Article author Duane Shinn formerly worked in the field of music therapy and currently compiles educational musical material. He submitted this article in June 2005.
We listen to music to uplift us further in happy times and to comfort us, or to brood to, when we're down.
Research has shown that music can affect how our brains, and therefore our bodies, function. Although music therapy is not new, we are still working towards understanding music's healing power over the body and the spirit. Music can reduce anxiety and stress and relieve pain. Music can positively alter mood and emotional states.
Music can impact the brain causing one not only to feel better, but to heal faster. In one study, researchers found that people with physical impairments progressed more quickly in their rehabilitation when their therapy involved listening to music than those who didn't. Another study showed that cancer patients who played drums for 30 minutes per day had more strengthened immune systems and an increase in cancer-fighting cells.
A 2001 study by Blood and Zatorre of Montreal showed that certain music stimulated the same area of the brain as that which is stimulated by food and sex. With music activating the part of the brain that makes us happy, this suggests that it can benefit our physical and mental well being.
Studies have been done to show that music (or acoustic therapy) can lighten anxiety in those undergoing medical or dental surgery.
Shinn states that although music prompts powerful emotions within us, no one yet knows why these emotions are so powerful. He says that we can quantify some of music's emotional responses, but we can't yet explain them. He says that he does not have to understand electricity to benefit from light and likewise, that he does not have to understand why music makes him feel better emotionally in order to actually feel that way.
I can use relaxing music to soothe frayed nerves or listen to something to inspire me further when I'm feeling really happy. I can personally attest to an emotional connection to music dating back to my elementary school days. Some of my fondest memories from school days are associated with music classes and choir performances. I remember the swirl of adolescent emotional angst entwined with the experience of listening to certain very sad songs!
Music's emotional appeal can also have physical repercussions for me. This year I'm having my blood pressure checked frequently because it has been on the slightly high-ish side. If I go into the doctor's office and lie down listening to some soothing music on my iPod for a few minutes first, my BP is much lower than if I don't do this.
I'm not certain if music can make you a happier person but it can have very positive effects.
With all of the excellent research being done to show the positive effects of music on physical and emotional health, one wonders why music and acoustic therapy is not more common place.
Last year, when accompanying my daughter for surgery, my ears were assaulted by the sound of the screaming of television sets blasting video games. How much more soothing would it have been for all of us in the waiting area to hear some calming music.