What follows are excerpts from Pop Music and Morality by Lex de Azevado:
The issue of music's influence on bodily functions is not completely a product of modern scientific research. Many ancient peoples used music as a healing agent; in fact, in many mythologies, the god of music is also the god of medicine.
In recent years, a vast number of studies have substantiated these ancient beliefs, demonstrating music's effect on a myriad of bodily functions and on performances of physical activity, including: pulse rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, brain wave impulses, muscle response, finger coordination, reading speed and comprehension, arithmetic skills, responses to medical operations, bicycle skills, basketball techniques, and more.
Music as a tool in the treatment of disturbed individuals has been the subject of literally thousands of studies. In fact, the National Association of Musical Therapy (NAMT) even awards an RMT (Registered Musical Therapist) degree. Between 1960 and 1976, over 2,000 articles were published in 422 different periodicals on the topic of musical therapy.
Not surprisingly, some believe that the music and noise in our homes directly influence our mental and physical health. Dr. Steven Halpern, lecturing at the University of North California's Asheville campus [in 1978] stated that every molecule in our body gives off and receives vibrations with a certain frequency. He claims that our internal organs combine to give constant "biosymphony" within our bodies.
When we find music that is in tune with our bodies, we fell less stress and more serenity. The sounds of nature as well as the flute, harp, electric piano, bells, and such meditative and invigorating works as Bach's B Minor Mass all harmonize with the natural vibrations of our bodies.
The constant whir of a refrigerator, on the other hand, can gradually wear on our inner calm until we become stressed, cranky, hungry, and unhealthy, even though we are not conscious of that background noise. Loud, dissonant, or vigorous music (even Beethoven's) does not encourage meditation or inner calm. Dr. Halpern claims that we must maintain our resistance to harsh, harmful noise by filling our minds regularly with strengthening music.
How does music wield this tremendous influence? The answer seems to lie in the power of rhythm.
More than any other element of music -- more than melody, harmony, dynamics, or instrumentation -- it is rhythm which elicits a powerful physical response from man. It is rhythm that determines whether our toes will tap, our fingers snap, our hands clap, our feet march, our bodies sway and jerk, or our minds relax into deep contemplation. Whatever our response to a particular piece of music, rhythm is usually the instigator.
Although all music has rhythm, not all music has a strongly marked pulse. Some music has no pulse at all. Music with a weak pulse tends to elicit a passive response from the listener and is often helpful in encouraging meditative and contemplative moods, reverence, or even sleep. It can tranquilize. Lullabies, hymns, chorales, and legato string music tend to produce this effect.
At the other end of the spectrum, vigorous music with a strongly marked pulse such as marches, dances, and even Beethoven's fiery works, is not music to meditate by. Throughout the ages, composers of all styles of music have recognized and exploited the physical and emotional power of rhythm. It is rhythm which gives energy and vitality to "Hallelujah Chorus" of Handel's Messiah. Interestingly enough, the straight eighth note rhythm of the "Hallelujah Chorus" also forms the foundation of much of today's rock music. Composers of both sacred and popular music can use a strong pulse to excite an audience. At one extreme of the rhythmic spectrum lies music with such an intense pulse (strengthened by electronic amplification) that it discourages intellectual activity and sweeps aside normal mental inhibitions in favor of a purely physical response.
Recent studies have even suggested that certain marked beats may actually weaken our muscles. Dr. john Diamond discovered that certain kinds of music could actually weaken the music could actually weaken the muscles of his test subjects. He contends that while the average deltoid muscle (the one that holds up your arm) can normally withstand forty to forty-five pounds of pressure, it can withstand only about fifteen pounds while certain rock music is played. He theorizes that this is the result of the rock rhythm.
A force so powerful that it can influence our hearts, our glands, and our muscles is a force to be reckoned with. Throughout history, music has been used in religious ceremonies, on the battlefield, in hospitals and schoolrooms, in industry, advertising, and politics as a potent persuasive tool. From the ten-month old baby who bounces to a beat even though he or she can neither walk nor talk, to the aged person who seeks solace in edifying and contemplative music, we are all subject to its power. Music has found so many uses and purposes because of one simple fact. It can influence people's lives.
More to come. . . .