Music, mind and body

  • Article by Ms. Revathi S.

    Ms.Revathi SEven after years of music schooling and practice, I have only scratched the surface, so to speak, in terms of describing what Music is, a lot more work needs to be done in exploring the perceptual effects of Music. And the conjunction of musical elements proves that Music is a science, art and an effective medicine! It depends on how efficiently it is being used.

    Music is an art. Art, in its broadest sense is an expression of creativity or imagination, or both. Anything that would give a form of expression is art. And music could be precisely defined as an eddying flood of expressions and so is the greatest form of art.

    Is music a form of science? Yes, of course. Any kind of systemized knowledge derived through experimentation, observation, and study is science and music is not an exception to this criterion.

    Practicing music for musical goals is a usual act. However music being a means to attain nonmusical goals is what makes Music different and unique from other arts. It is said that in view of the progressive decline of human powers, the path of Music is devised for the present age. The sphere of music has proved a tendency to evolve simpler media of enjoyment and relaxation.

    Music has its own therapeutic values for music hides in it physical, emotional, social and communication powers. Music can be perceived as a pathway into the mind.
    On hearing a piece of Music, if you get a momentary entertainment, you are an appreciative beginner and can enjoy music perfectly well at that stage. But if by nature or by training, you can hear all the intricacies of Music, enjoy the levels of pitch, dynamics,inflexions,microtones,voice leaving, rhythmics and historical allusion at the same moment in real-time, which is the full way music has to be heard, then you find yourself participating in a very complex musical phenomenon. This would involve each part of your soul, every sense and all possible emotions.
    Listening (not hearing) to Music is an art too. And Music therapy works only if there is an effective and efficient listening. The microtones, the notes, the vibrations should get into every nerve of our body i.e., it must imbibe in us. Music is designed to have a positive and reaffirming effect on emotions and mental clarity. Singing along to a familiar song or show tune might be all you need to come out of depression or distress. Stress or depression is caused by the negative energies that get locked in our nerves centers (referred to chakras in ancient Indian literature).Music clears out the blockages and helps in removing the concentration of negative energies.

    How does mere sound affect the body and mind? Music is a magical medium and a very powerful tool. Music can delight all the senses and inspire every fiber of our being. Music has the power to soothe and relax, bring us comfort and embrace joy! Music subtly bypasses the intellectual stimulus in the brain and moves directly to our subconscious. There is music for every mood and for every occasion. Music files neurons into the brain in the tempo in which the music is played. Thus, it can suit and adapt to any kind of mood. For instance, raga saranga is known to cure all seasonal fevers and would bring in tranquility and relief. Ragas like mayamalavagowla, kamavardhini and gamanasrama are known for Bhakthi rasa.Kapi, bhairavi, thodi, asaveri create the necessary atmosphere during afternoon. Raga neelambari is the lullaby raga that can put any disturbed mind to sleep. Such is the effect of the raga on mind. Every raga has its own special and unique feature that would leave an imprint of the emotion and feeling associated with it.

    Body and Music: There is a one to one mapping between our body and certain sounds. Many cultures recognize the importance of music and sound as a healing power. In the ancient civilizations of India, the Orient, Africa, and Europe and among the Aboriginal and American Indians, the practice of using sound to heal and achieve balance from within has existed for many years. The Tibetans still use bells, chimes, bowls, and chanting as the foundation of their spiritual practice.

    Music and Brain: Our ear comprises of a spiral sheet that receives the musical sound and sends it in like the waves caused by plucking the guitar strings. Vibrations in the air created by music and words move thousands of tiny hair spread atop this spiral sheet. This firing triggers certain nerve cells which send electrical signals from the ear to the base of the brain then up to the cortex.
    The membrane where hair and nerve fibers meet is wound into a three-turn spiral, thick at its inside and thinning toward the outside whorl. This is compared to guitar strings. In both ears and strings, the thick part is tuned to low frequencies, the thinner part to higher frequencies.
    At the highest station, the auditory cortex, just above our ears, these firing cells generate the conscious experience of music. Different patterns of firing excite other ensembles of cells, and these associate the sound of music with feelings, thoughts, and past experiences.

    Mind and Music: Any sound, be it the music of a violin or the rhythmic pattern of rain on the rooftop is composed of vibrations is the air surrounding us. Our outer ear behaves as an antenna that receives captures and funnels these sound vibrations (waves) into the middle ear. The captured waves vibrate the eardrum and tiny bones of the middle ear to amplify and pass the sound to the inner ear. The inner ear's cochlea (i.e., a fluid-filled coil lined with neurons) converts the mechanical energy of these vibrations into electrical energy and transmits it to the brain. As the transformed sound waves move through the brain, they generate motor responses, emotions, hormone release and higher order processes (e.g., recognition and memory recall). In other words, the brain guides the body's response (e.g., physiological, emotional, biochemical, etc.) depending on the sound pattern. For example, a loud noise may frighten us, while the sound of ocean waves may calm us.

    How does Music therapy work? The universe is musical and so is every existence in this universe. To understand this concept better, let us define Music. Music is a pattern composed of rhythmic vibrations. Music can be defined in simple words as "organized sound”. A general definition may best be given as "sounds and pitches organized in time to create a chosen artistic pattern.” Music is hence a collection of vibrations. Any object in this universe will have a natural frequency with which it vibrates. Our body is a pool of energy components. Each part, every organ is a symphony of sound, energy and frequencies. From our discussion so far, we understand that every organ would resonate at its own natural frequency which determines its healthy state. If it does not vibrate with its natural frequency, it shows that the particular organ or part is “not at ease” or what we call “dis ease” (disease).The vibrational power of music is said to remove the blockages in the veins, naadis … and progressively tune the organs to vibrate at resonance. Music therapy is based on this vibrational medicine.

    The important question that would occur to anyone at the point of reading this article would be “Is everyone Musical”? We cannot expect a person to be musical to make the therapy work for him/her. Music is such an art that everyone would be pulled into its magical sphere. It’s the rhythm, the repetitiveness that mesmerizes everyone. One need not be trained or talented to become a member of the music family. Human brain is very receptive to repetitive patterns and the main characteristic of music is its repetitiveness. This explains that everyone is musical by nature.

    There are 5 different wings in Music.

    1. Hearing
    2. Listening
    3. Voice tuning
    4. Singing
    5. Composition

    Each of the above will/can influence a person in its own way.
    ->Hearing is for mere entertainment.
    ->Listening to music would take one to the depths of the territory of music and would give a soothing feel and would take him/her to the joyful bliss.
    ->Voice tuning is the easiest way to relaxation where we hum with a song running in the background.
    ->Singing gives the benefit of music in totality.
    ->Music composition is a technique given to cure people with mental disabilities. The act of composition would clear out the mental blockage as the emotions and the disturbing thoughts would flow out as verses and free their mind.

    Raga Therapy in India: Ancient Indian music has devised a special therapy based on the 72 ragas. It is appropriate to define Raga at this point. Raga is neither melody alone, not notes; neither scale nor mode. It’s an ensemble of all these.
    According to an ancient Indian text, Swara Shastra, the seventy-two melakarta ragas (parent ragas) control seventy-two important nerves in the body. It is believed that a person who sings/performs a raga bound to the raga specifications (lakshanas) and with purity in pitch (swara shuddi) will have complete control on the corresponding nerve.
    To quote a few, for those who suffer from hypertension, ragas such as Ahirbhairav and Todi are prescribed. To control anger and bring down violence within oneself, Carnatic ragas like Punnagavarali, Sahana and so on, come handy. Not only psychological, but the somatic or physiological impact of ragas have come to light in recent research. For instance, stomach-related disorders are said to be cured with some Hindustani ragas such as Deepak (acidity) and Jaunpuri (constipation) and Malkauns or Hindolam (intestinal gas and fever). Simple iterative musical rhythms with low pitched swaras, as in bhajans are capable of relaxation, as observed with the alpha-levels of the brain waves. They may also lead to favourable hormonal changes in the system.
    On the therapeutic side, nothing new is to be invented. We just have to know how to knock the hidden goldmine. There is an urgent need for a detailed enquiry based on scientific parameters and the medicinal effects of Music. No doubt, it’s a long journey, but worth to start off. There is a growing awareness that ragas could complement or even be a safe alternative for many medical interventions. For this purpose, it is necessary that exponents in Indian ragas join experts in medicine to help evolve a scientific system of raga therapy for the various illnesses of modern times.

    Science of Music: Of all the arts, music has had most to rely upon a scientific and mathematical analysis.
    The first energy that came into existence was that of sound in the form of the all pervading OM! This sound permeates throughout ether and affects the surroundings as per its nature and situation.
    Centuries ago Indian sages and musicians studied the intricacies of music and fixed the seven notes of music i.e. Sa- Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni which remain unaltered till date. So intricate is the science of music that no one in the world has been able to create a single note of music other than the seven notes that are in vogue. And all the existing ragas and even any new ragas that could be found in future would, for sure be bound to these 7 notes.

    To conclude the first edition of my paper, I would like to quote this instance of Music therapy which I read in an article. This was a case study in a newborn intensive care unit where they found that playing lullabies with drum beats at the rate of the heartbeat can be so beneficial to premature infants that they are discharged as much as two weeks earlier than babies who aren't serenaded.

    For all those who still believe these are just miracles and have no scientific base, here is a simple yet meaningful quote:
    “Music is sound and sound is a composition of waves. Waves are a form of energy and energy can do anything”

    Revathi S.

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Reference : Dr. T.V.Sairam's research on Raga therapy

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