20, 2000).
Then there’s the Mozart Effect, based on studies of students who raised Spatial-Temporal test scores after listening to Mozart. Though these results are contested by some, there is still compelling evidence that music has a powerful effect on the mind.
In 1996, the College Entrance Exam Board Service conducted a study on all students taking their SAT exams. Students who sang or played a musical instrument scored 51 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and an average of 39 points higher on math.
And Dr. Georgi Lozanov, the renowned Bulgarian psychologist, developed a methodology for teaching foreign languages that used baroque music with a beat pattern of about 60 beats per minute. In a single day, one half of the normal vocabulary and phrases for the term (up to 1000 words or phrases) were learned. In addition, an added benefit was that the students had an average of 92% retention of what they had learned!

Music and health: Vibrational nourishment

We all know that ‘music “hath charms to soothe the savage beast,” but we don’t often think of the converse. Research demonstrates that music has potent physiological and psychological effects, confirming the belief that it can be both beneficial and dangerous.
The underlying fact is that the right type of music plays a positive role in many areas of human development. The specific effects of different rhythmic patterns, pitch, frequencies, harmonies and arrangements of music beg for more clinical research into women healthand behaviour.

The world of music is infinite, and its power is undeniable. To find proper music, both the lyrics and the music itself should be judged. If it is enjoyable, gives a constructive emotional impact and is of high quality, then it is the right type of vibrational nourishment for both body and mind.

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