How many times have you turned to music to uplift you even further in happy times, or sought the comfort of music when melancholy strikes?
Music affects us all. But only in recent times have scientists sought to explain and quantify the way music impacts us at an emotional level. Researching the links between melody and the mind indicates that listening to and playing music actually can alter how our brains, and therefore our bodies, function.
It seems that the healing power of music, over body and spirit, is only just starting to be understood, even though music therapy is not new. For many years therapists have been advocating the use of music - both listening and study - for the reduction of anxiety and stress, the relief of pain. And music has also been recommended as an aid for positive change in mood and emotional states.
Michael DeBakey, who in 1966 became the first surgeon to successfully implant an artificial heart, is on record saying: "Creating and performing music promotes self-expression and provides self-gratification while giving pleasure to others. In medicine, increasing published reports demonstrate that music has a healing effect on patients."
Doctors now believe using music therapy in hospitals and nursing homes not only makes people feel better, but also makes them heal faster. And across the nation, medical experts are beginning to apply the new revelations about music’s impact on the brain to treating patients.
In one study, researcher Michael Thaut and his team detailed how victims of stroke, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease who worked to music took bigger, more balanced strides than those whose therapy had no accompaniment.
Other researchers have found the sound of drums may influence how bodies work. Quoted in a 2001 article in USA Today, Suzanne Hasner, chairwoman of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music in Boston, says even those with dementia or head injuries retain musical ability.
The article reported results of an experiment in which researchers from the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pa., tracked 111 cancer patients who played drums for 30 minutes a day. They found strengthened immune systems and increased levels of cancer-fighting cells in many of the patients.
"Deep in our long-term memory is this rehearsed music,” Hasner says. “It is processed in the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala. Here’s where you remember the music played at your wedding, the music of your first love, that first dance. Such things can still be remembered even in people with progressive diseases. It can be a window, a way to reach them…"
The American Music Therapy Organization claims music therapy may allow for "emotional intimacy with families and caregivers, relaxation for the entire family, and meaningful time spent together in a positive, creative way".
Scientists have been making progress in its exploration into why music should have this effect. In 2001 Dr. Anne Blood and Robert Zatorre of McGill University in Montreal, used positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to find out if particular brain structures were stimulated by music.
In their study, Blood and Zatorre asked 10 musicians, five men and five women, to choose stirring music. The subjects were then given PET scans as they listened to four types of audio stimuli - the selected music, other music, general noise or silence. Each sequence was repeated three times in random order.
Blood said when the subjects heard the music that gave them "chills," the PET scans detected activity in the portions of the brain that are also stimulated by food and sex.
Just why humans developed such a biologically based appreciation of music is still not clear. The appreciation of food and the drive for sex evolved to help the survival of the species, but "music did not develop strictly for survival purposes," Blood told Associated Press at the time.
She also believes that