One ‘prescription’ that could help treat emotional and physical pain – with no side-effects

September 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Health

Music is not only the food of love and the healer of the soul but now it seems from new research that it could benefit the treatment of depression and the management of physical pain.

Glasgow Caledonian University researchers are using an innovative combination of music psychology and leading-edge audio engineering by looking in more detail than ever before at how music conveys emotion. I suspect that many of us — as with so much of expensively funded research — know this already as it is almost instinctive to turn to music to enhance or change our mood.

What is new is that they are suggesting that the use of music to help regulate a person’s mood could lead to promoting the development of music-based therapies to tackle conditions like depressive illnesses and help alleviate symptoms of with physical pain.

They explain that the impact of a piece of music goes so much further than thinking that a fast tempo can lift a mood and a slow one can bring it down. Music expresses emotion as a result of many factors including the tone, structure and other technical characteristics of a piece. Lyrics can have a big impact too. But so can purely subjective factors: where or when you first heard it, whether you associate it with happy or sad events and so on. This project is the first step towards taking all of these considerations – and the way they interact with each other – on board according to Dr Don Knox, project leader.

Their method of assessing and analysing the impact of music is to ask each volunteer to listen to pieces of previously unheard contemporary popular music and assign each one a position on a graph. One axis measures the type of feeling (positivity or negativity) that the piece communicates; the other measures the intensity or activity level of the music. The research team then assess the audio characteristics that the pieces falling into each part of the graph have in common. They then look at parameters such as rhythm patterns, melodic range, musical intervals, length of phrases, musical pitch and so on.

According to Dr Knox music falling into a positive category might have a regular rhythm, bright timbre and a fairly steady pitch contour over time. If tempo and loudness increase, for instance, this would place the piece in a more ‘exuberant’ or ‘excited’ region of the graph. You might like to try this at home for yourself dear reader and see what results you come up with.

It is envisaged that your doctor could soon be putting music on a prescription that is tailored to suit the your individual needs – though quite how they’re going to train doctors to do this so they don’t end up giving you gangsta rap when a bit of Vivaldi might do the trick I am not entirely sure.

However, I certainly welcome the promotion of music as therapy and so let me be the first to offer you a “prescription” to help lift your mood. If you follow this link it will take you to a recording of a male acappella group from Corsica singing in the most spine tingling and inspiring way that I will be astounded if you don’t feel better after listening to it. They have the rather bizarre name of Barbara Furtuna (though if John Wayne could be called Marion I suppose anything is possible) and all you have to do is to press control and click to follow this link – Listen to them: here.

Cheer up your heart

December 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies

I was extolling the virtues of laughter in this article about laughter yoga, and now here’s another of my favourite stress busters which can have a wonderful effect on your heart health. No drugs and no side effects are involved you just need to listen to some joyful music and the function of your blood vessels will be vastly improved, and that’s good for your heart.

No I didn’t make it up just because I love listening to music, it’s based on research presented by the University of Maryland School of Medicine at the recent American Heart Association Scientific Sessions meeting in New Orleans. So, tune in your radio, or get out your favourite piece of music – the only criteria is that it must give you a great sense of joy – so whether it’s Bach, the Beatles, or Bonzo Dog they will all have the same health-giving benefits.

What happens when you listen to music is that the tissue in the inner lining of your blood vessels dilates and that increases blood flow. Known as the endothelium, the lining of blood vessels has a powerful effect on health, especially the development of cardiovascular disease, because it regulates blood flow and adjusts blood thickening and coagulation. Plus, at no extra cost, it releases substances in response to wounds, infections or irritation. So be kind to it and play it something wonderful! Don’t however put on the funeral march or anything that stresses you like heavy metal, as if then your blood vessels will narrow and restrict blood flow.

For the statistically minded, the research showed that blood vessels dilated an extra 26% for joyful music and music that stressed the listener narrowed blood vessels by 6%. I think it might be time to give up listening to Leonard Cohen – or at least ration my intake on health grounds. Oh, and I also know that signing has the same good effect, and as I have been lucky enough to be in a couple of passenger choirs on cruise ships recently I can highly recommend it as both joyful, and stimulating as you try to remember the words and work out if it’s you or your neighbour that is singing off-key!