Whistle a Happy Tune
The Creative Soul
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” We now know after hundreds of studies that Plato spoke the truth when he said those words about the fine art of music. Jae-Sang Park, better known as Psy, said it in a different way: “The world’s most famous and popular language is music.” Indeed, when a space probe was sent into deep space to make contact with any beings that might inhabit the outer parts of our galaxy, music was the language used to communicate. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow agreed with Psy: ““Music is the universal language of mankind.”
In a 2013 article from Medical News Today, Sarah Glynn reported that playing and listening to music benefits both mental and physical health. A large-scale review of over four hundred research papers regarding the neurochemistry of music found that music improves the body’s immune system and reduces stress levels. A 2011 report centered on the anxiety of cancer patients revealed “compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics,” stated researcher, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin. “But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.” Their research also showed that music increases an antibody that plays an important role in immunity of the mucous system, known as immunoglobulin A, as well as natural killer cell counts, the cells that attack germs and bacteria invading the body.
Listening to and playing music can also lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and, when combined with standard care, music therapy has been proven an effective treatment for depression. “Auditory biology is not frozen in time. It’s a moving target. And music education really does seem to enhance communication by strengthening language skills” stated Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology & Physiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University as well as the principal investigator at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.
Music and its effect on memory has been a heated debate in the scientific world, but researchers now have evidence that the processing of music and language, specifically memorizing information, rely on some of the same brain systems. Even for those who once studied/played an instrument, the benefits remain. Many use music during a workout to help keep them motivation but music is of use to us all. Listening to music releases endorphins in the brain. Endorphins give us a heightened feeling of excitement. In addition to feeling euphoric, endorphins quell anxiety, ease pain and stabilize the immune system. With high endorphin levels, we have fewer negative effects of stress.
A study from Austria’s General Hospital of Salzburg found that patients recovering from back surgery had increased rates of healing and reported less pain when music was incorporated into the standard rehabilitation process. “Music is an important part of our physical and emotional well-being, ever since we were babies in our mother’s womb listening to her heartbeat and breathing rhythms,” recounted clinical psychologist of Austria General, Franz Wendtner. With brain-imaging techniques, such as functional MRIs, music is increasingly being used in therapy for brain-related injuries and diseases. Brain scans have proven that music and motor control share circuits, so music can improve movement for those with Parkinson’s disease and for individuals recovering from a stroke. Neurologic music therapy should become part of rehabilitative care, according to the Finnish researchers. They believe that future findings may well indicate that music should be included on the list of therapies and rehabilitation for many disorders.
Just like listening to slow music to calm the body, music can also have a relaxing effect on the mind. Researchers at Stanford University found that listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication. Since music is so widely available and inexpensive, it’s an easy stress reduction option. In one meta-analysis of 10 randomized studies, researchers tracked 557 participants with chronic sleep disorders. They found that sleep quality was improved significantly with music and concluded that “music can assist in improving sleep quality of patients with acute and chronic sleep disorders.”
Musical entrainment creates connection both internally and externally which can be seen when watching a whole crowd dance to a live band, or the people around you sobbing at an opera. Science explains this as an aspect of mirror neurons, which are a form of mimicking that can happen emotionally and physically. Maybe a song will give you chills, make you cry, or spontaneously start jamming on an air guitar, or dancing uncontrollably. In the study, The Neuroscience of Music, published by the Department of Psychology at McGill University, Montreal, researchers found preliminary scientific evidence supporting claims that music influences health through neurochemical changes in four domains: reward, motivation and pleasure; stress and arousal; immunity; and social affiliation.
Three years ago a family member was involved in a horrible automobile accident through no fault of their own. Their car rolled over and over for almost four hundred yards and when it stopped said family member was immediately removed from the car, being cut out of the seat belt, by a nurse who luckily was on site. CPR was administered immediately and within ten minutes the family member arrived at a major trauma center, unresponsive, unconscious, and unable to breath unassisted. A four-month coma followed as did seven months of in-house intensive rehabilitation. Traumatic brain injury was extensive and family member not only had to learn to speak and walk all over again, they had to learn their own name.
Music therapy had been initiated within the first ten days of the accident while family member was still in the coma. Upon awakening from the coma it was apparent memory was gone. What was remembered was “Every good boy does fine” and “All cows eat grass.” These are the two mnemonic devices used to teach children how to read a musical staff. Said family member had taken band through senior high school but never really studied deeply. Yet, when everything else was lost from family member’s memory, the ability to read music remained. Slowly music became the key to connecting a forgotten past with the present.
There is still much to do in the recovery journey of my family member but the importance music played cannot be overstated. Hans Christian Andersen said it most succinctly: “When words fail, music speaks.”