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The Conversation: Does Music Heal? How?

The Conversation: Does Music Heal? How?

Some of you have beliefs that include healing through prayer alone — no doctors, therapists or shamans. You seem uninterested in the idea that music — on its own — can heal or change physical, emotional or mental conditions. I can see why you might feel compelled by your beliefs to exclude music as a healing tool, and so it is with much compassion that I’d like to offer you the following conversation.

On the other hand, if your belief set is already open and you just want to feel better, bust up the doldrums — or create some — read on.

How Does Music Work?

It’s not really music, or sound, that heals, but music is the trigger. What does the work is your own body responding to chemicals released when you hear certain types of sounds. For example, if you listen to high-pitched bouncy music or even bird song, your IQ will increase slightly for a brief period of time. This can be measured. Researchers have confirmed other kinds of responses you will have, ranging from learning faster to deadening pain, based on the types of music or sound you hear.

You might become agitated listening to certain types of music or to a jackhammer. Perfect! Your response indicates that your ears, chemistry and brain all agree. Other music might soothe you. Again, that’s exactly right. Other kinds of music might make you want to dance. Researchers were surprised that folks who otherwise could not walk walked immediately while listening to music with a strong beat — something about music short-circuits the connection between thinking and walking with a really great effect.

What Evidence is There?

Don Cambell’s seminal book, “The Mozart Effect,” was assembled from his observations about how listening to Mozart made folks smarter, but there was a more profound reason for Campbell’s interest in the power of music: by listening to music, Campbell was able to dissolve an inoperable blood clot in his brain. This was medically confirmed.

There have been many scientific studies in the last few years on the effects of music. Researchers find that listeners need half as much pain medication, or can increase levels of chemicals known to speed healing or lower their blood pressure, sleep better, and build — or rebuild — memory. Campbell’s most recent book, co-authored with Alex Doman, “Healing at the Speed of Sound,” catalogs in written, audio and video detail the many various ways music has been shown to work on the human system.

In my own experience with warriors and post-traumatic stress caused by war, I’ve been told many times that music was the “only way” to keep going, in one case, by a Viet Nam vet who couldn’t find relief from drinking or drugs and used music for more than 30 years before finally getting traditional therapy.

Does It Matter What Music I Listen To?

I think it does. Rather than give you my favorite playlists, I encourage you to find music you like and listen to it. You might find you like different music at different times of the day, or for different activities, or for different moods. Good! Use that knowledge to make yourself soundtracks — playlists — for all the various times, activities or moods that happen frequently in your life.

I think it’s important for you to become aware of the music and sound that’s already around you. Once you identify what you’re already hearing, try to connect the sounds with the times of day, activities or moods during your typical day. See if you always hear the same music or sounds and decide whether you like them or not; if not, get some headphones for your music player and listen to something else instead. You have a choice about what you’re hearing: use it.

You’ll know intuitively what kind of music you like, and through experience you’ll also know what you like to listen to under various conditions. Trust your ears on this one! Speed up the search for “your” music at www.pandora.com where you can test-drive music by category until you find your perfect fit.

So, Is There Specific Music for Specific Conditions?

Sure! If you want calm, put on soothing music. Aerobics class? Better use some dance music. Try watching a movie without the sound track to give yourself a quick idea of music’s supporting role. If you have some spare cash, buy a few of those CD sets that assemble mood-specific music from various artists and listen to what someone else thought was “right for the moment.” You’ll find that, as you listen with awareness, you will quickly be able to connect your mood with music that fits or even complements how you feel. Liking what you hear seems to have the maximum impact for change.

Next time you’re feeling agitated and want a change, switch on the soothing music and just observe what happens. Or, if don’t want change, turn up your favorite agitating music. My point here is to get you to play around with music and pay attention to how you feel — it’s safe and effective and you’re going to learn something about yourself and may even change yourself in ways that surprise you.

But It All Seems Obvious!

Yes, I think we already know this on some very basic level, just like the way being part of a drum circle — a mimic for our mother’s heartbeat — can make us feel safe and comforted. We’re all aware of sound and music on some level; my hope is that you will take this awareness out of your background and give yourself a foreground soundtrack that supercharges your life.

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