Music can play an important part in our lives yet how many of us appreciate the effect it has on our brains, bodies and moods, or understand how we can use music as a medicine? Music has the power to reduce everyday symptoms, such as stress, insomnia, pain, depression, and even snoring, as well as helping challenges found in neurological conditions such as freezing and gait problems, and difficulties with voice and swallowing.
With modern advances in technology, scientists are now able to measure the precise effect of music on body and brain. Music as Medicine presents many research studies which have examined the effect of music on various conditions, and offers clear suggestions as to how readers can use music to reduce various symptoms, whether a person thinks themselves musical or not. It covers three aspects of musical involvement: listening to music, moving to music and making music.
Daphne Bryan, PhD, takes a special look at the benefits of music for neurological conditions, Parkinson’s in particular. Music stimulates many areas of the brain and in the case of damaged brains, it can activate alternative pathways to act in the place of damaged ones. Many of the symptoms discussed are also experienced by people with other diagnoses and by those who are otherwise fit and healthy so this book contains much that is relevant to all.
Using music to heal body and affect mood is not new. In the course of human history, music has been used not only as an art form but also as a tool for healing. Frescoes dating from 4000 BC, depicting harp playing priests and musicians, are probably the oldest examples which suggest that music was believed to have healing properties at that time.
In the Bible’s Old Testament, Saul was said to suffer from depressive symptoms and his servants suggested that they find someone who was a “cunning player on the harp” (1 Samuel chapter 16 v 16 Revised Version).
“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took the harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (1 Samuel Chapter 16 v 23. Revised Version)
The ancient Greeks developed music as therapy, with Pythagoras proposing that body and soul could be influenced by music, through the understanding of music’s law and order (Dobrzinska et al 2006). The Pythagoreans employed music in their daily routine, playing music before bedtime to calm them and provide a good night’s sleep with pleasant dreams. On waking, they would play particular compositions on the lyre to shake off sleep and prepare them for the rigours of the day.
The philosopher Plato considered music to be “the medicine of the soul” (Gfeller 2002). He claimed in The Republic:
“Music is most sovereign because rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, imparting grace, if one is rightly trained.”
Aristotle also believed in music’s ability to heal, seeing it as providing relief from negative emotions (Dobrzinska et al 2006). He had a theory that song, wine, and women were the three necessary components to create an optimal environment for man (Ansdell 2004).
Many primitive cultures considered music an important part of everyday life. Native Americans used music in their healing rituals, often in the form of singing and chanting with percussive instruments. The United States Indian Bureau contains 1,500 songs used by Native Americans for healing purposes. In the Middle Ages, the importance of music for keeping well was so highly regarded that the law mandated that those studying medicine should also appreciate music. At this time, specific musical applications were suggested for particular medical problems, for example, music which alternated flute and harp was believed to be a remedy for gout.
A plague occurred in Germany in 1374 in which sufferers danced uncontrollably till they became unconscious through exhaustion. Thousands died, and more outbreaks occurred across Europe over the next two centuries. The only way of stopping the mania was to have a musician play for the afflicted dancer (Harvey 1980). At a similar time, the illness tarantism, thought to be caused by the bite of a tarantula, was believed to be cured by listening and dancing to the music of a ‘tarantella’, a folk dance with a fast, upbeat tempo. It is possible that the wild dancing helped the problem by separating the venom from the sufferer’s blood.
During the Renaissance, music continued to be used to treat mania and depression. The Italian sixteenth century theorist, Gioseffo Zarlino, believed that musical harmony had healing abilities. He suggested music could be used to relieve pain, depression, mania, the plague and even restore hearing. In 1899, an article in The Lancet by J.T.R. Davison titled ‘Music in Medicine’ led to the now growing interest in investigating music and health (Davison 1899).
For many thousands of years, therefore, people have believed music to have a place in healing, but what properties in music give it this power?