Music How It Affects the Whole Man Part 1

Music How It Affects the Whole Man (Part 1--Physical Effects)

SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS base their philosophy of life not only on faith in divine revelation but also on factual evidence. It should follow therefore that a philosophy of music should develop not out of rap sessions and opinion polls but rather on reliable information and inspired counsel. An understanding of the nature of man, as well as of the nature of music, is involved. Lack of knowledge in both areas has caused much confusion and dissension. . .

-an associate professor of music at Walla Walla College at the time this article was written

SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS base their philosophy of life not only on faith in divine revelation but also on factual evidence. It should follow therefore that a philosophy of music should develop not out of rap sessions and opinion polls but rather on reliable information and inspired counsel. An understanding of the nature of man, as well as of the nature of music, is involved. Lack of knowledge in both areas has caused much confusion and dissension.

The question of whether music can affect emotions, attitudes, and behavior is obviously the central issue. Some reject this idea because they observe that people vary in their responses to music. They will insist that a given selection or type of music that seems to elicit a certain response in some persons "does not affect me that way at all." They therefore conclude that response to music is predictable only if it is a learned or conditioned response. Others believe that in matters pertaining to aesthetics morality is not involved; that music is amoral.

Although the subject of the effects of music on the individual has intrigued man since ancient times, very little scientific investigation in this field took place until late in the nineteenth century. The first major impetus came after World War I when many behavioral scientists in the United States became intrigued with the possibility of influencing human behavior through a therapeutic use of music.

The Perception of Music

Probably the most important development in the scientific investigation of music was the discovery that music is perceived through that portion of the brain receiving the stimuli of emotions, sensations, and feelings without being first subjected to the brain centers involving reason and intelligence. The significance of this fact for the music therapist is explained by Schullian and Schoen:

Music, which does not depend upon the master brain to gain entrance into the organism, can still arouse by way of the thalamus—the relay station of all emotions, sensations, and feelings. Once a stimulus has been able to reach the thalamus, the master brain is automatically invaded, and if the stimulus is continued for some time, a closer contact between the master brain and the world or reality can be thus established. 1(Italics supplied.)

This mechanism makes it possible to reach mentally ill patients who cannot be contacted through the spoken word.

Music, Moods, and Body Chemistry

In a nationwide investigation Schoen found that music induces a markedly uniform mood on a large majority of an audience. 2 According to Podolsky the influence of music has been demonstrated experimentally. He states that research has shown "that musical stimuli in certain wellknown conditions determine the transient functional reactions in the body that characterize emotion." 3 He reminds us that moods have a biological foundation. Not only do they depend on the activity of the brain and the circulation of the blood but also on body chemistry. Tests have shown that music has a direct effect on pulse and blood pressure, rising or falling in relation to the rhythm; it also affects the ductless glands and therefore the emotions. Charles Hughes, a contributor to the book Music and Medicine, affirms the direct relationship of the emotional,. response of the listener to the music and points out that "this response is accompanied by the same physiological changes that accompany emotional states as they occur in life situations." He further explains:

Such a response is a response to the total and complex effect of music. Yet an examination of the pieces employed to test the emotional effect of music would indicate that rhythm is a primary factor in determining the kind of effect produced. It is not only the presence or absence of a pronounced rhythmic pattern which is involved here, but also the general rate of movement, be it fast, moderate, or slow. 4

Cannon, the eminent Harvard physiologist, held that music "releases adrenaline and perhaps other hormones." 5

The influence of music on the electrical conductivity of the body is reported by Soibelman.6 Given the knowledge of the role of electrical potential and electrolyte balance in the human nervous system, we can gain additional understanding of the use of music in encouragement of moods and mood changes.

Harrer and Harrer demonstrated that of all the senses, that of hearing has a greater effect on the autonomic nervous system than the others have. In their experiments, all the subjects showed significant changes in pulse and breath rates, as well as a psychogalvanic skin reflex. In one experiment the individual's attention was drawn away from the music through physical discomfort so that he was not even aware that a certain piece had been played. Nevertheless, a strong emotional response registered on the instruments. However, when he was asked to listen analytically to the music, his emotional response diminished significantly. Although it was found that the response depended somewhat on attitudes and readiness, it was discovered that when a particular musical selection had been previously associated with strong emotional experiences by the listener, the emotional response to that selection was intense. 7

Oilman and Paperte demonstrated that music can lower the threshold of sensory perception. They "discovered that music and rhythmic sounds can improve a listener's eyesight as much as 25 percent. As little as the rhythmic ticking of a clock, experiments showed, served to stimulate the vision." 8

As early as 1887 investigation by Urbantschitsch showed that the threshold of color perception is lowered by tonal stimuli. 9

Rhythm and Sensory Motor Response

In all ages music has been recognized as a unifying and stimulating agent during physical activity. It has been found experimentally to increase or decrease muscular energy. This doubtless accounts for the use of music in connection with work requiring synchronized movements. Workers in many cultures sang not only as a way of relieving the monotony of their toil but also for the unifying effect it had on themselves. Hughes, recognizing that animated music increases pulse rate and respiration, states:

It sometimes appears that young people exert themselves more, and for a longer period, at a dance than at more useful and less rhythmic occupations. In a similar fashion it has been observed that a march ing band causes soldiers to forget their fatigue, at least for a time, and permits them to march with renewed vigor. 10

However, Soibelman found that even though rhythmic music was an aid to activity, such as typewriting, "music has no definite effect on precision or accuracy of movement, if the rhythm is not adapted to the rhythm of the work. It reduced accuracy in type writing and handwriting, the result being shown in an increased number of errors." 11

There can be little doubt that rhythmic music has strong appeal for virtually every human being. Van de Wall seems to sum it up: "Much of what we call irresistible in music is so because we react on this sensory-motor level of functioning." 12

Because of the relationship of musical rhythm to the rhythm of the body, it is not difficult to understand why rhythm crosses easily from one culture to another. In all primitive cultures, rhythmic activity was evident. In many, a monotonous repetitive rhythmic sequence was used in dances intended to affect the well-being or behavior of the individual or group. The ecstatic seizure was an essential element of ceremonial dancing, secular or religious, of the ancestors of black Americans. Stearns traces the music of the vodun (or voodjoo) worshipers from the Dahomeans of West Africa to New Orleans, where it remains "a reservoir of rhythm in our culture." 13 The Chippewa Indians of North America used music that had in it elements of trance and hypnotism. Gaston states:

A frenzy equal to the Creek Dionysian dance recurred repeatedly in the aborigines of North America. In the Ghost Dance of the 1870's the Indians danced monotonously in a circle formation until, one by one, all dropped rigid and prostrate on the ground. It was believed by Benedict that during their seizures these dancers had visions of deliverance from the whites. Other examples of faith in the magical powers of the dance include that of the primitive dancers of northern Mexico and that shown in the Shaman's dances of California. Both of these dances required some component of cataleptic seizure. 14

Referring to the repetitive and monotonous dance rhythms of the Aztec culture, Gaston says, "One is reminded of rock and roll." 15

More recently the field of psychophysiology of music was the subject of study by Soviet scientists, and the relationship between rhythm and body movement was clearly shown.

Specially selected music increases the working capacity of the muscles. At the same time the tempo of the movements of the worker changes with the change of the musical tempo. It is as if the music determines a good rapid rhythm of movement. Another series of experiments on students proved that not only the working capacity changes under the influence of music, but also the pulse and blood pressure. 16

This is but a brief report of some of the scientific studies of music and its effect on the mind and body. Even this limited information, however, brings to the surface some rather significant in formation: (1) Music is perceived and enjoyed without necessarily being interpreted by the higher centers of the brain involving reason and judgment. (2) Response to music is measurable even though the listener is not giving conscious attention to it. (3) There is evidence that music can bring about mood changes by affecting the body chemistry and electrolyte balance. (4) By lowering the level of sensory perception, music heightens the responses to color, touch, and other sensory perceptions. (5) It has been demonstrated that music effects changes in muscular energy and promotes or inhibits body movement. (6) Highly repetitive rhythmic music has a hypnotic effect. (7) The sense of hearing has a greater effect on the autonomic nervous system than any of the other senses.


1. Dorothy Schullian and Max Schoen, Music and Medicine (New York: Henry Schuman, Inc., 1948), pp. 270,271.

2. Max Schoen, Psychology of Music (New York: Ronald, 1940), p. 89.

3. Edward Podolsky, Music for Your Health (New York: Bernard Ackerman, Inc., 1945), pp. 26, 27.

4. Schullian and Schoen, Op. Cit., pp. 168,169.

5. Ibid., p. 270.

6. Doris Soibelman, Therapeutic and Industrial Use of Music (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948), p. 47.

7. G. and H. Harrer, "Musik, Emotion and Vegetativum," Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift, NR. 45/46, 1968.

8. Leonard Oilman and Frances Paperte, Music and Your Emotions (New York: Liveright, 1958), p. 28.

9. Charles Discerens and Harry Fine, A Psychology of Music (Cincinnati: College of Music, 1939), p. 229.

10. Schullian and Schoen, Op. Cit., p. 146.

11. Soibelman, Op. Cit., p. 47.

12. Willem Van de Wall, Music in Hospitals (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1946), p. 15.

13. Marshall Stearns, The Story of Jazz (New York: Oxford, 1956), pp. 38-50.

14. E. Thayer Gaston, Music in Therapy (New York: Macmillan Co., 1968), p. 329.

15. Ibid., p. 20.

16. Leonid Melnikov, "U.S.S.R.: Music and Medicine," Music Journal  XXVII: 18 (Nov., 1970)

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-an associate professor of music at Walla Walla College at the time this article was written

November 1973

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