Last Thursday, I attended an AMAZING concert at The Ark. One of my favorite bands, Shovels and Rope, played a truly authentic set. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic and silly, it was the type of transcendent experience I’ve only found while listening to great live music.
It made me wonder: what does the research tell us about the impact of music on health? What’s exactly going on as I sit in an audience and feel so elated?
Well, I’m sure I could do an extensive literature review on the subject and learn a lot (and likely end up with more questions than answers), but I don’t have that kind of time at the moment. Instead, I went to MedlinePlus and searched “Music and Health.” From there, I found a really interesting article called “Music for your Health” by Dr. R. Mack Harrell of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. If your interested in the subject, I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here’s the part I found most interesting:
Dr. Claudius Conrad at Harvard Medical School is a gifted pianist and a lead investigator in a study looking at the effects of music on the sleep patterns of critically ill patients. He notes that “research has already shown that if you play a classical piece of music — like Mozart — at a certain slow beat, the listener will adapt their heart beat to the beat of the music.” At the University of Munich, Dr. Conrad was able to show that critically ill patients required fewer sedative drugs when they listened to one hour of Mozart. As expected, the patients’ blood pressures and heart rates became more stable while they listened to the music. But patients also had a 50 percent spike in pituitary [pih-TWO-ih-tear-ee] growth hormone, which can stimulate healing. Dr. Conrad now asks his patients (or their families) what music they’d like to hear before he begins surgery; if neither can provide an answer, he usually plays Mozart.
The University of Michigan Cancer Center has also been using music therapy thanks in part to a generous endowment from Bill and Dee Brehm where “music therapy at U-M ranges from collaborative activities, such as song writing or music improvisation, to simply listening to music.” Physicians have created a “Healing Music to Go” collection of about 50 CDs that can be checked out at the Patient Education Resource Center, in addition to creating a webpage of music to stream.
There you have it, a quick look at what scientists have to say about the impact of music- just in case you need any extra incentive to make it to a concert.