"The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul." - Johann Sebastian Bach
Devoting decades to the study of how music impacts the brain, leading neuromusicologist Dr. Arthur Harvey has a suggestion for anyone seeking to alleviate stress in their lives - play a Johann Sebastian Bach CD.
It seems that the exquisite music of baroque composers like J.S. Bach is especially effective for helping balance our brains.
Four Seasons Resort Maui photo
"Of all the music we tested in medical school with patients, colleagues and others, Bach's music consistently made the brain work in a balanced way," says Dr. Harvey, who will present a series of talks next weekend at the Four Seasons Resort Maui.
So what makes the music of one of the greatest composers of all time so beneficial for our well-being?
"What makes baroque music particularly unique, more so than any other music, is balance," he explains. "Bach, Handle, Vivaldi, Corelli and others have a balance between dissonance and consonance, and that balance is very critical in the brain."
Dr. Arthur Harvey will present a talk on Sept. 18 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Resort Maui on Music's Adaptive Techniques useful in combating autism, ADHD, Alzheimers disease and aging. Reception with pupu and cocktails from 4 to 5 p.m. included. Tickets are $45, to benefit Autism Bridges Maui organization.
He will present three one-hour talks on "Music for Your Health" at 10 a.m. on Sept. 16 (on Pain Management), Sept 17 (on Insomnia), and on Sept. 19 (on Heart Disease). Individual talks cost $25 to non-guests.
Dr. Harvey will also offer intensive and experiential one-on-one private sessions in The Spa, at $155 per 50-minute session.
For more information, call 874-8000.
Baroque music also typically has a balance between homophonic and polyphonic textures.
"The left hemisphere of the brain is a digital processor, and chords that are homophonic are processed very much in the left hemisphere of the brain," he continues. "Music that is polyphonic, with many things going on at the same time, tends to be processed in the right hemisphere. So both hemispheres get stimulation in a balanced way, and that makes a big difference in how the brain's working and how the whole musculature system tends to work. Your brain is activated on both sides.
"Another thing about baroque music is that there's a balance between the sacred and secular. If there's a balance between them you're meeting a human-psychic-emotional-spiritual need in a way that other genres don't do as effectively."
And there's the element of rhythm.
"The genius of Bach and others in that era is the balance between music that's around 60 beats a minute, which is the slower, calming, alpha-state music, and 90 to 110 beats a minute, which is the beta-state music."
To help promote wellness, Harvey has compiled two recordings, "Bach for the Morning" and "Handel for Sleeping."
"A lot of people I know, aside from in hospitals and nursing homes, use them in their businesses," he reports. "The Bach recording is sequenced in tempo and uses a process of music therapy called entertainment where the pieces get faster. It awakens you gently and gradually, and because there's a balance between dissonance and consonance, it's not stress producing. We tested them in hospitals, and they work."
Dr. Harvey also created a recording of Hawaiian songs with a heartbeat tempo, "Island Sounds, Healing Heart," to help seniors with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
"Hawaiian music has orderly and predictable patterns that tend to be calming," he explains. "Someone like Brother Iz, besides the emotional content of singing and beauty of his voice, the majority of his songs are near resting heart rate (62 beats a minute), in the lower frequency."
Formerly a professor with the Department of Music at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Dr. Harvey currently teaches a course on Music as Therapy at Kapiolani Community College. He is a past president of the Hawaii Music Educators Association, and is internationally known as an authority on music for special-needs individuals, music and learning, and music and health, providing training and addressing conferences in many nations including Japan, China, Thailand, India, Morocco, Australia, England, Germany and Venezuela.
As a practicing musician, he has served as a marching band director, orchestra conductor and choir director, and plays 35 instruments.
On Saturday evening at the Four Seasons, Dr. Harvey will speak on the topic of Music's Adaptive Techniques useful in combating autism, ADHD, Alzheimer's disease and aging.
"My background is in music and psychology and the study of music's effect on the brain, and I've worked with special-education students for almost 45 years," he says. "I've had a real passion to understand why music affects people the way it does. On Saturday night I will be helping people understand some of the process involved in what causes music to affect the brain the way it does. I started working with children with autism way back in the '70s, and I'll show how music totally changed the lives of these students. Music was a way they could express themselves. It's a sharing evening, hopefully encouraging to parents and caregivers."
In recent years a number of studies have shed light on music's positive impact on children and adults.
Brigham Young researchers found that when a group of kids with ADHD, ages 7 to 17, listened to three 40-minute recordings of classical music a week, their brain waves moved to higher levels that allowed them to focus more on tasks while they listened. And 70 percent of the kids continued to show improvement from regular music sessions six months later.
Northwestern University researchers found that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem's sensitivity to speech sounds, indicating that experience with music at a young age in effect can "fine-tune" the brain's auditory system. Learning to play an instrument has major advantages for a growing brain and should be a key part of school education, concluded neuroscientist Professor Nina Kraus.
A study in the journal Social Science Quarterly revealed that music participation, defined as music lessons taken in or out of school and parents attending concerts with their children, has a positive effect on reading and mathematic achievement in early childhood and adolescence.
The UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing reported that listening to music can reduce chronic pain by up to 21 percent and depression by up to 25 percent.
Israeli researchers have found that playing live music helps sooth premature babies. They slept more deeply and had a reduced heart rate after hearing a live female voice and harp. And a Tel Aviv University study found that premature babies exposed to music by Mozart gained weight faster and became stronger than those who didn't listen.
"The repetitive melodies in Mozart's music may be affecting the organizational centers of the brain's cortex," reported one of the scientists.
University of California researchers reported that college students temporarily raised their IQs while listening to a Mozart piano sonata before certain tasks. The music stimulated spatial intelligence prior to mathematical tasks, analysis, organizing, planning, systematizing, problem solving or computer work.
It seems Mozart's music even soothes municipal sewage.
The U.K. Guardian reported a German sewage-treatment plant is saving $1,200 a month by using the music of Mozart to motivate microbes to break down waste faster.
"We think the secret is in the vibrations of the music, which penetrate everything-including the water, the sewage and the cells," said the chief operator. "It creates a certain resonance that stimulates the microbes and helps them to work better." He suggested Mozart works because the composer "managed to transpose universal laws of nature into his music."
Summarizing the research Dr. Harvey concludes: "We know that listening to certain music that is better balanced, less dissonant and more organized is going to have an effect on how your brain organizes. I wrote a book called 'Learn With The Classics,' and essentially it's an explanation of what makes classical-type music affect the brain differently, and how it can be an aid to learning and studying."
So if the music of classical composers like Bach and Mozart aids brain functioning and wellness, is some music detrimental?
Volume is a critical element, he emphasizes.
"Music, including classical, that is too loud has a detrimental effect on our auditory system. Music that is moderately loud, around 90 decibels, can be listened to for eight hours without causing nerve damage. If you increase that by only three decibels, it cuts the time in half, to four hours. With 96 decibels, it cuts it to two hours, and 99 is one hour. If you're up to 120, which is rock concerts, you're causing auditory loss.
"Quite a few years ago a study found 17 percent of kids had lost up to 40 percent of hearing. Now they're finding that percentage is higher."
Apart from loudness, the degree of dissonance in music can be detrimental.
"A significant amount of dissonance stimulates our brain and automatic nervous system to produce chemicals," he explains. "It activates adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. If they're sustained they have real, serious damage. Music that doesn't have a good balance between consonance and dissonance, primarily dissonance, can start making your body produce a lot of adrenalin, and after you've had it a while, the brain habituates to stimuli so you have to go louder, faster and closer, and with too much adrenalin your memory starts to be affected. That's why kids who listen to too much heavy metal music often don't do as well in school.
"The body needs to have non-dissonant sounds in order to cause the brain to go back and forth like it needs to between alpha and beta, and right and left, the important balance I'll be talking about during the course of the weekend."