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Effect Of Music Essay, Research Paper

Everyone knows the story of the Piped Piper of Hamelin. He had the ability to hypnotize people with his flute by playing the most enchanting music. But he’s just myth, right? No one has the power to charm people with music. Well, you’d be surprised. Throughout history, music has always been recognized for its calming and almost hypnotic effects on the human mind, and for its ability to rouse and inspire the spirit. Only recently has science uncovered the truth about music. Researchers have long suspected that music affects the brain in the most profound ways, and now they finally have evidence to back up that theory. Such an interesting topic definitely deserves further exploration. Come with me on this journey as we delve into the deep recesses of the human mind on the wings of a softly played flute note.

After a hard day at work and a difficult commute home, many people just want to settle down on their soft sofas and turn on a CD. As the music fills the room, they instantly begin to relax. Stress melts away as they are taken in by the beauty of the music. Sound familiar? Probably, since all of us at one time or another have used music as a medium for relaxation. But scientifically speaking, how exactly does music help us relax? That in itself is a question worth exploring, and scientists are really not sure how music relieves stress. However, they do know that our bodies will naturally attempt to synchronize with external sounds and rhythms. Using this as a guide, experts in relaxation music suggest that we feed our auditory senses with music between the tempos of 60 to 90 beats per minute, as this is the ideal heart rate for relaxation. However, music that is enjoyable to you is as important as any of the guides. If you do not enjoy the music, even a slow, ideally perfected tempo will not be able to calm you.

Music’s calming effects can extend to children as well, as directors at Young Imaginations have seen for themselves. Young Imaginations is a private arts agency that provides music programs for 30 California schools. Executive director Marianne Locke speaks of their findings: “When we play traditional Japanese and Chinese music or other slow pieces and pair them with movements, such as yoga and T’ai Chi, the children become calmer and more able to focus their attention.” (Cassidy 48) Following up on this observation, the organization is setting up an independent study to determine if children are calmer and perform better on certain learning tasks when exposed to slower and calmer pieces of music. In a separate and totally unrelated study, Harvard researcher Jerome Kagan reported a very interesting finding. “If you present an interesting visual stimulus to a baby, it becomes aroused and begins to move its arms and legs,” Kagan noted. “[However,] if you play some music that interests them, they do the opposite – they quiet down. There is a very different psychological reaction to sound.” (Knox A6)

Music’s affect on children have only recently been documented and published. Although the aforementioned calming effects of music have not been explained by scientists, they now know that the brains of infants are capable of extraordinary feats. New research shows that brain development is largely unfinished at birth and that the stimuli a child receives during the crucial part of their childhood will greatly affect how the brain grows and the connections the nerve-cell networks make. Music, especially classical music, when played at early stages of a child’s development will help open gateways of opportunity for advanced learning. This means that exposing your child to classical music before the age of three may help him become a better math and science student later in life.

Tests all over the world have confirmed that music has a strong relationship to multiple intelligences. First graders who were taught folk melodies for 7 months scored significantly better on reading tests than those who were not exposed to music. At the University of California-Irvine, brain researcher Gordon Shaw showed that preschoolers who were given piano and singing lessons for 8 months performed much better at completing mazes and piecing together puzzles than the other children. In a separate study, preschoolers who listened to classical music tended to score higher on IQ tests. The list goes on and on, and everyday new evidence arises that reinforces this belief.

What causes this dramatic improvement in reading, reasoning, and spatial skills? Experts in cognitive development, commonly referred to as “brain scientists”, believe that when children listen to music, they must order the notes in their brain to forming melodies. They think that tests in spatial reasoning, such as putting together a puzzle, require the same reasoning skills. And since music is so mathematically oriented (8 notes in an octave, 2 beats in a half-note, etc.), experts speculate that by listening to music, children are exercising the same part of the brain that handles mathematics, logic, and higher level reasoning. Dr. Frances H. Rauscher, PhD, a research psychologist at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at UC Irvine, agrees. “By exercising these brain patterns through music early in life,” she says, “[I] think it’s going to have an effect on your abstract reasoning throughout life.” (Learning 24) Thus, by exposing your child to classical music as early as the age of 1, you may be helping his future logic, mathematical, and reasoning skills.

However, researchers warn that listening to music won’t make your child a genius. “Just listening to music presumably isn’t going to make you smarter in the long run,” cautions Dr. Shaw (Learning 24) Most experts also agree that children raised in a loving environment will get all the stimuli they need for healthy development. While this means that you shouldn’t force-feed Mozart to your two-year-old, it doesn’t mean that all this research has gone to waste. Educators in particular are learning everything they can about music’s affect on children, and using them very effectively in the classrooms. The children, meanwhile, are the ones who end up benefiting the most.

Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, PhD, a psychoanalyst at the University of California-Berkeley, summed up the general idea by saying, “The more we discover about how the brain works, the more we recognize how crucial music is to children’s learning.” (Cassidy 47) At a time when schools are cutting back music programs in an attempt to reduce the budget, her comment brings new light to the issue. Some schools understand the need to integrate music with a child’s education. At the Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School, administrators would not dream of changing their approach. This public school in Charleston, SC integrates music and other arts into its curriculum. As a result, it has the second-highest academic rating in the country, even though many of their students come from underprivileged backgrounds. As one might expect, there is a great demand for admission and the waiting list for the school numbers over 1200 students.

It’s not too surprising that programs such as the one employed at Ashley River Elementary work. According to a yet-to-be-published study, a group of ten 3-year-olds in an inner city school were given music lessons for 30 minutes a day. Lessons consisted of both singing and piano keyboarding. After six months, all the kids showed significant improvement when their spatial skills were tested. In fact, the inner-city kids scored below the national average on these spatial tests before the music lessons; afterward, their scores nearly doubled.. Researchers are not surprised at the results. Whether children are solving math problems or reading for comprehension, they need the skill to look ahead and think abstractly. And music may fire up the same patterns used for abstract reasoning in the brain. “Playing the piano requires you to be able to look ahead – you have to plan your finger patterns based on where you think you’re going,” says Dr. Raucher (Learning 25) And when certain brain patterns are fired continuously, those parts of the brain expand and grow, causing the child to have greater capacity for that type of learning.

One of the most influential people in the field of music and learning is not a researcher at all. He doesn’t have a PhD and doesn’t work at a university. However, he started a worldwide program to incorporate music into a child’s everyday learning environment. His name is Daniel Pratt and he is the founder of the revolutionary Kindermusik program.

Kindermusik originated in West Germany in the late 1960s. Strong government support for music education led to the formation of this program, and it became a very successful program in Germany. Pratt was studying voice at the Cologne Hochschule fuer Musik at that time. After meeting his future wife and getting his degree. They decided to bring the Kindermusik program to the United States. In 1974, Pratt and his wife translated the program into English to train music educators at the Westminister Choir College in Princeton, NJ. Educators came from all over the United Sates to attend this program, and graduates from Pratt’s classes returned to their local areas and began teaching the Kindermusik programs there. In 1984, Pratt founded Music Resource International in Princeton to serve as the company licensed to reproduce and distribute Kindermusik materials. In 1993, he renamed his company Kindermusik International Inc.

The Kindermusik program has been received with open arms in the United States and is growing fast. Two new Kindermusik programs are starting this summer, including a program called Kindermusik Adventures, a camp-like instruction session for students. Pratt says of his mission, “We are serious about our children’s education and their future.” (Foubert 1)

The key component of the Kindermusik philosophy is an emphasis on the process of music learning. Pratt believes that music taught within the context of structured play prepares and motivates children for all types of learning. The program is divided into two sections to accommodate students of different ages. Kindermusik Beginnings is targeted towards children three-and-a-half to five years old. As the children become more verbally developed, they move on to the Kindermusik for the Young Child program, which decreases focus on play and centers it on more formal instruction styles.

No matter which program the children participate in, they are always instructed according to the Kindermusic approach. Formed when the program was founded, the approach sets the following goals for the program: to help a child develop balance, control, and coordination through sequenced, developmentally appropriate activities that are fun and challenging; to explore concepts in music through movement; to develop a child’s self awareness through movement; to facilitate family involvement in musical activities; to express activities and feelings of everyday life through drama and creativity; to emphasize give-and-take social interactions; and to provide a focused environment which encourages a child to develop refined listening skills. (Foubert 1)

Experts now agree that programs such as Kindermusik provide a great medium for a child’s brain development. They encourage schools to take a look into incorporating similar programs into everyday education. However, even with all the information about music’s affect on the development of children, researchers continue to questions many aspects of music and brain research. Recently, one of the most prevalent topics for exploration has been the subject of music appreciation and with good reason. Only within the last decade have scientists acquired the capability to look into the human brain in detail. This capability stemmed from the creation of machines collectively called brain scanners.

Music and brain research rely heavily on the ability of scientists to “see” into the human mind. For a long period of time, brain scientists had to rely on archaic techniques to conduct research. However, with the recent invention of CT, MRI, and PET scanners, scientists are finally able to see the human brain work in detail. The CT scanner and MRI scanner are usually restricted to medical diagnosis use. But neuroscientists have liberally employed the help of the positron emission tomography, or PET, scanner.

PET scanners allow researchers to peer inside a brain by tracking radioactively labeled oxygen. Since brain activity requires large amounts of oxygen, neuroscientists can see where activity is taking place by watching where the radioactively labeled oxygen is traveling. They then take a snapshot of the brain and examine it to determine their results. Especially in the study of music appreciation, this tool has become indispensable.

At the Montreal Neurological Institute, neuroscientist Robert J. Zatorre and his colleagues are exploring what parts of the brain are stimulated by music. “Brain areas involved in hearing, recall, and even vision – particularly those in the right hemisphere – coordinate musical perception and memory,” Zatorre tells us. (Bower 260) His group studied 12 adult volunteers, connecting them to PET scanners while they listened to snatches of music. He found that simply listening to melodies caused blood flow increases in the brain’s right temporal lobe, which is the area associated with hearing. There was also increased brain activity in the area at the back of the right hemisphere, previously associated with vision. Since all volunteers kept their eyes closed during the study, Zatorre theorizes that this may indicate the generation of visual imagery in response to the musical stimuli.

In another study conducted at the Institute of Neurology in London, clinical neuroscientist Richard Frackowiak took six young men and fed them different types of music while they were connected to a PET scanner. The music varied in timbre, pitch, rhythm, and melody. His goal was to see what areas of the brain were involved in recognizing each of the variations and thereby determine what part of the human brain is responsible for music appreciation. When listening to the melodies, Frackowiak found that the music stimulated a region in the left hemisphere called Broca’s area. This area is associated with our ability to speak and from these results, Frackowiak believes that this area may also interpret all familiar sounds, not just the sounds of language. When the volunteers listened for changes in timbre, however, the right hemisphere was the predominant area stimulated. Based on these findings, Frackowiak speculates that the reason people whose right hemisphere is damaged cannot understand music is because they no longer recognize timbre.

Frackowiak believes that the net results of these findings strongly suggest that there is no one single “music processing” center of the brain. Instead, he says, “[Listening to music requires] a network of specialized area, out of the coordinated activity of which comes something that we call music appreciation.” (Glausuisz 28) This study was instrumental in proving that music appreciation is a whole brain activity, rather than a process isolated to a certain section of the brain.

Although most research projects taking place now concentrate on tracking areas of brain stimulation, not all scientists are following this orthodox method of research. One of the most interesting research projects conducted within the last year was performed by three Swedish scientists: Lans Olov Bygren, Boinkum Benson Konlaan, and Sven-Erik Johansson. They put a radical theory to test in the early 1980s and have only recently published the results. Between 1982 and 1991, they conducted an exhaustive study on the effects of cultural activities, including going to concerts and listening to music, and its affect on a person’s longevity. They tracked over 12,000 volunteers over this nine year period. The December 21, 1996 issue of the British Medical Journal finally published their long-awaited results. Although inconclusive, the three researchers speculate that “attendance at cultural events may have a positive influence on survival.” (Bygren 1577) They reported that “of the 12,675 people, mortality rates eight to nine years after being interviewed were higher in those who rarely attended or participated in performance arts, including music. After controlling for confounding variables [by which they meant smoking, exercise, etc.], people who attended cultural events frequently had a better chance of survival than rare attendees.” (Bygren 1581) They hypothesize that music and other cultural activity may stimulate the brain to kick the immune system into higher gear, thereby reducing a person’s chance for disease contracting and contribute to his overall healthiness. Their research has stirred the scientific community into shock, and they promise to conduct further studies to verify their tentative findings.

If further research merits their hypothesis, they will have revolutionized the field of music and brain sciences. No longer will scientists be content with just probing the human brain. More and more researchers will begin to study the effects of music on other body systems in an attempt to prolong human life. But if not, if their research proves to be just a coincidence, music and brain research will not die out with that. There is still so little we know about the effects of music on the human brain, even after our years of exhaustive research. New developments could lead to more refined methods of practicing music therapy. Music could be used to treat autistic children and help children with learning disabilities overcome them. We could build an entirely new education system based on music learning such as employed by Daniel Pratt in his Kindermusik program. The benefits of music and brain research are endless.

Neuroscientists have only uncovered the surface of a potentially extravagant discovery. There may be an even deeper meaning to music that we cannot begin to imagine. As Richard Knox stated in his article in the Boston Globe, “The new work is part of a growing body of evidence indicating that human brains are designed to process, appreciate, and eventually create music – an activity whose importance for the species scientists are only beginning to appreciate in biological terms.” (Knox A6) When they do discover the true importance of music, it will have been well worth the effort.


Bower, Bruce. “Brain images reveal cerebral sides of music.” Science News, 23 April 1994, pp.260.

Bygren, Lans Olov, Boinkum Benson Konlaan, and Sven-Erik Johansson. “Attendance at cultural events, reading books or periodicals, and making music or singing in a choir as determinants for survival: Swedish interview survey of living conditions.” British Medical Journal, 21 December 1996, pp.1577-1581.

CAIRSS. [Online] Available http://www.einet.net/hytelnet/FUL064.html, October 15,1997.

Cassidy, Anne. “The Power of Music.” Working Mother, May 1996, pp.47-51.

Foubert, Shari. “The Music Man.” Business Life Magazine, 1 May 1996: CD NewsBank 1996.

Glausuisz, Josie. “The Neutral Orchestra.” Discover, September 1997, pp.28.

Knox, Richard A. “Sweet Taste in Music May Be Human Trait, Harvard Study Finds.” Boston Globe, 5 September 1996, pp.A6.

Laliberte, Richard. “Inside Your Baby’s Brain.” Parents, September 1997, pp.48-56.

“Learning Keys: Music May Give Kids’ Minds a Head Start.” Prevention, February 1994. pp.24-25.

Music Brain Information Database. [Online] Available telnet: mbi@mila.ps.uci.edu, October 4, 1997.

National Library of Medicine: PubMed. [Online] Available http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/, October 23, 1997.

O’Conner, Tony. Relaxation Music. [Online] Available http://www.tonyoconnor.com.au/welcome.htm, November 3, 1997.

Regley, Sharon. “Your Child’s Brain.” Newsweek, 19 February 1996, pp.54-61.

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