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Classical Music Brain

November 14, 2012 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Dr. Abraham Maslow, the famous and influential psychologist, once quipped: “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. If you go to see a doctor or health coach that has a particular specialty, they’ll usually make recommendations based on their personal training. And, if their “prescriptions”, whether allopathic or holistic, aren’t effective, the client or patient is left without a solution unless he sees another expert who offers a different perspective. Some of the people who don’t find solutions to their health concerns end up seeking out alternatives from consultants like me. Recently, a client in his late 70’s contacted me about natural methods of improving cognition and nervousness. But, as is often the case, this gentleman was already taking many positive steps to address his concerns – a reasonably healthy diet, adequate sleep, exercise, supplements, etc. Also, I was made aware that he wasn’t keen on the idea of daily meditation. He had tried it many times before and simply couldn’t or wouldn’t stick with it.

In this particular situation, I was a given an unexpected gift by my client. During the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he enjoyed listening to classical music. He considered it a pleasant and relaxing diversion. Bingo! This revelation opened the door to trying something old as a new form of therapy. Classical music can be therapeutic if it’s used in a therapeutic manner, such as listening on a daily basis for a set amount of time. The exact composition and time required varies from person to person. However, a good starting point is to set aside enough time to listen to a relaxing segment from a classical piece twice daily. In essence, you replace a typical meditation schedule (15 to 20 minutes, early and late in the day) with this form of musical therapy. Adjustments can and should be made based on your experience and preferences and/or guidance provided by those assisting with your health care.

For all interested parties, it’s important to note that scientific support for this mind-body approach can be found in the medical literature. Studies dating back to the 1960’s confirm that classical music positively affects both cognition (attention, learning, memory) and emotional states (motivation, recovery from stress, reduced anxiety) in a variety of patient populations. For instance, a trial appearing in the October 2007 issue of the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research reports that listening to excerpts of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” enhances working memory in older adults. There’s even been research conducted in surgeons that reveals that classical music improves surgical accuracy. The primary mechanism likely has to do a decline in cortisol, a stress hormone that can negatively influence brain function and many aspects of well being including cardiovascular and immunological status. Because of this, a recent review in the International Journal of Critical Illness & Injury Science concluded that the music of classical composers, “particularly Bach, Mozart, or Italian composers” should be utilized in hospital settings – even extending to intensive care units.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Does Music Enhance Cognitive Performance in Healthy Older Adults? (link)

Study 2 – The Effect of Defined Auditory Conditions Versus Mental Loading (link)

Study 3 – Music Can Facilitate Blood Pressure Recovery from Stress (link)

Study 4 – Influence of Music Training on Academic Examination-Induced Stress (link)

Study 5 – The Effects of Music on the Cardiovascular System and Cardiovascular (link)

Certain Classical Compositions May Improve Concentration and Depression

Source: Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci. 2012 Jan;2(1):27-31. (link)

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Memory, Mental Health

10 Comments & Updates to “Classical Music Brain”

  1. Paul F. Says:

    Hi John Paul,

    Thank you for researching this valuable alternative!

    Dr. Abraham Maslow would be proud of you! Me too!

    Paul F.

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Paul! I appreciate your support! And, I’m hope you’re right about Dr. Maslow. It would have been interesting to interview him. 😉

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Update: Classical music my promote healthier surgical recovery …


    Pediatr Rep. 2014 Sep 29;6(3):5534.

    Music benefits on postoperative distress and pain in pediatric day care surgery.

    Postoperative effect of music listening has not been established in pediatric age. Response on postoperative distress and pain in pediatric day care surgery has been evaluated. Forty-two children were enrolled. Patients were randomly assigned to the music-group (music intervention during awakening period) or the non-music group (standard postoperative care). Slow and fast classical music and pauses were recorded and played via ambient speakers. Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, glucose and cortisol levels, faces pain scale and Face, Legs, Activity, Cry, Consolability (FLACC) Pain Scale were considered as indicators of response to stress and pain experience. Music during awakening induced lower increase of systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. The non-music group showed progressive increasing values of glycemia; in music-group the curve of glycemia presented a plateau pattern (P<0.001). Positive impact on reactions to pain was noted using the FLACC scale. Music improves cardiovascular parameters, stress-induced hyperglycemia. Amelioration on pain perception is more evident in older children. Positive effects seems to be achieved by the alternation of fast, slow rhythms and pauses even in pediatric age.

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Update 04/29/15:


    Atherosclerosis. 2015 May;240(1):184-9.

    Music decreases aortic stiffness and wave reflections.

    OBJECTIVE: Music has been related to cardiovascular health and used as adjunct therapy in patients with cardiovascular disease. Aortic stiffness and wave reflections are predictors of cardiovascular risk. We investigated the short-term effect of classical and rock music on arterial stiffness and wave reflections.

    METHODS: Twenty healthy individuals (22.5 ± 2.5 years) were studied on three different occasions and listened to a 30-min music track compilation (classical, rock, or no music for the sham procedure).

    RESULTS: Both classical and rock music resulted in a decrease of carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (PWV) immediately after the end of music listening (all p < 0.01). Augmentation index (AIx) decreased with either classical or rock music in a more sustained way (nadir by 6.0% and 5.8%, respectively, at time zero post-music listening, all p < 0.01). When music preference was taken into consideration, both classical and rock music had a more potent effect on PWV in classical aficionados (by 0.20 m/s, p = 0.003 and 0.13 m/s, p = 0.015, respectively), whereas there was no effect in rock aficionados (all p = NS). Regarding wave reflections, classical music led to a more potent response in classical aficionados (AIx decrease by 9.45%), whereas rock led to a more potent response to rock aficionados (by 10.7%, all p < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Music, both classical and rock, decreases aortic stiffness and wave reflections. Effect on aortic stiffness lasts for as long as music is listened to, while classical music has a sustained effect on wave reflections. These findings may have important implications, extending the spectrum of lifestyle modifications that can ameliorate arterial function. Be well! JP

  5. JP Says:

    Update 06/13/15:


    J Affect Disord. 2015 Apr 11;184:13-17.

    Music therapy as an adjunct to standard treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder and co-morbid anxiety and depression: A randomized clinical trial.

    BACKGROUND: Previous studies have highlighted the potential therapeutic benefits of music therapy as an adjunct to standard care, in a variety of psychiatric ailments including mood and anxiety disorders. However, the role of music in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have not been investigated to date.

    METHODS: In a single-center, parallel-group, randomized clinical trial (NCT02314195) 30 patients with OCD were randomly assigned to standard treatment (pharmacotherapy and cognitive-behavior therapy) plus 12 sessions of individual music therapy (n=15) or standard treatment only (n=15) for one month. Maudsley Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Depression Inventory-Short Form were administered baseline and after one month.

    RESULTS: Thirty patients completed the study. Music therapy resulted in a greater decrease in total obsessive score (post-intervention score: music therapy+standard treatment: 12.4±1.9 vs standard treatment only: 15.1±1.7, p<0.001, effect size=56.7%). For subtypes, significant between-group differences were identified for checking (p=0.004), and slowness (p=0.019), but not for washing or responsibility. Music therapy was significantly more effective in reducing anxiety (post-intervention score: music therapy+standard treatment: 16.9±7.4 vs standard treatment only: 22.9±4.6, p<0.001, effect size=47.0%), and depressive symptoms (post-intervention score: music therapy+standard treatment: 10.8±3.8 vs standard treatment: 17.1±3.7, p<0.001, effect size=47.0%).

    LIMITATIONS: Inclusion of a small sample size, lack of blinding due to the nature of the intervention, short duration of follow-up.

    CONCLUSION: In patients with OCD, music therapy, as an adjunct to standard care, seems to be effective in reducing obsessions, as well as co-morbid anxiety and depressive symptoms.

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Updated 09/14/15:


    Women Health. 2015 Sep 11.

    Effects of Music Listening on Stress, Anxiety and Sleep Quality for Sleep Disturbed Pregnant Women.

    Prenatal sleep disturbance has been associated with undesirable birthing outcomes. To determine the effectiveness in improving sleep quality of listening to music at home, 121 Taiwanese pregnant women with poor sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index; PSQI score > 5) were systematically assigned, with a random start to music listening (n = 61) or control (n = 60) group. Participants in the music listening group self-regulated listening to music in addition to receiving general prenatal care similar to that in the control group for two weeks. The PSQI, Perceived Stress Scale, and State- Anxiety Inventory were used to assess outcomes. ANCOVA analyses were used with the pretest scores as covariates and showed significant improvement in sleep quality, stress, and anxiety in the Music Listening group compared with control group. The most frequently used music genre by participants in the experimental group was Lullabies, followed by Classical music and Crystal Baby music. This study supported that two-week music listenin interventions may reduce stress, anxiety and yield better sleep quality for sleep-disturbed pregnant women. The analysis of participants’ journals also implied that the expectant mothers’ choices on musical genres may correlate more with the perceived prenatal benefits or the desire to interact with their unborn child.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 12/17/15:


    J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Dec 15.

    Effects of Music Therapy on the Cardiovascular and Autonomic Nervous System in Stress-Induced University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

    OBJECTIVE: Stress is caused when a particular relationship between the individual and the environment emerges. Specifically, stress occurs when an individual’s abilities are challenged or when one’s well-being is threatened by excessive environmental demands. The aim of this study was to measure the effects of music therapy on stress in university students.

    DESIGN: Randomized controlled trial.

    PARTICIPANTS: Sixty-four students were randomly assigned to the experimental group (n = 33) or the control group (n = 31).

    INTERVENTION: Music therapy.

    OUTCOME MEASURES: Initial measurement included cardiovascular indicators (blood pressure and pulse), autonomic nervous activity (standard deviation of the normal-to-normal intervals [SDNN], normalized low frequency, normalized high frequency, low/high frequency), and subjective stress. After the first measurement, participants in both groups were exposed to a series of stressful tasks, and then a second measurement was conducted. The experimental group then listened to music for 20 minutes and the control group rested for 20 minutes. A third and final measurement was then taken.

    RESULTS: There were no significant differences between the two groups in the first or second measurement. However, after music therapy, the experimental group and the control group showed significant differences in all variables, including systolic blood pressure (p = .026), diastolic blood pressure (p = .037), pulse (p < .001), SDNN (p = .003), normalized low frequency (p < .001), normalized high frequency (p = .010), and subjective stress (p = .026). CONCLUSION: Classical music tends to relax the body and may stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. These results suggest music therapy as an intervention for stress reduction. Be well! JP

  8. JP Says:

    Updated 04/07/16:


    Pediatr Neurol Briefs. 2015 Aug;29(8):59.

    Does Listening to Mozart benefit Children with Severe Epilepsy?

    Investigators from the Universities of Salerno and Perugio, Italy, studied the effect of listening to a set of Mozart’s compositions on sleep quality, behavior, and seizure recurrence in 11 outpatients (7 males and 4 females), between 1.5 and 21 years of age (mean age, 11.9 years), with drug-resistant epilepsy. All patients had severe intellectual disability and cerebral palsy. They listened to Mozart 2 h per day for 15 days for a total of 30 h. The music was filtered by a device that delivered higher sound frequencies (>3000 Hz). A variety of Mozart musical compositions presented to each patient included symphonies 41 and 46, piano concerto 22 (k482), violin concertos 1 and 4, and flute concerto (k314). During music therapy, 3 patients had a seizure reduction of 75-89%, and 2 out of 11 patients had a reduction of 50-75% in seizure recurrence. The average seizure reduction for all patients was 48.4 +/- 48.7% (p = 0.02). In the two weeks after the end of music therapy, the percentage decrease of total seizure number compared with base-line was 20.7%. The majority (10/11) had multiple EEG foci; occipital/bioccipital discharges were present in 20% of responders and in 66.7% of nonresponders. Responders had an increased frequency of extra occipital EEG discharges and a relative paucity of occipital discharges. Nighttime sleep was improved in 4 (36.4%) patients, all seizure responders. All responders showed improvement in behavior.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 01/16/17:


    J Chin Med Assoc. 2016 Nov 23.

    Effect of music on level of anxiety in patients undergoing colonoscopy without sedation.

    BACKGROUND: Listening to music can be a noninvasive method for reducing the anxiety level without any adverse effects. The aim of this study was to explore whether music can reduce anxiety and to compare two different styles of music, informal classical music and light music, to ascertain the more effective style of music in reducing anxiety in patients undergoing colonoscopy without sedation.

    METHODS: This study enrolled 138 patients who underwent colonoscopy without sedation during a general health examination from February 2009 to January 2015. The patients were randomly assigned to a group that did not listen to music, a group that listened to music by David Tolley, or a group that listened to music by Kevin Kern. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory was used to evaluate the status of anxiety.

    RESULTS: A trend test for mild anxiety was performed on the patients in the three groups, and a significant trend was noted (p=0.017 for all patients; p=0.014 for analysis by sex). Multivariate analysis for mild anxiety on the patients in each group was also performed in this study, and music by Kevin Kern was found to have the lowest odds ratio (Odds ratio=0.34, p=0.045).

    CONCLUSION: Listening to music, especially music by Kevin Kern, reduced the level of anxiety in patients undergoing colonoscopy examination without sedation.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 11/16/17:


    Holist Nurs Pract. 2017 Nov/Dec;31(6):378-383.

    The Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Various Physical Findings in Patients With COPD in a Pulmonology Service.

    This interventional study was carried out to determine the effect of music therapy on anxiety and the various physical findings in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the pulmonary diseases service. Ninety-six patients (28 females, 68 males) of 114 adult patients who were hospitalized between November 10, 2013, and March 10, 2014, were included in the study. Ninety-six patients were separated in 3 groups. The data for the study were collected from a questionnaire form of sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, a patient follow-up form, and the Beck Anxiety Scale. SPPS 11.5 was used for data analysis. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test was used to determine whether the data showed normal distribution. The nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis Test was used to determine the differences between mean anxiety scores on day 0, day 5, and day 15, and the differences in physiological findings on day 0, day 5, and day 15. There was a significant decrease in anxiety level average on day 5 (P ≤ .0001) and day 15 (P ≤ .0001) of the study in both the Western classical music and Turkish classical music groups compared with control group. There was also a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure averages in both music groups compared with control group (P ≤ .005). There was no significant difference in heart rates and respiration rate average between the Western classical music and Turkish classical music groups compared with the control group (P > .05).

    Be well!


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