Music As Medicine

Two psychologists at Montreal’s McGill University have discovered what William Congreve knew back in 1697:  Music has a certain mental and physical health benefits that comes with no unwanted side effects.  In fact, it’s natural and inexpensive in light of the fact that music is everywhere and, in many cases, free to listen to in most places.

Your dentist’s office.  Elevators in office buildings. Even on city streets when cars are waiting at the intersection waiting for the light to turn green.  Yes, people … music can be found pretty much everywhere and when it can’t be found, chances are there’s a song or two you whistle or hum to yourself from time to time.

Now what William Congreve actually wrote in his poem “The Mourning Bride” was this:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv’d the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg’d
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?

It would appear that music is a psychological salve that accomplishes what drugs and therapy attempts to accomplish (and sometimes succeeds in accomplishing).  After all, if music can move inanimate things as well as living Souls move, that says a lot about the influence music can have on an individual.

So what exactly have these two psychologists learned about music?  They’ve learned that it can manage a person’s mood.  It can effectively reduce stress.   It’s an aid to social bonding.  And the most amazing claim made by these two psychologists is that music can boost a person’s immune system!

All that has to be one of the most compelling arguments I’ve read in some time for rewarding musicians, songwriters and composers for the millions of hours they invest in perfecting their craft, wouldn’t you say?

Daniel Levitin and Mona Lisa Chanda reviewed 400 published peer-reviewed scientific papers, compiling the data in search of patterns.  In fact, neurons in the brain stem fire off when music is heard, and this in turn releases an avalanche of naturally produced chemical effects on the nervous system.

SIDE NOTE:  Good news for you drummers and musicians, songwriters and composers who lean towards the more percussive instruments.  The psychologists claim that drumming can reverse the effects of aging!

According to Daniel Levitin,  music has positive health effects, and that claim is no longer controversial.  It’s a fact.

And here’s more great news.  Music doesn’t need to go through expensive medical trials, and it doesn’t need to be FDA or Health Canada approved.   And no matter how well a person may or may not respond to music, music will always invoke some sort of emotional reaction unlike the placebos that are sometimes prescribed to patients by licensed and accredited medical practitioners.  It’s doubtful that you’ll ever find a musician, songwriter or composer crowd-funding to the tune of $1.2 million CDN so they can do test runs of their music to see if it’s going to have a positive impact on others.

So why does music work so well in the medical arena?  According to Daniel Levitin it’s because “we are all musical experts.”  What’s more, “we know the kind of music that resonates with us on an emotional level.”

One more thing people need to know about composers of classical music: They have their own mathematical finger print.  After studying the rhythms of 2,000 compositions from the past 400 years.  What does that mean?

It means that good composers and good songwriters (regardless of the genre) have a built-in radar for picking up on the “heartbeat” to which the human brain defaults, and sensing the influence, they create music that touches the hearts of others.  Whether they know this is what they’re doing is immaterial in terms of process, but it’s important in terms of end results.

The next time someone feels no shame in illegally downloading music, maybe it’s time to speak up and let that person know that pharmacies don’t give away prescription medication free of charge … and music has far more benefits, and far fewer side effects, than drugs.

Now I wonder what the health benefits are to songwriters and composers who spend countless hours creating the music to which we listen?

Elyse Bruce


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