“Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.” – George Carlin
Music is one of the world’s great cultural universals, something that moves, inspires, motivates, and entertains people all over the world. For most people, music is a huge part of life. While people cannot always agree on what constitutes good music, most can agree that our lives would be less rich and less meaningful without it. In fact, there has never been a single human culture anywhere that has not lived with music. We use music to entertain us, celebrate births and marriages, babysit our children, relax, get motivated, cope with relationships breaking up, cheer on their favorite teams, help us sleep, and even to bury our dead.
At the risk of being Captain Obvious, there are incredible mental and physical health benefits to be gained through the power of music. There is a lot of solid, scientific research that has proven the benefits of music to be as good for us as we think it is. As a psychotherapist and coach, I often ask my clients to purposely use music in a therapeutic way. The fact is that particular types of music have the ability to move us, motivate, and inspire us in specific ways based on our unique responses to that music.
“One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain.”- Bob Marley
Research indicates that music has the ability to lower levels of both anxiety and the stress hormone cortisol, factors in our perception of pain. Research studies have shown that listening to just 50 minutes of uplifting music increased levels of antibodies while decreasing perceptions of pain. The type of music was irrelevant, as research subjects were allowed to choose their own. Research done at Drexel University showed positive benefits of music therapy in cancer patients. Patients showed improved ability to cope with pain, decreased levels of anxiety, better blood pressure, improved mood, and quality of life.
“You know where you are. You’re in the jungle baby!”- Axl Rose
Music has incredible power to inspire and motivate people physically. In ancient times, music was used to direct and inspire troops as they went into battle. The trumpet player and drummer boy were important parts of military life and a part of successful armies throughout most of mankind’s history. Most of us intuitively know that there are types of music that can amp us up, inspire us to bravery, and simply get us pumped. Walk into any locker room or gym and you will probably hear sheer, raw, pulsating music designed to inspire listeners on a primal level. During the 1990s, you couldn’t walk into a pregame locker room anyway without hearing Axl Rose shrieking “Welcome to the J ungle.” Research shows that Axl was onto something. Research published in 2009 by the National Institute of Health showed that male college students riding stationary bikes performed on the average of 10% better while listening to music. Results varied based on the intensity and beats of the music. In other words, the heavier the music, the better the result.
Music also has an ability to distract us from experiencing unpleasant feelings. A study published in the Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders found that obese youngsters, who listen to music while working out on a treadmill, showed improved rates of endurance. Researchers referred to the effect of music as the “distraction effect,” inspiring them to push through and stay on the treadmill longer.
“Music has charms to soothe the savage beast. To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”-William Congreve
Music can reduce levels of day-to-day emotional and physiological stress, changing brain chemistry almost instantly in some cases. Headphones have been proven to enhance the positive benefits. Research done with varied age groups from infancy to adulthood have shown that headphones playing certain types of calming music-folk, lullabies, classical-reduced the anticipatory stress levels prior to, and during medical procedures. Here the type of music listened to was very important to the desired outcome.
A study done by Stanford University indicates that slow musical beats can alter brain waves in the same manner as meditation and hypnosis. These states can be purposely induced by listeners, creating similar effects as meditation. Musicians, religions, and shamans throughout history have been intuitively aware of this. Appropriate music, listened to regularly, can give you benefits equal to meditation. Find the music that works for you if meditation is too difficult.
Music has been studied quite extensively as a method to improve ability to fall asleep and sleep quality. Classical music, played softly, has been proven to improve these areas in people between the ages of 60 and 83 who listened to 45 minutes of music prior to bedtime. Subjects reported that they were able to “drift” into sleep more easily.
While I have never conducted any research studies on the benefits of music and health, I do have anecdotal experience that seems to fit well into this article. When I was a college student in the 1970s, my friends and I used to joke that we could tell who had just broken up with their girlfriends by the music that they listened to. If a guy was isolated in his room listening to hours of Jackson Browne, you knew enough to leave him alone for a few days. Eventually, after he wore a groove into the album, he’d be okay.
I am not a musician myself, but I’ve raised four sons, all musicians. I probably paid more money for guitars than any nonplayer in the country. I’ve witnessed firsthand the therapeutic value of music in my sons lives. They have performed publicly, as well as professionally, but I’ve seen the benefit as going beyond that. All of them have spent and still spend, hours of time playing and composing in a way that can’t help but be beneficial. For musicians who have music in their blood, it is a grounding, life enhancing practice. I guess it’s worth all that I paid on instruments and lessons.
I’d suggest you study the impact that different types of music have on you and begin to use music in a therapeutic and life enhancing manner. Find what motivates, enhances, and enables you in your day-to-day life. Chances are, you’re listening to music anyway. Might as well use it more specifically.
“Rock on out!” – Janis Joplin
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