Better Living Through Music

Better Living Through Music

by Elena Greco

July 2007

Typical reading time: 17 minutes


Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education. ~ Plato (347 B.C.E.)

The process of academic learning and concentrated study is sometimes fraught with stress, difficulty, tension and apprehension. In addition, other areas of our lives require mental focus in processing information which sometimes proves difficult. The purpose of this paper is to learn whether the use of music specifically selected for the purpose of learning and concentration might make these tasks more relaxed, effective and successful. My interest in this topic comes first from being a musician, teacher and counselor, and second, as a result of having used music frequently and often successfully as a means of facilitating writing, learning and concentration for myself. I am interested why the particular music I use sometimes seems to work for me in helping me focus and learn. As a result of my own experiences, I suspect that a musical environment, if the music is well-chosen, is more conducive to stress-free and effective concentration than a totally quiet environment or one containing noise or other types of music or sound. This paper will look specifically at the effect of music on us, in particular with regard to learning and concentration.

How Music Affects Us

In discovering how music might be used for a particular purpose, it would be useful to see how music in general affects the human body and mind.

Music appears to be a very basic means of promoting community and enabling social bonding; it is a characteristic of virtually every human culture to come together to sing and dance. This seems to be a trait peculiar to humans, as even other mammals do not do this, and it also seems to be particular to music, as people have not come together in the same way throughout history, as Merker (2006, p. 95) points out, for example, to make art together in the way in which they come together to perform music and dance. Music has also been used as a means of altering mental and physical states for centuries (What Is the Sonic B.R.A.I.N. Lab? 2007).

The nature of the human body is such that everything in it has an internal rhythm (Jensen 2000, p. 63). Campbell (2001, p. 34) states that we absorb the effects of vibration from sound and music, and that they cause changes in our “breath[ing], [heartbeat,] blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature, and other internal rhythms.” Our own voices can also cause changes and charge us physically and mentally. Psychoacoustics refers to the study of how we perceive sound, and of its effect on us psychologically and neurologically (Leeds 2001, p. 2). Music is sound, but it has organization through melody, harmony and rhythm. Music can promote relaxation or stimulation, it can focus our minds or distract them, and the rhythm in music can entrain us (see the Entrainment section of this paper for the definition of entrainment). Because of these effects of sound and music on us, they can affect us both positively and negatively, depending on the characteristics of the volume, timbre and vibration, so it seems prudent to be aware of the sounds that are around us and to choose them carefully.

All matter has vibration; freqency is the speed of vibration and sound is frequency (Leeds 2001, p. 3). Tomatis, the famous researcher and teacher of the effects of hearing and listening, believed that high-frequency sounds (3,000-8,000 hertz)—i.e., the human voice, violins and woodwinds—”resonate in the brain and affect cognitive functions, such as thinking, spatial perception, and memory,” that middle-frequency sounds (750-3,000 hertz) “tend to stimulate the heart and lungs and the emotions,” and that low sounds (125-750 hertz) “affect physical movement” (Campbell 2001, p. 32). Dr. Tomatis believed that high-frequency sounds affect the nervous system positively because there are four times as many cells in the inner ear that respond to high frequencies by “sending electrical impulses to the brain” than there are cells that respond to low frequencies, and that very low-frequency sounds weaken and fatigue the system by overloading it (Leeds 2001, p. 53). Campbell (2001, p. 34) says that lowfrequency sounds can cause “stress, muscle contractions, and pain” and “deplete the body.” The incredibly loud low-frequency bass volume of speakers today, for instance in movie theaters and in boom boxes, would qualify as depleting sounds.

The ear and hearing are very important in many functions of the body and mind. For example, they have an effect on vision and facial expression, chewing, taste, the voice, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, bladder, kidneys, and small and large intestines. Campbell (2001, p. 52) feels that this indicates that the eardrum’s vibrations interact with the parasympathetic nervous system. Sound coming through the auditory nerve connects through the brainstem to the muscular system, affecting our strength, equilibrium and flexibility (Campbell 2001, p. 123).

There is now clear indication that performing and hearing music have a profound effect on the brain. Hearing and performing music can affect the brain’s organizational and interpretive functions in such a way that metabolism, inflammatory responses, stress, hormones and neurotransmitters respond (Schneck and Berger 2006, p. 133). Music has been shown to impose significant effects in the these systems: cardiovascular; neuro-musculoskeletal; respiratory; renal; metabolism/bioenergetics and biochemical processes; skin; body temperature (core and peripheral); liver; immune system; central nervous system; balance and equilibrium; and proprioception (awareness of movement) (Schneck and Berger 2006, p. 128).

When we use our brains to learn or experience new things, connections are made made which allow further connections to be made in the future, so that our brain continues to grow in complexity and function. This is also true with music. According to Jensen (2000, p. 53), the more we make music, the more changes occur in the brain’s activity and connectivity. One study discovered that the string players who practiced the most had the most neural change. There is some agreement among researchers at this time that music causes activation in multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, which is known as coherence. It has been discovered that musicians have much higher coherence than non-musicians. Jensen suggests that this could indicate that music causes a reorganization of neural firing over a larger area so that more of the brain is connected simultaneously. (Jensen 2000, p. 32). This suggests the possibility that music might affect not just brain activity, but the overall connectedness of the different parts of the brain, which could have much broader implications.

Numerous studies have been done which document the physiological and psychological effects of listening to music and performing music. Since all of the parts of the brain that are involved in music listening and making are also involved in other functions and processes, one could say that music affects all of the physiological and neurological systems.

Musicians versus Non-Musicians. There are a number of studies which indicate that the brains of musicians are different from those of non-musicians. For example, studies indicate that testosterone level is related to musical creativity, with the level that correlates with musical ability being lower than usual in men and higher than usual in women (Jensen 2000, p. 69), although with the levels for both still being in the normal range. It was not clear from the studies whether the researchers believed that this particular hormone balance was responsible for the musical creativity or was a result of it.

Ninety-five percent of children who start music training by the age of four have perfect pitch, while only five percent of those who start music training after the age of twelve have perfect pitch, indicating that this is another area in which music can alter the brain (Jensen 2000, p. 54), in this case, permanently. It should be pointed out that having perfect pitch does not guarantee musical talent.

In one study it was found that the cerebella of musicians was about five percent larger than that of non-musicians. Because the cerebellum is involved particularly with rhythm and beat, it is thought that years of using the fingers to make music on keyboards, woodwinds and string instruments might be responsible for additional nerve growth in that area of the brain (Jensen 2000, p. 54).

The corpus callosum is up to fifteen percent larger in musicians than in non-musicians (Jensen 2000, p. 54). The corpus callosum is the area which connects the the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and activity through this area allows the two sides to communicate. Researchers have concluded that early musical training results in greater communication between the hemispheres (Leeds 2001, p. 116).

Music accesses both parts of the brain, although how it affects the hemispheres of the brain depends on whether the brain’s owner is a musician or not. For musicians, the left brain is more involved than for non-musicians. In general, though, general musicianship, perception of rhythm and lyrical singing involve the left brain, as do perception and production of speech, and temporal sequences of reading ability. In general, pitch production, volume control and recognition of harmonic sequence, as well as melody perception in non-musicians, are right brain functions. Also, singing in general, expression of rhythm and melody, and visual and auditory pattern recognition are right brain functions (Proving Music Has Power). According to the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in Westchester County, New York, rhythm has a beneficial effect on learning, and the brain continues to produce a response in anticipation of the rhythm even after it has stopped (Proving Music Has Power). It does not say exactly how it is beneficial, but I suggest that it might have the effect or stabilizing or normalizing electrical patterns in the brain.

It appears that the subjective effect that a particular musical selection has in terms of its value for relaxation depends on whether the listener is a musician or not. In one study college students heard two musical selections and were asked to rate them as relaxing or energizing. The students who were biology majors rated one selection as calming, as had the researchers, but the music majors rated it as energizing. The music majors said that they were playing the music mentally (Jensen 2000, p. 66). Apparently it really is an individual matter how music will affect each individual subjectively, although the specific physiological effects of music seem to hold true whether the subject is a musician or not.

Pain and Pleasure. It has been found that listening to music stimulates the nucleus accumbens (Nac), the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the hypothalamus and insula, all of which are related to rewarding and emotional stimuli. The neurological response to music appears to be similar to the brain’s response to opiates, and it also appears that listening to pleasurable music causes physiological responses (Menon and Levitin 2005).

Endorphins, those neurochemicals that ameloriate pain and make us feel good when we exercise, increase when we listen to music. Avram Goldstein, a researcher at the Addiction Research Center in Stanford, California, discovered that injecting subjects with naloxone, an opiate blocker used to treat heroin overdose, for one thing, interfered with the experience of pleasure while listening to music. This meant that, first, the pleasure experienced when listening to music involves the same area that contains opiate receptors, and second, the possibility that the pleasure of listening to music was due to endorphin release by the pituitary gland (Campbell 2001, p. 71).

A study which appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that half of the pregnant women they studied who listened to music during childbirth did not require anesthesia. They postulated that this was due to endorphin release stimulated by listening to the music, which resulted in less pain, as well as to the distraction and relaxing effect it provided. Endorphin release not only counteracts stress and pain, but can cause chemical changes that boost immunity (Campbell 2001, p. 71). Apparently, this boost in the immune system can be lasting, as a study of male Alzheimer’s patients who were given music sessions five days a week for amonth seems to show. Their melatonin levels increased and remained high even six weeks after the study (Jensen 2000, p. 65).

Blood Pressure. Music can affect blood pressure. Loud noise may raise it, some researchers say as much as 10 percent, and may result in an accelerated heart rate and high output of stress hormones. On the other hand, listening to music with a slow beat was found in a study to reduce blood pressure, as much as five points per listening session, and also reduce heart rate (Campbell 2001, p. 68).

Strength/Coordination. When young women at Colorado State University attempted to hit a target on a downswing motion of their arms, they were found to have much more control over their arm muscles when they coordinated their movements with the beat of synthesized music. In another study, when students in an aerobics class worked out to music, they had greater strength and ability to control their movements, and additionally had heightened mood and motivation (Campbell 2001, p. 69) .

The type of music affects the influence on strength and coordination; in one study by Pearce in 1981, strongly rhythmic music enhanced strength, and soothing music reduced strength. In another study by Hume and Crossman, competitive swimmers improved their performance times by listening to music (Jensen 2000, p. 59). Using applied kinesiology’s “muscle test” (one person holds out their arm and while they are presented with a substance, or in this case, a type of music, tries to prevent the other person from pressing it down) with thousands of pieces of music, one researcher found that not only does heavy metal rock music lower muscle strength, but so does some New Age music (Jensen 2000, p. 60).

Immune Function. Music can have a positive effect on stress, the heart rate and the immune system (Jensen 2000, p. 69). It is possible that a major contributing factor in immune deficiencies and regenerative diseases could be insufficient oxygen. It has been found that singing and chanting can increase lymphatic circulation as much as three times higher than normal. Additionally, it was also discovered that listening to music for fifteen minutes increased interleukin-1 (which protects against AIDS and cancer, for example) levels up to fourteen percent and decreased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. The researchers believe that it was the emotional experience provoked by the music that caused the change in biochemistry (Campbell 2001, p. 72). Jensen (2000, p. 64) also believes, based on many studies, that because music affects us strongly emotionally, and emotions affect our homrones, music can effectively enhance immunity and reduce stress. There are many, many studies now that show the positive effect of pleasant music on the immune system.

Concentration. One highly useful application for music is to provide focus for work requiring concentration. In addition to relieving stress, as indicated above, which in turn increases the ability to concentrate, background music has been found to enhance attentiveness to the task (Ortiz 1990). It activates both attention and memory (Jensen 2000, p. 69).

Productivity. Studies have shown that music can boost productivity, and this knowledge is being applied by industry. A University of Washginton study found that in a group listening to light classical music while editing a manuscript, accuracy increased by 21.3 percent, while those listening to popular commercial radio incrased by only 2.4 percent), and a group working in silence had a 8.3 percent decrease in their accuracy over those who worked with simply office noise. Also, according to Campell (2001, p. 75), “AT&T and DuPont have cut training time in half with creative music programs, Equitable Life Insurance increased the output of transcribers by 17 percent after introducing music to the office for six weeks, and Missisippi Power & Light raised efficiency in the billing department by 18.6 percent after instituting a ninemonth listening program” (Campell 2001, p. 75). Studies going as far back as 1945 show that background music in industrial and office work raises production rate (Snyder 1996).

Breathing. When we relax, there comes a moment of stillness between the inhalation and exhalation so that the inhalation/exhalation rhythm becomes an inhalation/stillness/exhalation rhythm. Every culture uses duple and triple time as the bases for their music, and a researcher by the Flatischler believes that these two rhythms are pervasive culturally because they are rooted in our physiology (Leeds 2001, p. 86).

Breathing is rhythmic, and deep, slow breathing is beneficial to us mentally and physically, resulting in calm, clear thinking. Lowering the pulse rate has similar effects (Campbell 2001, p. 66). When breathing is slow and deep, and more time is spent on the exhalation, nerve cells in the amygdala (where fear is experienced) fire less, which can, in turn, result in relaxation on a physical level (Austin 1999, p. 98). The heart rate that corresponds to a relaxed state is 50-70 bpm (Leeds 2001, p. 124). By using music that entrains us to slower breathing, we can slow our breath and lower our pulse rate, enhancing relaxation. As Campbell (2001, pp. 66-7) says, “Music is a natural pacemaker.”

Brain waves. The three pulses of the brain waves, the heart rate and the breath rate form a system, and affecting any of the three affects the others (Leeds 2001, p. 88). Entrainment, particularly through the use of binaural beats, can entrain the brain waves, altering our state and our focus.

It is general knowledge that the five major brainwave states are (the figures are approximate):

  • Gamma (over 33 hz). Hyper-awareness, meditation, insight.
  • Beta waves (14-33 Hz). Normal, waking state during daily activities. Some people divide beta into two types: beta (14-20 hz) at which we do normal daily activity and high beta (20-33 hz) in which we experience anxiety or fear.
  • Alpha waves (8-14 Hz). Relaxed alertness, daydreaming and meditation.
  • Theta waves (3-8 Hz). Altered states, creativity, very deep meditation, beginning stage of sleep.
  • Delta waves (0.5-3 Hz). Deepest part of the sleep cycle and unconsciousness, also extremely deep meditation.

Well-chosen music can enhance concentration and promote the production of alpha brain waves, which are associated with focused relaxation (Schneck and Berger 2006, p. 132). Since altering brain wave activity can prove beneficial, particularly in the treatment or alleviation of psychological conditions, and since music and sound can also affect brain wave activity, it would seem advantageous to research thoroughly the effect that music and sound can have on brain wave activity so that it can be utilitized deliberately and effectively in that manner (What Is the Sonic B.R.A.I.N. Lab? 2007).

Entrainment to Effect Change

Resonance. Resonance is “the frequency at which an object most naturally vibrates” (Leeds 2001, p. 12). If you have two tuning forks that are set to vibrate at the same frequency, and you strike one of them, the other will spontaneously vibrate in sympathy; this is known as sympathetic vibration (Leeds 2001, p. 13). Because the first two tuning forks have characteristics that allow them to vibrate sympathetically, they form a resonant system. A third tuning fork that is set to a different frequency will not respond because they do not share a resonant system, i.e., their frequencies are too different. However, if you strike the tuning fork on a table, the table will amplify the sound because it is vibrating sympathetically and it is larger and so produces more volume (Leeds 2001, p. 34).

Entrainment. Entrainment occurs when one entity begins to vibrate or pulse with the same rhythm as another which has a more powerful rhythm (Campbell 2000, p. 218). While resonance refers to a passive sympathetic vibration, entrainment is an active alteration of frequency of one object by another, whether it is using fast music to give us energy, or using sophisticated equipment to move us into a different brain wave frequency. Also, resonance refers to frequency, while entrainment is generally (but not always) a function of rhythm. Entrainment, instead of activating the vibration of another object which matches its frequency, causes the other object to change its frequency to match; this is called forced resonance (Leeds 2001, p. 39).

This phenomenon called entrainment was discovered in 1665 by Christian Huygens (Campbell 2000, p. 219). Itshak Bentov (1988) in his book Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness gives an example of entrainment involving grandfather clocks. If you have many of these clocks in a room and start their pendulums at different times, they will swing at different times, but if you come back a day later, they will all be swinging in sync (Campbell 2000, p. 219). In humans, entrainment is what happens when the body responds to an external stimuli by synching with it, whether consciously or unconsciously. The likelihood for entrainment to occur varies with the individual (Campbell 2000, p. 222).

Entrainment through sound has been used throughout history by healers from different cultures; for example, drumming and chanting is an ancient practice, and we now understand that both of these practices foster entrainment (Campbell 2000, p. 228). Tibetan bells have been part of certain Buddhist meditation practices. It turns out that the two bells rung together are of very slightly different frequencies, resulting in “beats” between 4-8 cycles per second (cps), which is the speed of brain waves during meditation, which would help entrain the brain to that frequency (Campbell 2000, p. 228).

Examples of entrainment can be found in nature. When the heart’s muscle cells move closer together, their rhythm will change to synchrony. When people are enjoying conversation, their brain waves become synchronous. A good example of this natural entrainment is the relaxing feeling that happens to us when we are at the ocean. The waves usually occur at a cycle of 8 seconds, which entrains our breathing rate, and this is the rate at which we are deeply relaxed (Leeds 2001, p. 85).

We can experience synchrony in our own bodies; for example, by deliberately changing our breathing, our pulse and brain waves will change to come into sync with the breathing. We can also change our breath and pulse through altering our brain waves through biofeedback or neurofeedback (Campbell 2000, p. 220). We definitely can purposefully use external means to entrain our inner physiology (Campbell 2000, p. 220).

All of life contains rhythm, including our breathing, sleep and digestion (Campbell 2000, p. 217). Our bodies respond to the music in an organized pattern of physiological responses to the music’s rhythm (Campbell 2001, p. 123). Our physiology has a natural tendency to respond to our environment, which is beneficial to our survival (Schneck and Berger 2006, p. 118). Also, Goldman believes that the reason that the phenomenon of entrainment occurs is possibly that nature likes to conserve energy (Campbell 2000, p. 218).

We automatically entrain to the periodic (i.e., regular, rhythms in our environment), whether positive or negative, such as ocean waves, copy machines or fans. Non-periodic (i.e., irregular) rhythms can wreak havoc with our nervous systems, because the brain looks for regularity, does not find it, continues to search, and therefore is less able to concentrate (Leeds 2001, p. 42). It could be postulated that since we entrain to the mother’s heartbeat and breathing in the womb, it is a natural function of the human organism to look for patterns and entrain to them.

Scheck and Berger posit that musical rhythm might originally derive from our physiological rhythm (as does Leeds—see Breathing above), in which case music would be unusually potent for entrainment (Schneck and Berger 2006, pp. 120-1). They also show that people usually prefer to hear music at a tempo which relates to their own pulse, which is normally around 60-100 beats per minute (bpm) (Schneck and Berger 2006, p. 122), indicating that we are at least unconsciously aware that rhythm is important to our well-being and that we like to be “in sync.” A study by Harrer and Harrer found that the pulse responded to both music volume and rhythm, and that some people sync their breathing rather than their pulse to music (Campbell 2000, p. 220).

The resting human body vibrates at approximately 7.8 to 8 cps, which is the same rate as the alpha frequency of the brain, and also the frequency of the earth (Jensen 2000, p. 63; Campbell 2000, p. 225). To promote alpha brain waves, music at about 60 bpm should be used (Campbell 2000, p. 227), so it might be hypothesized that listening to music with a rhythm of 60 bpm could enable us to re-adjust our bodies to their natural resting frequency and to that of the earth, and conversely that changing our brain waves to alpha frequency might have the same effect, through the phenomenon of entrainment.

Beat Frequencies. In addition to studies on how entrainment occurs through rhythm and how that affects the pulse and breathing, studies have been done on how frequency can entrain the brain, initially by Robert Monroe of the Monroe Institute (Campbell 2000, p. 223). Monroe was interested in how different frequencies might affect the brain and therefore consciousness. He discovered that indeed when the brain was introduced to sound waves from about .5-20 hz (above our hearing threshold), it resonated in entrainment, a phenomenon he referred to as frequency following response, or FFR. He learned that using beat frequencies, a phenomenon discovered by H.W. Dove in 1839 (Leeds 2001, p. 172), he could create very low frequencies from higher ones (Campbell 2000, p. 223).

If you sound one tuning fork at, for example, 100 cps, and a second tuning fork at 108 cps, you will hear a regular beat occurring in the vibration (Campbell 2000, p. 224), and this beat will occur at the difference between the two pitches, which in this case would be 8 cps (108-100=8). If you produce the two sounds in separate ears through the use of stereo headphones, the beat, i.e., the difference between the two frequencies, will be “heard” by the entire brain in both hemispheres; this is called a binaural beat frequency. This binaural beat which results from the difference between the frequencies of the two tones can only be heard by using both ears, with one pitch in one ear and the other pitch in the other ear (Leeds 2001, p. 172). In this way, the two hemispheres of the brain can be synchronized, since they are both hearing or producing the same beat; this has been proven in many experiments through EEG. Monroe called this effect “Hemi-sync” (Campbell 2000, pp. 223-5). Some studies have shown that students using Hemi-Sync® tapes had higher test scores and grades than those not using them (Campbell 2000, p. 230). Hemi-Sync® also has had a positive effect on learning disabilities and other neurological and emotional conditions, as well as for pain control and relaxation (Campbell 2000, p. 230).

The Monroe Institute carries on the work of Mr. Monroe and offers products using this technology. Another individual creating and marketing technology which uses entrainment and binaural beats to facilitate a deeper state of consciousness similar to meditation is Master Charles. Jonathan Goldman also has done much research on entrainment and uses this technology in his recordings. Dr. Jeffrey Thompson is another source of information and technology in entrainment. (See Further Information at the end of this paper for websites which offer information and products from these people.)

How Music Affects Learning It appears that the areas in the brain for language, spatial-temporal skills and music overlap (Proving Music Has Power), so it is easy to see why training and experience in music would affect language and math skills. Making music also can positively affect fine-motor skills and memory (Jensen 2000, p. 60). The Earobics® program uses music among other interactive resources to promote effective learning. Learning occurs most easily when we are physically relaxed and mentally alert, and music can, through its physiological effect on us, help us attain this state.

Language. Studies have shown that music affects brain areas asociated with memory, motor control, timing and language. Also, apparently the auditory nerve stimulates the entire nervous system, and therefore the language center in the brain (Leeds 2001, p. 70). The interpretation of written music occurs in the right hemisphere, in an area which corresponds to an area in the left hemisphere which processes written words (Leeds 2001, p. 121).

There is evidence that studying music enhances language skills, and that there is a correlation between skill in the two areas. For example, a study tested first graders after they received music lessons daily for seven months. They scored higher in reading tests in both the first and second years than did the control group who did not receive music lessons (Jensen 2000, p. 55). A study in Scotland of children around the age of eight revealed that there was a statistically significant correlation between the ability to read and spell, and the ability to detect rhythm (Jensen 2000, p. 55).

Math/Spatial-Temporal Skills. The area in the brain that controls spatial reasoning and math is the same area that controls musical perception (Leeds 2001, p. 49). The primary areas of the brain which are associated with mathematics overlap areas that are strongly associated with music (Jensen 2000, p. 33).

At a daycare center, some of the three-year-olds were given weekly piano lessons and daily singing groups for eight months, while others received no musical experience. At the end of the study, the musical group had improved significantly at puzzle-solving, which is a test for mathematical reasoning skills. In a similar and larger followup study, the children who received musical experience increased spatial-temporal IQ, which is related to higher brain functions, by 46 percent, while those receiving no musical experience increased in this area by only six percent. In a Hong Kong study, college students who had at least six years of musical experience before age 12 were found to have a 16 percent higher score on word memory, i.e., recalling words read from a list. The left planum temporale region in the brain, which is behind the left ear and is responsible for verbal memory, is larger in musicians (Leeds 2001, p. 116).

Rats who were exposed while in utero and for two months after birth to complex music (Mozart), minimalist music, white noise or silence were required to run a maze. The rats who listened to Mozart ran the maze more quickly and with fewer errors than the rats in the other groups, suggesting an improvement in spatial-temporal learning, and the difference increased the more days they listened to Mozart. The same effect has been shown to occur in people (Leeds 2001, p. 121).

Another study used a group of second-graders. The first group received piano lessons and a math video game; the second group received computer-based English training and a math video game; the control gropu received no instruction and no video. Use by both groups of the math video game, which boosted spatial-proportional skills, increased math scores by 36 percent, but those that were also given piano lessons increased their math scores by an additional 15 percent (Jensen 2000, p. 34).

In a three-year study by Dr. Spychiger in Switzerland tested students who were given music lessons every week day, sacrificing time that would have been spent on language and math, against a control group who got one music lessons per week and continued their usual schedule of language and math study. The group who got daily music lessons and spent less time on language and math study scored higher on language and reading tests, and also exhibited more cooperation and social skills (Jensen 2000, p. 34).

In a study by James Catterall (Catterall, et al. 2000) in Los Angeles, students between the eight and twelfth grades who were from a low socioeconomic background were given music lessons. They not only scored significantly higher on math tests than the control group which did not receive music lessons, but also scored up to 40 percent higher in reading, history, geography and social skills tests (Jensen 2000, p. 35).

A University of California study in 1993 found that students who used headsets to listen to Mozart for ten minutes, as opposed to white noise or relaxation music, performed better on spatial tasks (Rauscher, et al. 1993). This has come to be known as the Mozart Effect. This study has been the focus of much controversy and many researchers have attempted to replicate it, with mixed results. It has been found that the effect occurs in rats (without the headphones), so particularly human or caused by culture. In all but one of the attempted replication studies, 26 out of 27 found it verified to some extent. The improvement after listening to this music occurred also in small children. When this study was performed with EEG while executing the spatial-temporal task, the firing in right and left temporal-parietal areas was in greater synchrony, a skill which lays the foundation for higher-level math. Also, it has been found that the music does not have to be Mozart (Jensen 2000, p. 37).

A study at the University of Texas by Lawrence Parsons seemed to indicate that it was the rhythm of the melodic lines in Mozart that created the effect, and that nonmusical periodic rhythms such as rain forest sounds worked even better to improve spatial-temporarl scores. In addition, more complex rhythm worked better than simple rhythm (Jensen 2000, p. 39).

Relaxed Body/Alert Mind. Georgi Lozanov created a method in the 1970s called Suggestology®, which utilizes music and breathing techniques to enhance learning. His work was accepted in this country, and a method called Superlearning® was created in this country following some of his techniques. Lozanov found that a relaxed body and an alert mind created the best environment for learning, and that music and breathing were essential to attaining this state (Leeds 2001, p. 121). In the Lozanov method, music at about 60 bpm was used to induce alpha state, an alert but relaxed state of the brain that Lozanov found to be best for learning (Campbell 2000, pp. 222).

Background Music. Many studies have shown that background music has a statistically significant positive effect on learning (Snyder 1996). In at least one study, background music enhanced reading comprehension (Jensen 2000, p. 41). In another study of the effect of background music on learning, it was found that general intelligence test scores were higher when the subjects listened to background music, so listening to music might enhance general intelligence, as well as spatial-temporal intelligence (Jensen 2000, p. 41). Background music can also enhance positive feelings, or have the opposite effect, depending on the type of music played. The ratings of paintings by students and art experts who viewed the paintings while background music was playing correlated with the type of music playing rather than with the paintings. Even when they rated a painting favorably prior to listening to the music, they rated it as depressing when viewing it with depressing background music playing (Jensen 2000, p. 50).

Tests involving Dr. Lozanov’s method (SALT: Suggestive-Accelerative Learning and Teaching) showed that by using Dr. Lozanov’s techniques for mental and physical relaxation, breathing, positive suggestion and background music, students were able to learn much more material and to recall it for a longer period. In another study in Israel, background music reulsted in higher scores by high school students on a written math test, as long as the volume of the music was not too high. A study by Miller and Schyb (1989) revealed that background music “prevented distractions and facilitated verbal and nonverbal tasks, especially for females” (Snyder 1996).


It appears that it would be beneficial to orchestrate our lives with carefully chosen background music in order to get the most from it. The elements of music affect us physiologically and neurologically, and it is possible to choose carefully and successfully music that works to enhance specific functions. Through the prudent use of entrainment, binaural beats, rhythm and frequency, we can set ourselves up physiologically and emotionally to experience life at our highest level.

It is clear that music affects human beings deeply on many levels, and that it can be enormously beneficial in helping us live our lives.

Further Information The Earobics® program uses music among other interactive resources to promote effective learning. Jonathan Goldman has done much research on entrainment and uses this technology in his recordings.  Entrainment products by the Monroe Institute, founded by Robert Monroe. Brainwave/Cymatic frequency listing (combination of anecdotal and scientific information). and Sites which describe the work of Dr. Georgi Lozanov, developer of Suggestology, a unique learning method utilizing music and breathing which is the basis for several off-shoot learning programs, including Superlearning. Don Campbell’s site, with information and CDs. Dr. Jeffrey Thompson is another source of information and technology in entrainment. Technology which entrains the brain to facilitate a deeper state of consciousness similar to meditation; Master Charles is the founder.


Austin, James H. (July 1999). ZEN AND THE BRAIN: TOWARD AN UNDERSTANDING OF MEDITATION AND CONSCIOUSNESS. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Winner of the Scientific and Medical Network 1998 Prize. In essence, a fabulous neuroscience text by a renowned neuroscientist who is also a meditator, with the addition of chapters on the practice of Zen Budhhism and its effect on neurobiology.

Bentov, Itshak (1988). STALKING THE WILD PENDULUM: ON THE MECHANICS OF CONSCIOUSNESS. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.


Campbell, Don G.,ed. (2000). MUSIC: PHYSICIAN FOR TIMES TO COME. 2nd edition. Wheaton, IL : Quest, 2000 (primarily from Chapter 14, “Sonic Entrainment” by Jonathan S. Goldman).

Jensen, Eric (2000). MUSIC WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND. 2000 Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, A Sage Publications Company.


Menon, V., and Levitin, D.J. (2005). The rewards of music listening: Response and physiological connectivity of the mesolimbic system. NeuroImage, Vol. 28, pp. 175-184.

Merker, Bjorn (2006). The Uneven Interface Between Culture and Biology in Human Music.

Music Perception, Vol. 24, No. 1, p. 95.

Ortiz, John M. (1990). Music as Sound Campus Ecology. Campus Ecologist, Vol. 8, No. 4.

Proving Music Has Power. Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. Westchester, New York. (no date)

Schneck, Daniel J. and Berger, Dorita S. (2006). THE MUSIC EFFECT: MUSIC PHYSIOLOGY AND CLINICAL APPLICATIONS. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Snyder , Florence P. (1996). The Effects Of Background Music Upon Math Achievement Of Second Grade Students. A Research Proposal submitted to Dr. Martha Daugherty, Georgia College, In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for EFS 632 Research Designs in Education, Specialist in Education, Winter, 1996. Downloaded from:
http://snowwhite. ect.text on May 30, 2007.

What is the Sonic B.R.A.I.N. lab? The Sonic B.R.A.I.N. Laboratory (“Sonic Body Response And Imaging Neuro-effect Laboratory”), University of Toronto. Downloaded from, May 14, 2007.

ElenaGreco2See Elena’s bios for more information about the author.

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