Dr. Mozart - Music and Medicine Week


Photo by Daniel E. Bruce.

We’ve all heard the rumor that playing classical music for babies in the womb makes for smarter children, but in reality, there may be some truth to the matter. Because music is so much more than simply music, many people find therapeutic purpose for it in their lives. Some achieve results by simply listening — for others, through the art of composition. Additionally, music can be used to stimulate the brain. Sounds of rock n’ roll, instrumental percussion, and grand orchestral sonatas have assisted in everything from memory development and psychotherapy to sleep derivation, particularly when it comes to symphonic hymns.

“In the field of music therapy, we use music in many different ways to work on our clients’ goals,” explains Rose Fienman, MT-BC and Board Certified Music Therapist in Sacramento. “Singing activities, listening activities, and instrument playing activities can all be present in a music therapy session. Music can also be used in guided imagery interventions, as a framework for movement activities, and to inspire our clients to express themselves through art, writing, or speech.”

Fienman goes on to point out the variety of effects music can have, prompting a range of emotions in a listeneriincluding both anxiety and, conversely, reassurance. In her practice, all genres and styles are used, including hip-hop, if it resonates with a client.

She adds, “I have found that clients with memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may remember songs from their childhood when they can no longer remember more recent information. Many people have emotional connections to various songs, and hearing the songs may trigger memories associated with those songs.”

Furthermore, according to a report in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, listening to music at bedtime can help reduce insomnia-like conditions. A study performed on Taiwanese adults with sleep disorders proved listening to soft music at night – i.e. classical or symphonic – had significant benefits, with those closing their eyes to the sound of Chopin experiencing “a 35% improvement in measures of sleep quality.”

Peter Hübner, classical composer and musicologist, has gone so far as to design a series of CDs catered to those suffering from sleep apnea. Music, it seems, is quickly becoming the sophisticated, new age solution to flawed Western medicine practices: Rather than pop a pill, let a symphony serenade the journey. What to some may seem a breakthrough, however, is more an extension of what we already know from childhood. Lullabies have long been proven to help babies doze off, as the deep resonance of humming has a remarkably drowsing effect. Ultimately, the same can be said for adults of any age.

As for the boost in brainpower? That requires further examination.

“This is a tricky question,” remarks Fienman. “While I have read that classical music may help increase intelligence, and have seen some of the Baby Einstein DVDs, I’m not convinced that classical music is the only genre that has positive effects on the brain. I think it has more to do with using music to stimulate the brain in general.”

Thus, the emotional motivations of music, not only in calming the nerves but helping to spatially organize the way we think, may be the real kicker. The perks of a sound mind, accordingly, manifest in more ways than one.