The Amazing Power of Music (Part 1)

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Posted by upbeat | Posted in Creativity, Science | Posted on August 31, 2015

Clear evidence of the power of music continues to emerge. Scientists at Queen Mary University in London have now proved that listening to music before, during and after surgery can reduce pain, anxiety and the need for painkillers. Published in ‘The Lancet’ in August 2015, the findings clearly demonstrated a link between playing music in the operating theatre and a significant reduction in post-operative pain, post-operative anxiety and requirements for post-operative pain relief medication. Research in the ‘music as medicine’ area has been ongoing and developing over recent years. Indeed there are medical texts dating back to the 19th century discussing the benefits of listening to music to reduce anxiety and pain. In Germany, Dr Ralph Spintge has used music in clinical settings. He found that patients required significantly reduced amounts of anaesthetic for certain painful procedures if they first listened to relaxing music. Are we surprised by this? Does music not have a powerful effect on us in various aspects of our lives?

Dr Oliver Sacks, the eminent neurologist passed away earlier this week. He was an acclaimed medical doctor and an author. Of music he said ‘One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music – nor, indeed, to be particularly ”musical”  –  to enjoy music and to respond to it at the deepest levels. Music is part of being human, and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed.’

I believe, perhaps intuitively, but also based on much growing evidence, that we are, as humans, intrinsically musical. If that is indeed the case, the implications for the potential impact of music on our lives is great. One of the most important discoveries of modern neuropsychiatry is that the two halves of the human brain have distinctly different functions. Scientific experiments have shown that the two hemispheres of the brain respond exclusively to different musical intervals. Dissonant and discordant sounds are registered in the left (language, verbal, logical, sequential) side of the brain. Concordant intervals (pleasing sounds) lie exclusively in the emotional, imaginative, spatially aware, rhythmic and melodic right side of the brain. It has been found that the more academically a musician is trained, the more his/her left hemisphere is brought into play because it is a learning skill (left brain). Dr Paul Robertson suggests that this is why ‘academic’ musicians write music that is difficult for most people to listen to and even harder to enjoy.

It is now widely accepted that music can bring great benefit to Alzheimer’s sufferers. Music can evoke emotion in even the most advanced of dementia patients. The afore-mentioned Dr Oliver Sacks once said that ‘Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory……it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.’  This fact alone demonstrates to me, the amazing power of music.

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