“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” - Aldous Huxley
If humanity were to single out it’s most important contribution to the world, music would undoubtedly be one of the first to be considered - and rightfully so. Music is deep; it conveys emotion. Music is universal; it has no language. Music is friendly; it destroys manmade barriers. Music is powerful.
In fact, it is so powerful that today music is used to treat various psychological and physiological conditions. Treatments for epilepsy, stroke, and heart attack now include musical therapy in a growing number of countries, and it’s also being used in routine operations. Using vital parameters as the measuring stick, researchers have concluded that certain types of music can improve levels of relaxation and concentration, allowing the body to function at 100% of its capability.
Classical music, also called symphonic or orchestral music, is commonly used for therapeutic purposes. Mozart’s concertos, Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and Bach’s string quartets are examples of fine classical pieces that have survived the test of time. Countless studies have shown and recommended that these musical works of art can be used to improve analytical skills, sharpen focus, and renew determination. More often than not, they follow patterns of increasing and decreasing musical activity, known respectively as crescendos and diminuendos. These changes correspond to the fluctuation of human emotions; softer moments can suggest low-key feelings like sadness, guilt or regret, while louder parts may convey high-key feelings (excitement, anger, envy and grief).
Trance music takes elements such as chord progression and transposed scales from classical music, and infuses it with the hypnotic drumbeats of ancient spiritualistic shamans. It’s perfect for those who prefer a higher dose of positive energy in their therapeutic music. The genre is strong in terms of emotional content and carries an added bonus – the repetition of sounds creates a hypnotic effect that helps the mind and body achieve a balanced state. Though it is less popular than classical music for therapeutic use, trance music is nonetheless an effective means of relaxation for those who enjoy it.
By far the most popular form of music used in modern therapy is ambient music. Several variations exist, such as space, chill out, and new age. Ambient music makes use of a wide variety of soundscapes to construct different atmospheres. A wider soundscape would help treat someone with claustrophobia, and vice versa for someone with agoraphobia. Soundscapes can also vary in their setting, from oceanic and spacey, to elegant and casual. Ambient music’s heavy use of natural samples induces in the listener the feeling that they are actually present in the setting from which the music is drawn.
Musical therapy has a wide range of applications. It can be used to treat people suffering from sleeping problems. Falling asleep listening to classical, ambient, or down-tempo trance music at a reasonable volume can enable the brain to enter rapid-eye movement (REM), the stage of sleep during which the body rests and recovers its energy. During REM, the mind does not dream; this translates into a good night’s rest. People who suffer from insomnia, night terrors, anxiety and depression frequently find musical therapy beneficial.
Another well-documented use of music as a therapeutic device is for expecting mothers to play classical music to their unborn child. The sound waves have been shown to stimulate brain activity even before birth, enabling children to deliver above par academic performance years later. Playing classical music throughout childhood during sleep reinforces the benefits, especially if one particular piece of music is repeated.
Music has many uses in conventional medical settings as well. It can act as a relaxant during psychotherapy sessions; for patients recovering from surgery and intensive treatment such as chemotherapy; and for those suffering from a terminal illness. Surgeons have been known to play classical music while performing operations, as it helps the medical team relax and focus.
Whether you prefer your music soft or loud, slow or fast, simple or complex, there is a style of music that’s right for you. Harmonic sounds and rich melodies have a soothing effect on listeners, irrespective of the other aspects of the composition. Try some musical therapy today, and you might be surprised how well you sleep tonight! - Ashwin