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Music better than drugs

Updated: Oct 21


‘Music heals the mind, body and soul’. I am sure everyone has come across this statement, mostly in commercials or advertisements. I am also sure that many of us – especially professional musicians – consider this phrase a cliché. Dealing with criticism, performance anxiety and challenges of the music market easily transform music from a healing experience into a challenging and stressful job. It turns out, though, that therapeutic properties of music are not just a commercial slogan. In this post, I would like us to forget for a minute about the burdens connected with being a professional musician and to look at music from a different perspective.


I have recently had a pleasure to chat with Grzegorz Bulaj, an Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT). In his research, he examines how the exposure to music (specifically, by W.A. Mozart) impacts pain, epilepsy and depression treatments. His research has shown that many of Mozart’s pieces, such as the sonata for two pianos K. 448 in D major and the solo piano sonata K. 545 in C major, have healing properties. His collaborative study with mice showed positive results. After a three-week daily exposure to Mozart’s music, the animals exhibited a significantly higher responsiveness to anti-pain and anti-epilepsy drugs. The exposure to Mozart’s pieces also decreased the frequency of their epileptic seizures and lowered the level of anxiety[1].


Other researches have confirmed similar results in the human epileptic patients. An 8-year old girl suffering from frequent seizures was a subject of one of such studies. She had undergone a brain surgery two years prior to the research but it brought no improvement. Her condition was getting worse despite various kinds of drugs she was taking. The music therapy showed stunning results. The highest decrease in seizure frequencies occurred directly while she was listening to Mozart’s K. 448 but long-term positive changes after regular exposure to this piece were also observed.[2] Another study compared healing properties of K. 448 to K. 545 on a group of epileptic patients.. The results were very similar. Both during and after listening to these pieces, the subjects showed an over 30% decrease in seizure frequencies.[3]


The moment I learned this, I started to wonder why only Mozart’s music has such therapeutic power. It turns out that the healing properties of Mozart’s pieces are most likely related to tempo, rhythm, phrase structure and punctuation. The unique quality of Mozart’s music seems to be connected to periodic occurrence of these elements. All components of his compositions are organized in schemas – phrases are structured in four-measure blocks, rhythmic and melodic patterns repeat intermittently, reduced harmonies modulate in a repetitive, predictable way.[4] The calming impact of these factors may be connected with the fact that many human processes, such as walking, sucking a thumb at infancy and even our heartbeat occur periodically[5]. Highly structured, repetitive patterns in music seem to resonate with this primal pulse of our body and support its proper functioning.


Healing epilepsy does not exhaust therapeutic properties of music. There is evidence that listening to music can improve the condition of people suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, Parkinson’s disease, post-stroke disabilities and autism[6][7]. Studies also show that is has a positive impact on our immunity and circulatory system[8][9].


All these properties of music have been discovered and scientifically confirmed fairly recently. During the past few decades, they have gained recognition as a means supporting medical therapies. Grzegorz Bulaj’s company OMNI Self-care is dedicated to promoting self-help involving, among others, music and its healing properties. OMNI Self-care’s blog posts articles that serve as a source of information on the ways music, yoga and food can improve mental and physical health. Advanced Brain Technologies, Alex Doman’s company based in Centerville (UT), offers personalized listening programs designed to help children and adults with autism, communicational difficulties and sound sensitivity. They also have apps improving sleep quality, increasing brain performance (creative thinking, motivation and endurance) and military-related emotion regulation. All these solutions use music by Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi, Danzi and a contemporary composer, Nacho Arimany recorded specifically for the Advanced Brain Technologies by renowned musicians (award-winning Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble). On the website, you can find case studies proving how successful these music programs have been at treating issues of specific patients.

I cordially recommend visiting Grzegorz’s and Alex’s websites and getting more familiar with the services offered by their companies. It was very refreshing for me to learn about the healing power of music – not from a commercial slogan but through practical evidence from ordinary people’s experiences. At the end of this post, I invite you to listen to the first movement of the K. 545 sonata wishing you all the best mental and physical health, especially during these challenging days.




References:

[1] Front Neurol 2019 [2] Epil Behav 2001 [3] ECAM 2012 [4] Epil Behav 2001 [5] Psychol Bull 200 [6] Front Psychol 2017 [7] Medicines 2016 [8] Int J Cardiol 2016 [9] Biol Psychol 2000; Trends Cogn Sci 2013

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