The Healing Power of Music
Filed under Blog by Frederic Patenaude
Can music influence our minds to the point of recovery healing?
I think it’s entirely possible, and this is because listening to music can be like meditation. You’ve gone to yoga and heard soft music in the background, or to a massage therapist and they put soothing music on; that’s because it helps the meditation aspects of yoga and massage therapy.
Music can have a positive influence on your blood pressure, can lower your heart rate, and reduce your stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol).
In one German study, music was found to help patients that were undergoing cerebral angiography. The doctors from Hanover Medical School’s Department of Neuroradiology were monitoring stress hormones, heartbeat and blood pressure. The patients that weren’t exposed to music showed rising levels of stress hormones in their blood, and those exposed to music remained stable. Blood pressure was lower in the group listening to music.
One dentist that I know plays classical music in his office to relax his patients as they undergo surgery.
Of course, whether this works depends on what kind of music you’re listening to. For music to have a soothing effect, it needs a more regular beat—a beat that matches your heartbeat—to induce relaxation and lower stress. This is why baroque music and some forms of classical music are used for this purpose.
Musician David Binanay now runs a nonprofit organization called “Music over Mind,” and they perform free music at hospitals for people suffering from mental illness.
Binanay himself used music to help his recovery from a psychotic episode, and his experience was so powerful that he was driven to start his nonprofit organization. He says, “It has been an 80% turnaround from complete loss to total rebirth. I feel like I’m a better person than before my illness.”
Music has also been used to reduce pain. At the Cleveland Clinic, the use of recorded music to patients after surgery saw a fourfold decrease in post-surgical pain.
Basically, it comes down to the fact that music can help lower stress levels and also trigger pleasure centers in the brain.
Listening to music that you love stimulates the same areas of the brain that trigger pleasure through humour, tasty food, and so on. For that reason, I don’t think you necessarily need to listen to classical music to enjoy the healing effects of music. You just need to listen to music that you love. If you listen to music with regular rhythm that closely matches your heartbeat, you’re going to enjoy additional benefits.
Can other types of music have the opposite effect—trigger aggression, feelings of depression and anger?
I did have that experience when I was a death metal fan. Death metal is a form of extreme heavy metal where the lyrics are growled and screamed. The music is faster and more aggressive with guitars that are tuned lower. It’s a very fringe kind of music that was popular in the 90s.
I never really noticed the effects of that music on my mind because I kind of grew out of it naturally. I remember a few years ago, around 2009, I got back into death metal for a little while because I watched a documentary on the history of heavy metal and it kind of reminded me of my days as a teenager. This is music that has a lot of power and I kind of got a little bit addicted to it; enthralled by it. After a few months, I noticed it was really contributing to making me feel low or even depressed.
The same thing happened in my early 20s when I went through a phase of listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This is very melancholic music. I remember feeling so sad and low, but I didn’t make the connection until a friend pointed it out. “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you’ve been listening to The Wall over and over again for the past few weeks.” And I thought, “Maybe.” I quit listening to that music and the feelings went away.
I think any kind of music that makes you feel relaxed, makes you experience joy, can have healing effects. Maybe you don’t take the time to listen to the music, or you don’t know what to listen to, or you’re looking for something new.
Let me share one piece of music that has an interesting history.
It’s the Second Movement of Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor Opus 132 — his 15th Quartet and this is the 3rd movement. It’s a piece that Beethoven wrote after recovering from a serious illness. He feared he almost died from an intestinal disorder that happened during the winter of 1824. He wrote this movement as a Holy Song of Thanksgiving of a Convalescent to the Divinity in the Lydian Mode, also known as the Heiliger Dankgesang. This is a very personal piece of music that he wrote as a personal “thank you” to his God.
He viewed the music with a tremendous positive quality that is truly remarkable. He wrote it in the Lydian Mode. For those musicians out there, you might be familiar with it as it is a medieval mode of music. Sit down at the piano and play scales on white notes only starting from F. From F to F, on white notes, you’re playing the Lydian Mode. Beethoven knew that the Lydian Mode had a particular significance because it’s the brightest mode. He felt it was the most positive scale to use for his composition.
I’m posting below this particular piece, and I think that this piece has healing powers. If you listen to it understanding the history of why it was composed, hopefully it can bring you peace and joy.