Singing the beautiful Advent music with my choir this month reminds me of all the benefits to health and happiness which music can bring. As a child I disliked having to take music lessons, but when I took up choral singing and playing the piano in later life was pleased to find that I could still remember the basic knowledge unwillingly acquired so many years ago. Although my musical skills remain at a very amateur level I have gained great enjoyment and stimulation from practising them.
A few people, maybe 5% of the population, are unable to produce or respond to music (amusia) and may even hate the sound of it (melophobia); well-known historical figures in this category include Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Theodore Roosevelt. But for most of us music is one of the pleasures of life, and it also has powerful healing properties. The following is an extract from my latest book Persons not Diseases:
“Research studies have shown that simply listening to music has many positive effects on health – benefits include the relief of pain from many causes, improved sleep, reduced anxiety, enhanced mental development in children, and more rapid recovery of memory following a stroke. Actively singing or playing an instrument, as opposed to passive listening, brings in many other positive factors and professional music therapy, which involves sophisticated techniques adapted for each client, can have still more powerful effects.
“Music works to promote healing in many different ways. At the physical level, appropriately chosen music can help to regulate various aspects of physiology, and encourage formation of new neural connections in the brain. Different sound frequencies have specific effects. The vibration of a cat’s purr, for example, is conducive to bone and tissue repair. Some biofeedback devices work through sound frequencies individually selected to modify the client’s symptoms. The 528 Hz frequency, found in the 6-note Solfeggio scale, has been called the ‘frequency of love’ and some claim it has special healing power, enabling DNA to absorb ultraviolet light and attune the body’s rhythm to that of the cosmos. It is found in many of the old Gregorian chants, and is featured in various modern videos which can be found on YouTube.
“At the emotional level, music is a channel for the expression of feelings which are beyond words, and can enable deep sadness or anger to be released. Many of us have poignant memories associated with particular pieces and therefore the choice of music, and the meaning attached to it, is always specific to the individual concerned. Music has a spiritual element too, and plays an important part in the services and rituals of most religious traditions. Other benefits of music include the social aspects of singing or playing instruments in a group, and the mental exercise of studying music theory. Music, therefore, carries a wide range of potential rewards and must be rated as among the most valuable of all aids to the healthy integration of body, emotions, mind and spirit.”