Issue 39 / July - September 2002
Music for Healing and Brain Development
Dr. Selim Uzunoglu
Each living system is programmed to realize the outer world and act in a conscious way to survive and reproduce. Realizing the outer world is achieved by the sensory organs or sensory cells receipt of stimuli. Sounds with a particular frequency and intensity are important stimuli used for interspecies communication. Many species have been endowed with an auditory system to sense, process, and recognize sounds signalsâan invaluable gift. Sounds having a certain rhythm, harmony, and melody, or sounds created by a composition of words with rhythm, harmony, and melody, is called music.
Sound produced by living creatures or lifeless objects can have rhythm and harmony. People who listen to this sound and sense its rhythm and harmony call this the music of nature. If they cannot sense anything, they call it noise. Recognizing sound as music or noise depends on the rhythm, pitches, and melodic contour, as well as the persons mental state and understanding. Sounds like a blowing wind, flowing water, or chirping birds are signs of a live and active universe. Believers in God realize that these beautiful sounds reflect Gods Names and Attributes, and that Gods re-creation reflects the Divine manifestation. For nonbelievers, they are sounds of nature that offer relaxation and integrate one with nature.
Music is an aesthetic way of communicating that uses rhythm and beauty to carry messages to ones soul in an effective way. Music can be produced consciously by people as well as produced by nature. More than an effective tool of communication, music is used for entertainment and relaxation. It also is the backbone of a huge job market and commercial sector.
Human natures sensitivity to rhythm, melody, and meaningful sounds and its functions have been the subjects of various research projects. Specifically, research conducted in biomusicology analyzes how music affects living systems. Today, the effects of music on human development, learning, and mental health, starting from the prenatal stage, is subject to various research projects.
For many years, it was known that music had a universal language, for every culture has developed its own music. Why is this? Research conducted in biomusicology shows that music has positive effects on humanitys survival and reproduction. According to Prof. Bjorn Merkur from Mid Sweden Universitys Institute for Biomusicology, music is a positive factor in survival and reproduction for many species. It also is an expression of the order and balance that makes life possible.
Many species distinguish and know each other from the sounds they produce. In the mating session, individuals of the same species find each other easily with the help of the sounds they produce. For some birds and mammals, individuals with a superior talent in producing musical sounds have an advantage in mating. Music having such functions in nature has a special place in the human soul, which is equipped with many different senses.
Education starts in the womb
Researchers have known for many years that infants can sense and recognize music. But when can an infants nervous system and brain start to sense, process, and remember musical stimuli? Growing evidence shows that during the last three months of pregnancy, a mothers womb gains some functionality that makes music with a certain rhythm a positive factor in the process of biological development. Previously, researchers assumed that preverbal infants mental capabilities were not developing that much until they started to develop verbal capabilities.
This assumption was clearly wrong, for preverbal infants inhabit a world of intense feelings and actively try to perceive sounds and recognize the sounds internal rhythms and melodies. This behavior starts in the prenatal stages. Today we know that 5-month-old infants can discriminate between differences in frequencies that are much less than the difference between two adjacent notes on the musical scale. Also, 8-to-11-month-old infants perceive and remember melodic contours. Infants have surprising adult-like capabilities in the way that they perceive and attend to musical stimuli.
In the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (December 1999), the researcher wanted to know if music really helped children become more aware of their surroundings and have better accuracy when it came to judging distance and space. The resulting data were quite surprising. Students who completed their schoolwork outside of class and had their parents attend music classes regularly placed well above the control group in tests involving cognitive skills (e.g., memory, verbal, non-verbal reasoning, and some mathematics). The researchers concluded that the cause of this was a more intense care-giver and child relationship. This shows that children can score higher on IQ tests based on regular training and experience. Genes alone are not the only factor that affects the level of intelligence.
The more quality time parents spent with their children (attending music classes together), the more successful the children were in their studies. Members of the control group, whose parents were not encouraged to spend time with their children, were not as successful. In fact, the negative effect of not spending enough time with children and causing a poor child relationship is worse than the negative effects of being in a single-parent or low-income household or having poorly educated parents.
In another research, 66 children were given such pre-tests as the Stanford-Binet IQ test and a test for measuring musical skills. The students in the experimental group attended a 75-minute music class for 30 weeks. When the tests were repeated at the end of the 30 weeks, children in the experimental group achieved significantly better results in tests for measuring nonverbal reasoning and creative thinking over the control group. The two groups achieved similar results in tests measuring vocabulary skills. In addition to the music classes, children spending more quality time with their parents increased their scores in a standard IQ test from 50 to 87 percent, whereas children who did not spend much time with their parents increased only to 78 percent.
The overall effects of music
Some hormones in the human body have a relationship with listening to music. Hormones produced by the body or a process that affects the body also affect the brain. Listening to music can reduce or increase the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), depending on the musics type and attributes. This was proven in an experiment conducted by measuring the levels of cortisol before and after listening to music. Based on this, it would be helpful to listen to stress-reducing music in stressed and depressing environments or occasions.
Music can play an important role in relaxing and balancing the hormone levels of chronically depressed adolescents. Chronically depressed adults typically display stable right frontal EEG activation. Music can alter a depressed persons mood state and reduce cortisol levels. For example, 20 minutes of music affects the brains activities and reduces the level of cortisol.
Healthy individuals select music without knowing what effects it will have on their body and brain. If some type of music increases ones heart or breath rate, he or she can decide on how long and which type of music to listen in order to change the levels of the stress hormones. How this would affect a person who continues to listen to that kind of music on a regular basis is an open research topic.
When the chosen music has the desired sound and rhythm that matches the listeners personality, he or she can more comfortably release the bioenergy produced by his or her souls inner beauty. Music education offers insights into such subjects as learning theory, a childs brain development, child relationships, mental health, and the relationship between learning skills and the readiness to learn.
As part of the redefinition of a human being, we should reevaluate the concept of music, which greatly affects human psychology, mood states, and body and brain activities. Music education can provide people with such skills as collaborative working, careful listening, productivity, coordination, improved vocabulary, and analytical reasoning. The effects of music depend greatly on its type and attributes, as well as on the listeners mood and mental state. Like everything else, humanity is entrusted with using the concept of music to bring out and develop what is good and beautiful in human beings, instead of using it only for entertainment. Thus we need researchers in diverse fields to come up with new inventions and new syntheses.
Bilhartz, Terry D., Rick A. Bruhn, and Judith E. Olson. Psychology: The Effect of Early Music Training on Child Cognitive Development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 2, no. 4 (December 1999): 615-36.
Field, T. et al. Music Shifts Frontal EEG in Depressed Adolescents. Adolescence 33, no. 129 (1998): 109-16.
Weinberger, N. M. The Musical Infant. Musica: The Music & Science Information Computer Archive 1, no. 1 (spring 1994).
Why Do We Have Music? Musica (winter 1999).