Everyone loves music right? American pop singer Billy Joel once said “It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by.” And I think he’s completely correct. Music has a primal, spiritual link in our psyche. Its the reason we all go out each weekend to dance away our blues, and while everyones taste is different, we typically band together to share commonalities; Techno heads go to Techno gigs and Drum’n Bass fans go to DnB gigs. Importantly music makes us feel good. Its healing properties have long been known. The ancient Greeks used music to alleviate stress, and tribal groups around the world have been chanting and banging drums in age old rituals and ceremonies for eons. Only recently have studies been constructed to test out music’s importance. Many scientists agree that music is at least as old as human culture, but still are at a loss to its exact purpose and origins.
Studies in child development have discovered children as young as one year old have a greater ability to communicate following participation in interactive music lessons. They also show that IQ improves and that even a month of music training can improve cognition and understanding words. Research also shows it can help developed brains retain information and resist the onset of brain illness such as Dementia. Indeed, mental acuity and improved memory appear to be one of the main benefits for listening to music. Essentially, the brain likes to make sense of chaos, and its this kind of pattern recognition which stimulates brain development and aids the learning and retention of language. In this video, Pianist Robin Spielberg retells a personal and thought provoking story of how music helped her at her most vulnerable time.
I expect it will come as no real surprise to know that music affects our mood. Biologically, music which appeals to us causes a release of dopamine and gives us feelings of euphoria and happiness. Its a similar chemical reaction to that of chocolate, sex and particular party drugs. Digging deeper in to the psychological response music creates, we find that sad songs or music in a minor key slows pulse rates, raises blood pressure and drops the skins conductivity. Conversely, researchers found that uptempo music brought about the physical response associated with happiness and joy. Bizarrely it has come to light that humpback whales use many of the same rhythms and patterns as human composers, leading many to postulate whether music could be a universal language. Whale song its been discovered are of a similar length to human ballads, and feature percussive and tonal qualities as well as repeating phrases.
Bird song has also been analysed. Chopin’s opening scale of ‘Revolutionary’ has been linked to the canyon wrens trill and the hermit thrush apparently sings in a pentatonic scale. These results indicate that music serves a much deeper purpose, and is more than something used for pleasure. In this video you can see that the Thrush can determine amongst all of the back ground noise of other bird songs and sing to other Hermit Thrushes vast distances away. Its kind of like hearing every radio station available, but being able to hone in on your favourite one exclusively.
As Robin explained in her TED discussion, health benefits of music have been linked to better control of the cardiovascular system, stress levels and immune response and pain control. It has also been realised that music reduces depression and anxiety. Just 50 minutes of uplifting music appears to stop the increase in harmful stress hormones, which helps to improve the bodies natural immunity against disease. So the next time you feel stressed or over worked, and lets face it, thats probably going to be today! Reach for your iPod before you reach for a bottle of wine and let the healing power of music soothe the savage beast.