Striking the Right Chord

Friday, June 12, 2020

Music – it can invigorate us, it can balance us, and it can be used to work through heavy emotions such as anger and grief.

Finnish researchers found in 2011 that listening to music activates wide swathes in the brain, revealing that the neural networks dealing with creativity, emotions and motor function are all affected.1

American soldiers blasted heavy metal at the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan, treating it as a weapon2. On the other hand, music has been shown to lower cortisol, the hormone related to stress, and improve the immune system3. Its tempo can even help you get through the housework faster. Music is a universal experience and its effect is not limited to humans. Some dairy farmers play classical music to help increase their cows’ production4, and some ‘green thumbs’ out there believe that the health of plants can be impacted for better or worse depending on the music played5.

In fact, this highlights an important property of music – it affects the body whether you like the music being played or not. Kinesiology testing shows that different types of music affect us in varying ways and the effect has nothing to do with how much you like or dislike the music6. For instance, some rock music has been demonstrated to have a debilitating effect on muscle strength,7 whereas brass band marches can energize the body and pep us up.

If you’re interested in using music for wellness, brass and percussion instruments, heavy bass notes, and much of the early electronic music has been shown to have a stimulating effect on the physical body. Specific choices could include: “Triumphal March” from Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, or “Pomp and Circumstance, No. 1” by Sir Edward Elgar, as these have especially strengthening effects. Or perhaps something from the soundtracks of: “The Empire Strikes Back” “Fiddler on the Roof” or “The Sound of Music”. To soothe emotions, woodwinds and strings are ideal options. Try strings alone for mental focus, maybe as you finish up that creative project or study for an exam. Harp and organ music as well as wind chimes and high strings, like those of a harp, tend to evoke feelings of spiritual well-being.8

If you’re not a music fan at all, it is still possible to use sound to your benefit. Nature sounds are an excellent alternative. Plaintive whale song, haunting loon cries, rhythmic surf flowing, gurgling brooks – these sounds can be soothing and uplifting to our spirits, calm our frazzled nerves, and help to release stronger emotions such as anger.

However, for persons living with epilepsy, it can be useful to determine how music affects us.

Interestingly, in 2015, an American study found that the brains of people without epilepsy seemed less likely to synch with the music than the brains of people with epilepsy9.

When it comes to epilepsy, music seems to be something of a two-edged sword. For some music can be beneficial while for others it can act as a seizure trigger.

The “Mozart Effect” (specifically Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major” and “Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major”) was shown by researchers to have some application in helping to control seizure activity, while in other patients Mozart’s music seemed to increase seizure activity.10 This effect might arise from the type of dopamine receptor stimulated during the exposure to the music, with activation of dopamine D1 receptors leading to increased seizure activity, whereas activation of dopamine D2 receptors seems to reduce it.11 It seems as though the way music affects us can be unique to the individual.

While researchers do not believe music can replace current epilepsy treatment, it is possible that music can be used in conjunction with traditional therapy to help prevent seizures. Stress can trigger seizures and many of the patients with epilepsy reported feeling relaxed after listening to the music.”12

Do you use music as a therapeutic tool? What specific effects on your wellbeing have you noticed when listening to music? What’s your favourite music to listen to when you’re happy? blue? angry? or, just in need of a pick me up?

Further musical suggestions from The Healing Energies of Music:


“Clair de lune” (Debussy)

“Second Symphony, Adagio, 3rd Movement” (Rachmaninoff)

“Ride of the Valkyries” (Wagner)

“Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (Gluck)

“Malaguena” (Carlos Montoya)

Almost any song by Johnny Cash


“Piano Concerto No. 5” (Beethoven)

“Water Music” (Handel)

“Grand Canyon Suite” (Grofé)

“Perhaps Love” (Placido Domingo & John Denver)

“Star Wars” Soundtrack


“Scottish Fantasy” (Bruch)

“Appalachian Spring” (Copland)

“Ancient Echoes” (Halpern-Kelly)

“Wind Shadows” (Kim Robertson)

“The Healer’s Touch” (Max Highstein)

“Stardust” (Nat King Cole)

“Solitudes” (Dan Gibson)


1  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111205081731.htm

2  https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/apr/07/us-forces-fight-taliban-metal

3  https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/major-health-benefits-music-uncovered-225589

4  https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/classical-music-increases-cows-milk-yield/

5  https://dengarden.com/gardening/the-effect-of-music-on-plant-growth

6  Your Body Doesn’t Lie; John Diamond, MD; Warner Books; 1983

7  Ibid. According to Dr. Diamond, “The normal pressure required to overpower a strong deltoid muscle in an adult male is about 40 to 45 pounds. When rock music is played, only 10 to 15 pounds is needed.”

8  The Healing Energies of Music; Hal A. Lingerman; Quest Books; 1988

9  https://www.neurologytimes.com/epilepsy-and-seizure/music-therapy-epilepsy

10 http://www.brainblogger.com/2015/09/29/music-and-epilepsy-part-2-music-as-therapy/

11 Ibid.

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