The Power of Music, Part II

There have been and continue to be many studies on what the precise effects of music are as related to the mind and body. These studies have been performed under controlled conditions in the attempt to further scientific understanding. They have not been based on the desires of the scientists to prove that their favorite kinds of music are superior to others. Rather, these studies have been undertaken using scientifically valid methods of measuring the effects of music on the human being.

Effects on the Body

A number of experiments have been conducted with regard to the effects of musical stimuli on the digestive system. Changes in digestion, internal secretions, and even assimilation and nutrition have been recorded. (David Tame, The Secret Power of Music, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont, 1984, 136.) The use of dinner music in restaurants is of longstanding. Although some may doubt the effects of music on digestion, apparently business people are more pragmatic, and depend on the effects of music to enhance their profits.

Tarchanoff found an effect on muscular activity, which increased or diminished according to the nature of the music played. Ibid., 137.

Portnoy summarized his findings by stating that music can change metabolisms, affect muscular energy, raise or lower blood pressure, and influence digestion. (Julius Portnoy, Music in the Life of Man, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1963.)

The circulatory system also seems to be strongly affected by music. Byers and Smyth studied cardiac surgery patients. They found that a music intervention during the first postoperative day decreased noise annoyance, heart rate, and systolic blood pressure. (J. F. Byers and K. A. Smyth, “Effect of a Music Intervention on Noise Annoyance, Heart Rate, and Blood Pressure in Cardiac Surgery Patients,” American Journal of Critical Care (3), May 1977, 183–189.) Significant changes in the circulatory system under musical stimuli have been so great that music has been used effectively for therapeutic indications. Other experiments show that listening to music can measurably affect heart rate, and therapeutic exposure to certain kinds of music decreases heart rate significantly. Beyond this, there is abundant evidence that music can decrease blood pressure as well as heart rate, and even cause changes in plasma stress hormone levels. Some types of music can have the opposite effect. Gerra performed in Italy an experiment with 18- and 19-year-olds using techno-music. Techno-music was found to be associated with a significant increase in heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and significant changes in self-rated emotional states. (G. Gerra et al., “Neuroendocrine Responses of Healthy Volunteers to ‘Techno-Music’ Relationships with Personality Traits and Emotional State,” International Journal of Psychophysiology, January 1998, 99–111.) Watkins reviewed research on the effects of music and reported his findings. He suggested that “Music Therapy may be useful in a wide range of clinical settings with patients experiencing health problems as diverse as hypertension/cardiovascular disease, migraine headaches, and gastrointestinal ulcers.” (G. W. Watkins, “Music Listening Preferences and Preadmission Dysfunctional Psychosocial Behaviors of Adolescents Hospitalized on an Inpatient Psychiatric Unit,” Clinical Nurse Specialist, 1997, 43–50.)

The effects of music on the respiratory system go far beyond what one might imagine and are certainly based on the music itself and not merely dancing and toe tapping. Many studies have measured how music influences respiration. Music has been shown to enhance respiration even among mechanically ventilated patients, thus providing an important therapeutic device. (Tame, op. cit.)

Muscular activity and potential are also increased or decreased under the influence of different types of music, and this has been studied by several researchers. Research by Tarchanoff (Tame, op. cit.) revealed what specific types of music have the influence of increasing or diminishing muscular energy. Playing one kind of music can make you stronger. Playing another kind can make you weaker.

Several skin changes can be measured under exposure to music. Skin temperature changes have been noted in people listening to music. In a study by R. A. McFarland, 100 psychology students listened to music while their skin temperature was measured. “Arousing, negative emotion music terminated skin temperature increases and perpetuated skin temperature decreases, whereas the calm, positive emotion selection terminated skin temperature decreases and perpetuated skin temperature increases.” (R. A. McFarland, “Relationship of Skin Temperature Changes to the Emotions Accompanying Music,” Biofeedback and Self-Regulation, September 1985, 255.)

Other kinds of stress, such as galvanic skin response, are clearly in evidence. Such indicators suggest a powerful effect of music not only on the body, but also on the mind. Skin response is the principle upon which lie detection is based. There is a direct correlation between measurable skin stress and the state of mind produced by music. These correlations are of such magnitude that they have been therapeutically significant. (P. O. Peretti and F. Swenson, “Effects of Music on Anxiety as Determined by Physiological Skin Responses,” Journal of Research in Music Education, 1974, 278–283.)

Music and Pain

Music has been shown by many studies to be an effective treatment for pain. In their examination of the effects of techno-music, Gerra et al. (op. cit.) found a significant increase observed in beta-endorphin, adreno-corticotropic hormone, plasma norepinephine, growth hormone, and cortisol. The conclusion was that listening to techno-music induces changes in neurotransmitters, peptides, and hormonal reactions related to mental state and emotional involvement. Music cannot only lessen pain, but can change your emotional or mental state and actually even help you to grow. Music is being used in the control of pain in hospice care and to reduce postoperative pain.

A study of the effects of music on headache (Juanita McElwain, “The Effect of Somatron and Music on Headache,” Southern Medical Journal, 1992, 85), showed significant results in the number of subjects who reported that their headaches were gone after a 30-minute session of music and Somatron. All subjects with stress headaches reported their headaches were eliminated. A Somatron is an acoustic massage reclining chair. The music used was recorded American Indian wooden flute music.

Effect on the Brain

Music has a variety of effects on the brain. These include influence on the neural networks of the brain, changes in the balance of brainwaves in both hemispheres, and activity in paralimbic brain regions. The author has conducted a number of studies on the effect of music on brain waves, including a study for my doctoral dissertation. Some of the things revealed indicated that musicians process music differently than non-musicians. Musicians produce significantly more alpha brainwaves than non-musicians do. The two hemispheres of the brain process music differently. These influences have also been used in therapeutic situations, in the treatment of depression, anxiety and stress, and in mood improvement. Music may often be a cure for insomnia . . . .

Therapeutic Situations

The many and varied effects of music on the body and mind have given rise to the development of many specific therapeutic situations. Besides mood improvement and curing anxiety and insomnia, music has been used with many specific indications. Pacchetti et al. used active Music Therapy that utilized instruments structured to correspond to all sensory organs with Parkinson patients. Music Therapy had an improving effect on emotional functions, activities of daily living, and quality of life. The conclusion was that “Music Therapy, operating at a multi-sensory level, stimulates motor, affective and behavioral functions.” (C. Pacchetti et al., “Active Music Therapy and Parkinson’s Disease Methods,” Functional Neurology 13, 1998, 57–67.) Ezzone et al. studied the use of music during high-dose chemotherapy administrations. They found “that music helped to lessen nausea and vomiting.” (S. Ezzone et al., “Music as an Adjunct to Aromatic Therapy,” Oncology Nursing Forum 9, 1995, 551–556.) A study by Hanser and Thompson found housebound elders who were experiencing symptoms of depression, distress, and anxiety, when presented with music, performed significantly better on standardized tests evaluating depression, distress, self-esteem, and mood. (S. Hanser and I. W. Thompson, “Effects of a Music Therapy Strategy on Depressed Older Adults,” Journal of Gerontology 49, November 1994, 265–269.)

Souson analyzed the effect of music on mood and memory. Interestingly enough, his analysis revealed that the mood of the participants was influenced by the music played and not by the lyrics. (S. D. Souson, “Effects of Melody and Lyrics on Mood and Memory,” Perceptual Motor Skills 859, 1997, 31–40.)

Music in Daily Life

Two authors have compiled lists of music for specific uses in daily life. (Hal Lingerman, Life Streams, The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois, 1988; Barbara Scarantino, Music Power, Dodd Mead & Co., New York, New York, 1987.) Examples include:

1 Physical therapy—use music with stronger rhythms, peppy tunes, and powerful contrasts. However, do not play this music too long or too loudly because you can shock and exhaust yourself.

2 Anger—use strong music to release anger or quiet music to calm anger.

3 Hyperactivity—use more quiet music, melodically pleasing, and slower in rhythm and pacing.

4 Depression and fear—play music that will induce sleep for dejection and negative feelings. Other music can pierce through melancholy, fears, and doubts.

5 Boredom—use music that will arouse new enthusiasm.

6 Strength and courage—powerful music will cause increases of blood flow, speed of circulation, increased muscular energy and metabolism.

7 Relaxation and reverie—play quiet, perhaps nostalgic, music.

8 Love and devotion—play music that can arouse understanding and discernment and that will fill relationships with joys and overcomings.

9 Clear thinking and mental power—use music that will be clear melodically and rhythmi-cally. Much of the music of the baroque period is ordered and melodic with few surprises.

10 Waking up—play beautiful music, quiet pieces which will bring you back from sleep slowly, perhaps music for strings or flute. If you are prone to going back to sleep, choose music more peppy, bright, and airy.

11 Planning your day—play back-ground music; it should be joy-ous, transparent and clear, not heavily orchestrated or dissonant.

12 Meals—choose happy music that is light and airy; avoid heavy loud music and large contrasts. Music that is pleasing to the ear height-ens the taste buds, and both work to promote good digestion.

13 Insomnia—play quiet music for flutes, harps, or strings.

14 Home—music to quiet your home will treat stress, worry, and high-strung states. Lingerman says that it is very lovely to sing to your children, especially at bedtime.

15 Child’s energy—to release a child’s energy, avoid stressful, clashing sounds; beautiful, rhythmic music helps concentration, but chaotic sounds will make them lose con-centration and become jumpy.

16 Humor—music can help you unwind with a chuckle.

Music has become accepted as a therapeutic intervention worldwide. Historical studies show that this has always been true if only in an informal way. Now Music Therapy is a recognized and well-organized profession, which reaches out to a broad range of populations and applications. Some of the people with whom music therapists work include the mentally ill, mentally challenged, geriatrics, physically disabled, visually impaired, juvenile delinquents, those in criminal correction systems, people in hospitals, and coma and brain-injured patients. Music is used with childbirth and in kidney dialysis centers. Music is used for medicinal purposes more and more frequently.

In the summer of 1991, the U. S. Senate had a hearing on music and aging. One aspect, which was particularly emphasized, was the use of Music Therapy with Alzheimer’s patients.

Reprinted from The Lord is My Song, Print-Quik, Inc., Madison, Tennessee, 2002, and summarized from a 2003 Steps to Life Camp Meeting presentation.

To be concluded . . .

Juanita McElwain earned her PhD in Music Therapy from Florida State University. She has taught music on all levels from preschool to college graduate. She has worked as a music therapy clinician with the mentally challenged. Her areas of expertise in research include the effects of music on brain waves and the effects of music on headache. She has given numerous seminars on the power of music, which include good and bad effects of music—rock music, sensual music, music in worship and mind control through music—throughout the United States and in Europe. She and her husband are presently retired in West Virginia. She may be contacted by e-mail at: