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How Does Music Affect the Way We Behave?

Posted by on Friday, December 11, 2009, 17:52
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There are reports of other studies of the mental and physical effects of music in scientific publications. Various forms of music relieve tension, anxiety, and pain. But we know relatively little about how we perceive music and how it affects us .

In an interesting address to the Music Research Foundation Symposium, at the New York Academy of Sciences, I. A. Taylor and F. Paperte stated that “music cannot be separated from perceptual, symbolic, and personal processes particularly emotional and physiologic if one is to understand how music induces and modifies human behavior.”

The authors also provide other insights. First, emotions evoked by music reside in the individual, not in the music. Second, music, because of its abstract nature, may bypass intellectual control and directly contact lower centers of the brain. Curiously, covert movement and simple motor activities such as tapping in accompaniment to music have been reported to improve mental ability.

Third, though music may act indirectly on emotions by arousing associations and images in the intellect, its structure (rhythm and tempo) may evoke covert as well as overt movements, which also give expression to emotion. This expression may be without symbolic or latent content and is, therefore, joyful and nonthreatening. But the most significant finding in their report is that the main effect of music is principally either stimulation or relaxation.

A number of recent books detail the effects of music, including Don Campbell’s The Mozart Effect.  Steven Halpern, in SoundHealth, reports that music may have a paradoxical effect. Subjective reports of persons listening to Liszt’s Liebestraum no. 31  reported it to be “highly relaxing, soothing and meditative,” even though their physiological reactions to the music showed otherwise.

Three conclusions can be drawn from Halpern’s findings. First, externally imposed rhythm is rarely as relaxing as the personal internal rhythm. Relaxation will happen at the psychological and physiological level when the body can express its own inner nature and harmony.

Second, relaxation may vary in depth. Some types of classical music can produce light relaxation, which may show none of the physiological characteristics of deep relaxation. Most people can’t tell one from the other, but their long-term effects may be different.  Third, neutral compositions found predominantly among classical and New Age compositions those that do not bring forth images appear to allow the body and mind to move into a mental pattern where the listener seems able to visualize a personal therapeutic imagery and utilize mental self-healing capacities.

In The Healing Energies of Music, H. A. Lingerman cites specific examples of what music can do. It can:

• increase physical vitality
• relieve fatigue and inertia
• pierce through moods, uplift feelings
• calm anxiety and tensions
• focus thinking, clarify goals
• release courage and follow-through
• deepen relationships and enrich friendships
• stimulate creativity and sensitivity
• strengthen character and constructive behavior
• expand consciousness of God and horizons of spirituality6

Different instruments seem to affect different aspects of the self.

The aspects affected are:

• physical body: brass, percussion, electronic music
• emotions: woodwind, strings
• mental: strings
• soul: harp, organ, wind chimes, high strings

Music for the body includes:

• Elgar, “Pomp and Circumstance”
• Schubert, “Marche Militaire”
• Copland, Rodeo

Music for feelings and moods includes:

• Brahms, Piano Concerto no. 1
• Handel, Harp Concerto
• Pachelbel, Canon in D
• Bruch, “Scottish Fantasy”

Music for clear thinking includes:

• J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos
• Baroque string music of Telemann, Vivaldi, Albinoni, Corelli,
and others.

Music for meals and good digestion includes:

• Vivaldi, lute concertos
• Mendelssohn, string trios
• Mozart, Concerto for Flute and Harp

Music to help you sleep includes:

• Barber, Adagio for Strings
• Debussy, “Clair de Lune”

In The Healing Forces of Music, however, Dr. Randall McClellan avers that there is currently no scientific explanation for why w respond to music in the first place. While the auditory nerve stimulates a brain center thought to be the seat of emotion, which also stimulates the frontal cortex responsible for the intellectual interpretation of the sounds, it also sends impulses to another brain region triggering the so called thalamic reflex, which is noted as rhythmic foot-tapping, swaying, and nodding the head.

The thalamus also influences metabolism and controls waking! sleeping cycles, hormone release, pulse rate, and blood circulation. McClellan cites the work of Helen Bonny, a noted music therapist, which centers on recognizing the value of music in helping the listener to enhance, prolong, and experience his or her personal mood on a deeper level. Bonny selected a wide variety of compositions, mostly from Western classical tradition, and catalogued the selections according to their compatibility to eight mood groups:

1-  Solemn
2-  Tragic
3-  Tender
4-  Tranquil
5-  Humorous
6-  Joyous
7-  Dramatic
8-  Majestic

music therapy

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