Music & Memory
Published on August 14, 2017
We are a certified participant of the Music & Memory Program, it’s fitting that one of our residents wrote a story on Music & Memory and the benefits. Please enjoy another piece from our resident, Ray.
Singing is bringing new life to people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and related mental disorders—even to those who never sang before. It brings people out of isolation, gives them a sense of connection and improves communication skills.
No solid neuroscience explanation exists, but it is no doubt highly relevant that the same brain structure, the hippocampus, mediates both emotions and memory formation. Music affects both memory and emotions.
Many revealing scientific experiments, studies, and research projects have been performed to try to discover the extent of the power of music. Up until 1970, most of the research done on music had to do with studying the effects of the beat of the music. It was found that slow music could slow the heartbeat and the breathing rate as well as bring down blood pressure. Faster music was found to speed up these same body measurements.
The key component of music that makes it beneficial is order. The order of the music from the baroque and classical periods causes the brain to respond in special ways. This order includes repetition and changes, certain patterns of rhythm, and pitch and mood contrasts. One key ingredient to the order of music from the baroque and classical periods is math. This is realized by the body and the human mind performs better when listening to this ordered music.
One shining example of the power of order in music is King George I of England. King George had problems with memory loss and stress management. He read from the Bible the story of King Saul and recognized that Saul had experienced the same type of problems that he was experiencing. George recognized that Saul overcame his problems by using special music. With this story in mind King George asked George Frederick Handel to write some special music for him that would help him in the same way that music helped Saul. Handel wrote his Water Music for this purpose.
Another key to the order in music is the music being the same and different. The brain works by looking at different pieces of information and deciding if they are different or the same. This is done in music of the baroque and classical periods by playing a theme and then repeating or changing the theme. The repetition is only done once. More than one repetition causes the music to become displeasing, and also causes a person to either enter a state of sub-conscious thinking or a state of anger. Dr. Ballam goes on to say that, “The human mind shuts down after three or four repetitions of a rhythm, or a melody, or a harmonic progression.” Furthermore, excessive repetition causes people to release control of their thoughts. Rhythmic repetition is used by people who are trying to push certain ethics in their music.
An Australian physician and psychiatrist, Dr. John Diamond, found a direct link between muscle strength/weakness and music. He discovered that all of the muscles in the entire body go weak when subjected to the “stopped anapestic beat” of music from hard rock musicians, including Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Queen, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Bachman – Turner Overdrive, and The Band. Dr. Diamond found another effect of the anapestic beat. He called it a “switching” of the brain. Dr. Diamond said this switching occurs when the actual symmetry between both of the cerebral hemispheres is destroyed causing alarm in the body along with lessened work performance, learning and behavior problems in children, and a “general malaise in adults.” In addition to harmful, irregular beats in rock music, shrill frequencies prove to also be harmful to the body.
On Animals and Plants, Too!
Tests on the effects of music on living organisms besides humans have shown that special pieces of music (including The Blue Danube) aid hens in laying more eggs. Music can also help cows to yield more milk. Researchers from Canada and the former Soviet Union found that wheat will grow faster when exposed to special ultrasonic and musical sounds. Rats were tested by psychologists to see how they would react to Bach’s music and rock music. The rats were placed into two different boxes. Rock music was played in one of the boxes while Bach’s music was played in the other box. The rats could choose to switch boxes through a tunnel that connected both boxes. Almost all of the rats chose to go into the box with the Bach music even after the type of music was switched from one box to the other.
Research took a new avenue when in 1968 a college student, Dorthy Retallack, started researching the effects of music on plants. She took her focus off of studying the beat and put it on studying the different sounds of music. Retallack tested the effects of music on plant growth by using music styles including classical, jazz, pop, rock, acid rock, East Indian, and country. She found that the plants grew well for almost every type of music except rock and acid rock. Jazz, classical, and Ravi Shankar turned out to be the most helpful to the plants. However, the plants tested with the rock music withered and died. The acid rock music also had negative effects on the plant growth.
One cannot deny the power of music. High school students who study music tend to have higher grade point averages than those who don’t. These students also develop faster physically. Student listening skills are also improved through music education. Napoleon understood the enormous power of music. He summed it up by saying, “Give me control over he who shapes the music of a nation, and I care not who makes the laws” .
During the Vietnam War, soldiers in uniform were attacked with eggs, tomatoes, and spit upon in California. Public attitude changed for the better over night when the song “Okie from Muskogee” became popular.
My wife suffers from vascular dementia. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Richter, recommended that she sing popular songs from the 1930-1970 era regularly in a group to help her memory.
How well you sing is of little importance if you sing in a group—that you sing is important. Even waking with a song will help to make your day—there should b a song about that! There probably is.