Courtesy: Dr A.K. Sharma Image Credit:

Music not only soothes the soul but it can help provide relief to certain physical and mental symptoms in the body, according to a neurologist.

Though music therapy has been a part manlond’s culture since centuries (Hippacrates, the Greek father of medcine is said to have played music to help his patients heal faster), it was after the World Warrs that the Western socieites began hanrnessing the skills of music players as they travelled to hospitals where the wounded and depressed soldiers lay, helping them come out of their emotional trauma

Today, in the West, almost all universities, says Dr Arun Kumar Sharma, specialist neurologist, t Al Zahra Medical Centre, Dubai, have a music therapy department.

“The university (hospital) patients are assessed by neurologists and psychologists and are given certain pieces of music to listen to which they can load on to their ipod or any music storage device,” he says.

But the scientific study that made the West sit up and take notice was done by Dr Frances Rauscher (University of Wisconsin), who found that normal subjects showed significant better spatial-temporal reasoning skills after listening to a particular piece of music such as Mozart’s sonata (K448) for 10 minutes.The study was done in 1993, and again in 1995, and was published in the prestigious journal, Nature. The effect music has on spatial reasoning, called the Mozart Effect (a term coined by Dr Alfred Tomatis, an otolaryngologist and inventor, in his book , Pourqoui Mozart? (Why Mozart?) in 1991. (An otolaryngologist is a specialist in the disease of the ear, nose and throat).

The Mozart Effect is today used in a variety of non-musical applications, from healing clinics to the classroom.

Spatial reasoning is a key area for thought processing and thinking in humans. It is this skill we all use when we are confronted by a complexity of a task we have to perform in a given period of time. For example, if we have to fold a piece of papar into the shape of a plane in a limited amount of time, we use spatial reasoning to go forward. Should we fold the left corner first or the right? Dealing with the range of options and deciding which one will take us to the successful end result is what spatial reasoninh helps us do. The more developed this skill is, the fater we achieve results. (Spatial is distant or size, and temporal is time-related).

Why does Mozart’s music have a boosting effect on this area? “Because of its repetitive melody,” says Dr Sharma. The music, he says, seems to affect the organisational architecture in the cerebral cortex of the brain.

Studies are still going on to understand this phenomenon and in 2001, American psychologist Professor William Forde Thompson and his team conducted research in the University of Toronto, Canada, on the Mozart Effect.

In this study, tudents were made to listen to Mozart’s piano sonata as well as to other classical music such as the Adagio. The experiment lasted over two years. It was found that students fared better in spatial-temporal reasoning tasks when listening to Mozart as compared to listening to Adagio, a piece that is performed slowly.

The study concluded that any sort of enjoyable stimulus has a positive effect on an person’s performance.

Of course, this is not a definitve, final conclusion, says Dr Sharma. More studies are being done.

In his own field, Dr Sharma is trying to bring music therapy to the region and advises migraine patients to listen to certain pieces of classical music, such as Chopin’s Piano Concertos.

In his own study which he conducted from 1997 to 2010, Dr Sharma advised his patients suffering from migraine to listen to Chopin’s Prelude No. 7, which he had downloaded and given to them on a USB stick. “The patients generally had eight to 10 migraine episodes a year and it was noted that they became more calmer after listening to the prelude and their pain was much reduced,” he says.

The doctor presented his findings at a conference of the European Federation of Neurological Society in Amsterdam in 2011. He plans to publish a paper on his study.

Listening to classical music, he believes, changes and transform’s one’s life. “You stop becoming aggressive and your psychological horizons expand and you start to appreciate the finer things in life.”

Music also helps brings down stress levels and helps in controlling heart beat. “It has been proven that listening to classical music increases the level of melatonin and decreases the adrenaline levels and blood pressure,” says Dr Sharma. (Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate the body’s internal clock). This study was done by A.M. Kumar from University of Miami to investigate why music therapy increases the levels of the serum melatonin in patients of Alzheimer’s.

Other research shows that music helps in other ways too. Foetal problems, such as a baby not growing properly inside the mother’s womb, showed an improvements when exposed to music. When mothers listen to classical music, it was found that theier babies gained weight. “This was significant enough to be mentioned in a paper published in Science, a prestigious journal,” says Dr Sharma.

Babies, when exposed to 30 minutes of Mozart’s music daily, grew rapidly as compared to other premature babies not exposed to this music. Other studies have shown that when a nursing mother was made to listen to classical music, her milk production increased.

“It’s not exactly clear how the music is affecting them,” says Dr Sharma, “but it makes them calmer and less likely to be agitated,” But he said more investigation was needed.

Music also has a positive effect on patients with epilepsy. Dr John Jenkins from the University of London in 2001, found that when patients with myoclonic epilepsy were made to listen to classical music, the number of convulsions, and their severity, were significantly reduced. (Myoclonic epilepsy causes the patient to have sudden jerks of the muscles in the arms, legs, face or the whole body.)

Technology is playing a big rolein helping scientists and experts quantify the effects of music on people. With the PET scans and the Bold MRI, it is possible today to calculate how the brain responds to music. If, for example, someone has MS (Multiple Sclerosis, a neurological condition that may create symptoms of fatigue and difficulties in walking), or autism, the scans will show which particular areas in the brain the music affects positively, says Dr Sharma. (PET is Positron Emission Tomography, a nuclear medical imaging technique that produces a 3-D image of how parts of the body work. Bold MRI is Blood Oxygen Level-Dependent Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

The problem however, according to Dr Sharma, is that many people prefer to listen to other kinds of music rather than classical. “Everyone wants to listen to fast, chaotic music,” he says. A trend he hopes will change in favour of the timeless appeal of classical music, which increasingly, is being seen to also possess therapuetic qualities.