Where language fails, music speaks. An expression of humanity, music is a part of our rituals, routines, celebrations, and healing, and lends the tenor of a cinematic sequence to the most mundane events in our lives.
No matter which tunes of music we waltz to, it holds the possibilities of regulating our emotions, transforming our perception of the world, and even allowing us to access a state of flow (a sense of total absorption and deep focus).
- A study found that subjects who listened to Mozart scored significantly higher on the spatial-temporal reasoning task for about 10-15 minutes,
- Music therapists and psychologists have been exploring the role of music in medicine to help patients dealing with pain, depression, stress, anxiety, and overall well-being.
Archaeological research suggests that the oldest known musical instruments in the world are about 43,000 years old. Flutes made from bird bone and mammoth ivory were found in a cave in southern Germany in 2009. Today music has come a long way.
We have the choice to listen to epic orchestras, spellbinding operas, ethereal ragas and exhilarating rock concerts.
Now, let us go back in time, from the 18th century to the era of classical music, the dominant form of music in the Western World, during the 1700 and 1800s.
This period churned out some of the finest artists this world has known. This was the era of the concert artist and the music critic. From the groundbreaking compositions of Beethoven to the piano artistry of Chopin and the soaring melodies of Tchaikovsky, classical music – Is synonymous with the gold standard of artistry.
Have you ever had that “Wait, I’ve heard this before!” moment while listening to a classical composition? It is probably composed by the genius musician Mozart! The biggest name in the classical scene, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And even if you haven’t heard of him – you might have heard his music.
The immensely talented musician was born on January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria. He could play numerous instruments. His father, also a musician, initiated him into music at an early age.
A child prodigy, his first public performance was at the age of 6 years. He also composed an entire opera when he was 11! His music was such a pleasure to listen to that even Arthur Miller has been quoted saying, “Mozart is happiness before it has gotten defined.”
Suffice to say that his work was nothing short of revolutionary in the realm of music.
In 1993s, a psychologist named Francis Rauscher asked 36 college students to listen to Mozart’s piano sonata for 10 minutes. Another group was made to listen to relaxation audio designed to lower blood pressure.
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Another group heard 10 minutes of silence. The study found that subjects who listened to Mozart scored significantly higher on the spatial-temporal reasoning task for about 10-15 minutes.
Related experiments further investigated the long-term effects of music on the brain by giving a group of 3-4-year-olds keyboard lessons for six months.
After six months, the children were tested for their spatial-temporal reasoning skills, which were 30% better than children of a similar age, who were given computer lessons for six months or no special training.
Another test was later carried out on mice exposed to Mozart’s Piano Sonata and minimalist music by Philip Glass. The mice were then placed in a maze and observed.
Again, the Mozart group navigated and fared better than the Philip Glass group and the white noise group – adding to the body of research suggesting a correlation between brain areas specialising in the perception of music and those carrying out spatial tasks.
In another experiment, unborn rats were subjected to Mozart’s music. After they were born, they were made to listen to it for 60 days and showed some changes in their brain activity that lasted for hours after the exposure.
xThis led to the theory that listening to the music of Mozart may temporarily boost scores on one portion of an IQ test. The Mozart effect captured people’s imagination and further fuelled the idea that if children or even babies listen to music composed by Mozart, they will become more intelligent.
The Mozart effect has been largely debunked over the years and attributed to publication bias. It is met with skepticism in the scientific community. Subsequent research demonstrated that it’s not really about Mozart. Any music that you find engaging can have the same effect – ‘enjoyment arousal’.
But some clinical studies posit that a daily dose of Mozart can diminish the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy (Dastgheib et al., 2014).
In the past few decades, music therapy has gained ground. Music psychologist, Dr. Vicky Williamson from Goldsmiths College, University of London, lauded a study suggesting that music can facilitate the release of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter dopamine.
Letvin, the author of This is Your Brain on Music, mentions research indicating that music can boost the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and amp up the immune system’s effectiveness.
Music also diminishes levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“The key to it is that you have to enjoy the music,” Rauscher went on to say later. “If you hate Mozart, you’re not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you’re going to find a Pearl Jam effect.”
Studies show that music is inextricably bound to our most profound reward systems. Music therapists and psychologists have been exploring the role of music in medicine to help patients dealing with pain, depression, stress, anxiety, and overall well-being