New research shows that music offers a powerful therapy after stroke, heart disease-and even cancer
Sound appears to be inherent to the human condition and we respond so profoundly to it that we could be described as 'vibrational beings'.
In fact, as biologist Rupert Sheldrake maintains, all of us are simply discrete systems of "nested hierarchies" functioning within larger, more complex vibrational structures in a universe of vibrating energy.1
This view of the human body as a vibrating entity offers a rationale for both 'energy' therapies and vibrational healing systems like homeopathy and acupuncture and even music, all of which essentially work by 'tuning' the body back to health.
Music as therapy is well established as a useful adjunct to medical care, having been well researched and used since the late 1940s, when it was discovered that musicians who played in hospital wards helped patients recover more quickly.
In the 20th century, Swiss doctor and natural scientist Hans Jenny gave firm scientific footing to vibration and sound, and inspired many other researchers and scientists to explore the use of sound therapy. Those inspired by Jenny to explore the healing powers of sound include British naturopath Dr Peter
Guy Manners, who suggested that every form vibrates within its own specific range of frequencies, which is altered during illness.
As every cell has its own frequency, so every body has a composite harmonic frequency as unique as a fingerprint. In health, the frequency pattern is steady and constant, but when dysfunction or disease upsets the harmony of the body, an aberrant resonant frequency is generated. But by transmitting the original, healthy vibration back to the body until the sick tissue or organ has started resonating with it, the body can then be restored to health.2
Australian holistic healer Dr John Diamond, a trained psychiatrist who uses music and music-making as a vital part of his healing therapy, says: "I have tested many thousands of recordings recorded over a period of over 80 years and it has been found that, almost without exception, this music has been therapeutic, often highly so.
"In fact, it has been used for stress reduction, relaxation, general tonification, analgesia, anaesthesia, as part of modified acupuncture techniques, and as adjunctive therapy in drug-withdrawal programmes. Music has also been used in programmes to overcome fears and phobias, alleviate insomnia, and even for the 'tranquilization' of acutely disturbed psychotic patients."
Diamond's experiences are supported by a raft of studies confirming the benefits of music for a range of conditions, from heart disease to hyperactivity and depression. Research confirms that music is a powerful treatment for:
Stroke.New evidence shows that music offers a powerful route to rehabilitation. Listening to music helps stroke victims overcome a condition known as 'visual neglect', where the patient just stares without properly focusing on an object. Researchers from Imperial College London found that stroke victims who listen to pleasant music can improve their ability to see and focus. Music also helps the recovery of other cognitive abilities such as verbal memory if used immediately following a stroke. Patients are also less confused and depressed.3
Heart disease.A large review of 23 trials, involving some 1,500 heart patients, concluded that music helped lower blood pressure, improved heart and breathing rates, and lowered pain and anxiety.4
ADHD.Listening to music lowers disruptive behaviour among aggressive adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).5
Dementia.Music helps elderly people with dementia to function better, the research shows.6
Pain.Listening to music for 20 minutes a day has proved to be a potent pain reliever in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis.7
Cancer.A bit of music can improve the quality of life for patients with terminal cancer, and other cancer patients taking antitumor drugs also fare better when exposed to music.8
PTSD.Music has helped patients with amnesia related to post-traumatic stress disorder regain their memory.9
Giving birth.Having music playing in the birth room during labour reduces the pain of contractions.10
Pre-op anxiety.Music has calmed patients waiting for stem-cell transplantation, a distressing and invasive procedure, while in those going for colonoscopy, those who listen to music need fewer sedatives and have lower heart rates and blood pressure than those who don't.11
Exam nerves.When Japanese college students were exposed to two types of music-described as either 'high-uplifting' or 'low-uplifting'-then had their immune function, neuroendocrine response and emotional state checked, the low-uplifting music increased their sense of well-being, while high-uplifting music raised their adrenaline levels and liveliness, and reduced depression.12
Impressive as these findings are, the most positive effects of music therapy are its ability to act as a calming agent and stress-reducer in everyone, healthy or ill. Listening to Pachelbel's Canon in D Major, for instance, can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate in healthy people and is more beneficial than silence. Similar results have been achieved with music by Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart, suggesting that music therapy could help people with heart rate problems.13
The Tomatis Method
Besides healing the body, music has also been used as a powerful tool to assist children with learning. Dr Alfred Tomatis, a French ear, nose and throat specialist who died in 2002, developed an audiotherapy system for improving children's learning abilities and for treating ADHD. Tomatis' therapy depends on developing an ability to actively listen-as opposed to our usual passive hearing-to sound waves and frequencies as they are being subtly altered and modulated.
Active listening in this way, he discovered, can change and improve our psychological development as well as our ability to express ourselves and communicate with others. A review of five studies, involving 231 children in total, showed that the Tomatis Method significantly improved linguistic skills, psychomotor skills, personal and social skills, and cognitive and auditory skills.14
The Listening Centre in Toronto, Canada, co-founded in 1978 by Dr Tomatis and Paul Medaule, has studied the results of the therapy in more than 400 children and adolescents, all with well-documented histories of learning problems and patterns of underachievement in various educational tests.
As part of the study, when parents were asked for their feedback, 95 per cent said the programme had helped their children. The greatest improvement was in communication abilities, followed by better attention span and reading comprehension. In a follow-up study carried out six months later, 83 per cent of the children were found to have maintained their level of progress and some had continued to improve.15
One study looked at the efficacy of the Tomatis Method for children who were severely developmentally delayed. Thirty such children were assigned to either the Tomatis Method, music stimulation or no treatment. Both treated groups showed improvement, but the Tomatis children were the most stimulated. They were also more responsive than those in the music-stimulation group, according to tests carried out afterwards.16
In a further study involving five dyslexic boys, Tomatis training improved the academic skills of all of the boys, and one boy's IQ significantly increased .17
The Mozart effect
Music may help children learn, but does it actually make a child more intelligent? The so-called 'Mozart effect' may be the best-known example of the benefits of music, even if it may be also the most disputed. The term was coined by Tomatis, who noticed an effect of Mozart's music on brain functioning in children under three years of age.
The idea was then taken up by physicist Gordon Shaw and musician Frances Rauscher at the Universities of California at Irvine and Wisconsin, respectively, who studied the effects of playing the first 10 minutes of Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos (K.448) on either a keyboard or computer on cognitive ability.
They found a temporary improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning on an IQ test-but only in the keyboard-trained children.18
But no one has since been able to duplicate this finding, though others have tried to explain how the phenomenon might have occurred, if it did at all. One study at York University in Toronto tested a Mozart sonata against an Albinoni adagio, and concluded that the Mozart effect is no more than an arousal and mood change in response to the music.19 But even this finding suggests that something is going on even if the music is not making us smarter.
Researchers at the University of Illinois Medical Center studied the effect on seizure rates in epileptic patients of listening to pieces by Mozart, JC and JS Bach-and Chopin and 55 other composers-and found that only Mozart and the two Bachs reduced seizures. The researchers concluded that the structure of the music by the Bachs and Mozart may be resonating in a similar way as the process of encoding information within the cerebral cortex of the brain.20
Be your own musical therapist
Whether by Mozart or another composer, what's indisputable is that music can have a dramatically therapeutic effect. Healers such as Dr Diamond have studied different types of music to such an extent that they offer a 'menu' of recommended recordings that can help improve various conditions, states and moods.
Diamond, a trained psychiatrist and holistic healer, was inspired by George Goodheart, the creator of applied kinesiology, which tests the effect of various substances on the body. Goodheart developed the technique of 'muscle testing', now a feature of applied kinesiology.
He would ask a patient to stand facing him, with the left arm extended parallel to the floor: he would then place his left arm on the patient's shoulder to steady her and then ask her to resist with all her strength while he pushed on the extended arm. In most instances the arm would spring back and resist the force of Goodheart's push. But when Goodheart exposed the person to noxious substances like food additives or allergens, the arm was unable to resist the pressure of the push and was easily overcome.
Diamond has applied this muscle testing to music. When a person is exposed to different types of toxic thoughts or certain kinds of music, the 'indicator muscle' tests weak. Diamond calls it 'behavioural kinesiology' and has tested it on thousands of subjects over many years as a means of instantly taking stock of the effect of thoughts or music on the individual.
Dr Diamond is unique in pointing out the adverse effects of digital music, whether recorded onto compact discs or digitally onto old-style vinyl LPs. In his many years of clinical experience, he has found that the listener will test weak on hearing a piece of music on a CD despite having tested strong after hearing the same music recorded in analogue mode.21
With classical music, Dr Diamond has found that the music of Beethoven and Brahms can be especially life-enhancing, as are traditional jazz and songs from the 1920s and 1930s like Ain't She Sweet. Even traditional rock-'n-roll and music by the Beatles have passed Diamond's muscle tests.22
Like Dr Diamond, Dr John Ortiz, himself a composer, has prepared 'menus' of music that can relieve various negative states while encouraging more positive ones, as have musicians Kate and Richard Mucci.23 Dr Ortiz takes a more eclectic view and has found that many contemporary groups and songs can have beneficial effects on his patients.
Far from being just 'a nice thing to have around', music and harmony may be a powerful means of reminding your body of its own good vibrations.
Music to live your life by
Music can change our moods. The right music can snap us out of anger,
rid us of depression and give us our get-up-and-go. But the secret is finding the right music to induce the right state. Often we are guided to the right music intuitively, but musician and musical therapist Dr John Ortiz, who has made a study of this, has recommended specific pieces of music to thousands of patients. Here's a small portion of his musical 'menu'.
Music to get out of a depressed mood
Beethoven, 1st movement, Piano ('Moonlight') Sonata No. 14
Schubert, Marche Militaire
Mendelssohn, May Breezes
Wagner, Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Beatles, She's Leaving Home
Beach Boys, Good Vibrations
Mozart, Symphony No. 35 in D Major (K.385, 'Haffner'), Symphony No. 41 in C Major (K.551, 'Jupiter')
Beethoven, 3rd movement, Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Opus 92
David Bowie, Let's Dance
Oasis, What's The Story?
Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
Schubert, overture, Rosamunde, Opus 26
Shostakovich, 2nd movement, Symphony No. 5 in D Minor
Handel, Hallelujah Chorus, Messiah
Music to deal with anger
Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
de Falla, Ritual Fire Dance, El Amor Brujo
The Beatles, Revolution
The Jam, This is the Modern World
John Lennon, Cold Turkey
The mystery of NO Most of us associate music with relaxation, but the process itself has rarely been investigated except by one group of researchers who think
they now understand the chemical process that takes place when we listen to our favourite music.1
Scientists at the Neuroscience Research Institute at New York University have isolated the nitric oxide (NO) molecule as being responsible for that sense of ease and wellbeing. NO is released as we listen to and enjoy music, they say, but
their discovery goes beyond the mechanical. These molecules help create the auditory system and are an active agent in cochlear (inner ear) blood flow. A purely physical description tells us that cochlear nerve fibres enter the brain stem, then pass through the thalamus to the auditory cortex. It is along this pathway that the emotional centres within the limbic system are activated when music plays.
NO also helps us develop our hearing system and inner-ear blood flow. So as we listen, we relax, and as we relax, our hearing improves, which helps us listen, which . . .
1 Salamon E et al. Sound Therapy Induced
Relaxation. BioSonic Enterprises, 2002
How to find your own healing music
To come up with your own 'menu' of the music that is most healing for you, try testing your favourite music while carrying out the following simple applied kinesiology test, as devised by Dr John Diamond. He adapted this test from Dr George Goodheart, a doctor in Detroit, Michigan, who found that the muscles in your body instantly become weak when the body is exposed to harmful substances like sugar and junk food.
Dr Diamond discovered that this same test can be used to identify all manner of good or bad stimuli, including thoughts and even music. His technique, which he calls 'behavioural kinesiology', offers an instant snapshot of a person's response to anything in his environment, and whether it raises or lowers the life energy.
The muscle test
Get a partner, friend or family member to work with you.
o Stand up straight facing your partner with your right arm relaxed at your side and your left arm extended straight out on that side, parallel to the floor.
o Ask your partner to place his left hand on your right shoulder to keep you steady and, with his right hand, to grip your left arm just above the wrist.
o Have your partner push on your arm quickly and firmly-enough to feel the spring in your arm-while you resist with all your might. In virtually all cases, your muscle will 'test strong'-that is, your arm won't budge much at all even though he's pushing down quickly and hard.
o Play a piece of your favourite music of any variety, classical or contemporary.
o Now have your partner push down on your left arm as you listen to the music.
o If the music lowers your life energy, you will not be able to resist the pressure placed on your extended arm, and the deltoid (shoulder) muscle, which Dr Diamond terms your 'indicator' muscle, will test weak. If the music is life-enhancing for you, your arm will successfully resist your partner's pressure and remain steady.
o This phenomenon can be seen with any of the other muscles in your body-as music that affects you negatively will affect every muscle-but the deltoid is simply the most convenient one to use as a quick test.
Keep a diary of how different music affects you and assemble your own 'life-energy' library of music so that you surround yourself with healing sounds.
1. Sheldrake R. Of Sound Mind and Body: Music and Vibrational Healing. Cymatics video, as quoted in the film by Jeff Volk
2. Manners PG. 'Cymatics healing by sound', in The Eclectic Viewpoint, 10 February 2001
3. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2009; 106: 6011-6; Brain, 2008; 131: 866-76
4. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2009; 2: CD006577
5. J Music Ther, 2003; 40: 283-301, 302-23
6. Nurs Health Sci, 2004; 6: 11-8
7. J Adv Nurs, 2003; 44: 517-24
8. J Music Ther, 2003; 40: 113-37; Hawaii Med J, 2007; 66: 292-5; Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi, 2001; 21: 891-4
9. J Music Ther, 2001; 38: 170-92
10. Pain Manag Nurs, 2003; 4: 54-61
11. Cancer, 2003; 98: 2723-9; Appl Nurs Res, 2002; 15: 126-36
12. J Music Ther, 2003; 40: 189-211
13. South Med J, 2005; 98: 282-8; J Music Ther, 2001; 38: 254-72; Schweiz Rundsch Med Prax, 1999; 88: 951-2
14. Intl J Listening, 1999; 13: 12-23
15. Stutt HA. The Tomatis Method: A Review of Current Research. Montreal: McGill University, 1983
16. De Bruto CME. 'Audio-psycho-phonology and the mentally retarded child: An empirical investigation', presented at the First Congress on Audio-psycho-phonology, 1983
17. Roy RT. 'Perceptual processing abilities and academic skills: Intensive case studies of audio-psycho-phonological remedial training with five dyslexic boys.' Doctoral dissertation, University of Ottawa, 1980
18. Neurol Res, 1997; 19: 2-8
19. Psychol Sci, 2001; 12: 248-51
20. Clin Electroencephalogr, 2000; 31: 94-103
21. Diamond J. Your Body Doesn't Lie. New York: HarperCollins, 1979
22. Diamond J. The Life Energy in Music, vols I-III. New York: Archaeus Press, 1986
23. Mucci K, Mucci R. The Healing Sound of Music. Tallahassee, FL: Findhorn Press, 2000