Music and movement

Kadinsky movement

In a study done by Anthony Storr when subjects were asked not to move to music, it was found that readings on the electro-myograph show increases in “electrical activity in the leg muscles whilst listening to music, even when the subject has been told not to move”. (Storr 1992) This is interesting to note, that even in the absence of physical movement, there are impulses within the body that are generated whenever music is being listened to.

Storr indicated further that:

“The basic ingredient of music is not so much sound as movement….  I would even go a step further, and say that music is significant for us as human beings principally because it embodies movement of a specifically human type that goes to the roots of our being and takes shape in the inner gestures which embody our deepest and most intimate responses”. (Storr 1992)

Friedrich Nietzsche was deeply interested in music and he spoke of the driving power of music:

“He also spoke of the ”dynamic” or propulsive powers of music- its ability to elicit, to drive, and to regulate movement. Rhythm, he felt, could propel and articulate the stream of movement (and the stream of emotion and thought, which he saw as no less dynamic or motoric than the purely muscular). And rhythmic vitality and exuberance, he thought, expressed itself most naturally in the form of dance. He called his own philosophizing “dancing in chains” and thought the strongly rhythmic music of Bizet as ideally suited to this. He would often take his notebook to Bizet concerts; he wrote, “Bizet makes me a better philosopher”. (Sacks 2008)

Music and our cells

Cymatics forms of notes

The above geometrical patterns have been created by the respective musical notes on a large plate which has a thin layer of particles, paste or liquid spread over it. The patterns are symmetrical and resemble certain molecular structures in nature. Each musical note produces a unique image. This is a branch of study called cymatics which came from the Greek word “wave”. This was a term coined by Hans Jenny. Jenny would put sand, dust and fluids on a metal plate connected to an oscillator which could produce a broad spectrum of frequencies. Depending on the frequency emitted by the oscillator, different patterns will emerge.  

Cymatics is the visual representation of the effect of sound at the molecular level. Alexander Lauterwasser developed the work of Jenny further by capturing the various forms in water created by sounds and music.

The following pictures were created by water in a round vessel (5-10 cm in diameter) with pure tones vibrating from below. They were taken from Lauterwasser’s website: The patterns created are placed next to forms that can be found in nature for comparison.

Flower forms and cymatics

Patterns created by music:

Cymatics by music

As early as 1981, Fabien Maman and Helene Grimal paired up to study the effects of sounds on normal and cancer cells. The inner structure of both normal and uterine cancer cells were studied as they were exposed to different acoustical musical instruments as well as singing. The most dramatic results were when musical scales were sang to the cells. “The structure disorganized extremely quickly. The human voice carries something in its vibration that makes it more powerful than any musical instrument: consciousness. . . . It appeared that the cancer cells were not able to support a progressive accumulation of vibratory frequencies. As soon as I introduced the third frequency in the sequence, the cells began to destabilize.” (Gaynor 2002)  

Other instruments like the gong with its rich overtones has been found to also be very effective in disintegrating the cancer cells. In another study, “Maman conducted experiments with two breast cancer patients, each of whom toned for three and a half hours a day over the course of a month. In one case, the tumor vanished”. (Gaynor 2002)

Following is a guiding principle held by Gaynor and many sound healers in alternative medicine:

“Many healers, myself among them, believe that healing can be achieved by restoring the normal vibratory frequency of the disharmonious- and therefore diseased- part of the body. If we accept that sound is vibration, and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is “heard” not only through our ears but through every cell in our body. The sound of our voices, entrained with the sound of the singing bowl, permeates our entire being. Our pulse rate slows and our breath is restored to its normal rhythm”. (Gaynor 2002)



Music and our feelings, breathing and blood

“This sound, which like all music- indeed, like all pleasure- I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work”. (Sacks 2008)

Above is an account taken from writer William Styron’s memoir. After hearing Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody, Styron realised he cannot injure people by committing suicide and admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital.

Music conjures emotions within and is an emotional language. In an online survey I did which gathered 201 responses, most of the respondents indicated how music has affected them emotionally in a positive way.

Music’s grip on the emotional life of Man can be seen even from birth and in olden cultures. According to Dr Rainer Patzlaff (2017) in a lecture given on early childhood language acquisition, he has found from research that infants are extremely sensitive to the musicality in the speech heard around them. The musicality in speech and language is the foundation for infants to acquire languages as they grow up through their childhood. Music has a deep connection with human beings from birth which has been proven from research into language acquisition.    

According to English psychiatrist Anthony Storr, infants respond to the rhythm, pitch, intensity and timbre of the mother’s voice; which are all elements of the music. (Storr 1992)

“It is not unreasonable to speculate that speech and music have descended from a common origin in a primitive language which was neither speaking nor singing, but something of both”. (Ehrenzweig 1975)

Communication in the distant past is prosodic in nature; poetry, words and music are combined as emotional expressions. This prosodic form of communication gradually changed into a functional use of language to convey meanings and thoughts. In olden cultures, people sing to one another in order to express their feelings before they speak to each other to express their thoughts.

According to Gaynor, music can affect the physical body through emotions. “Through the process of entrainment, sound can transform negative, repressed emotions into a state of psychological equanimity, that has direct and immediate effects on our physiology”. (Gaynor 2002)   

Faces blush when there is anger or shyness, hands turned cold when there is fear, the heart pounds faster with rage. Anxiety often causes an increase in breathing rate. These phenomena can be experienced in self-observation.

There have been many studies done on the effects of emotions on health. Following is a snippet of it:

“People who are more content in their lives have mostly healthier heart and circulation. This is empirically demonstrated by a low level of hormone cortisol in the blood, with high levels correlating with diabetes type 2 and high blood pressure. At the same time, the frequency of heartbeat and levels of fibrinogen in the blood decrease. Increased fibrinogen precedes heart trouble. Positive emotional experiences and optimism relate to relatively higher life expectancy”. (Zdražil 2015)

According to Steiner, emotions can change the movement of blood:

“In man we can see that a stirring of the soul is accompanied by a movement of the blood. If a man is afraid he feels he wants to withdraw completely into himself; he is transfixed; he breaks out in a cold sweat; his hair stands on end; the blood rushes towards the heart; he turns pale. This has nothing to do with the respiration, nor with the digestion. It is a process in conscious soul life. If a man is afraid the circulation of the blood is changed. The blood withdraws or rushes forth. It is because, in man, the movement of the blood is connected with such inner experiences that he is so very different from animals”. (Kolisko 1943)

Science in its efforts to be rigorous in empirical data analysis has measured extensively the effects of music on the physical bodies:   

“When Beethoven‘s Fifth Symphony was played for twenty two college students during a music appreciation class, noticeable changes were recorded in their heart rates that directly correlated with changes in the tempo of the first movement”. (Gaynor 2002)

Researcher Johannes Kneutgen demonstrated that babies who fell asleep to the sound of lullabies began to breathe in rhythm with the music. In a series of studies that examined how music affects blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, and other aspects of the autonomic nervous system, participants’ heart rates were found to respond both to the volume and the rhythm of the music. And in some cases, the heart rate or respiratory rhythm actually synchronized with the beat of the music”. (Gaynor 2002)

From these research, music can be deduced as having a connection to feelings and also to the breathing and blood circulation.

How music affects our brain waves

“Several studies have shown that alpha waves increase to the extent that listeners report having “enjoyed” the music”. (Gaynor 2002)

Calm and overtone rich music can slow brain waves and support alpha waves (8-13hz). Alpha waves help in relaxation. The brain produces alpha waves just before sleep at the border between wakefulness and sleep. “Neuroscientists recently made a correlation between an increase of alpha brain waves—either through electrical stimulation or mindfulness and meditation—and the ability to reduce depressive symptoms and increase creative thinking”. (“Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression”, 2017)

Studies made on eastern traditions of sound have also revealed how they can support certain brain waves production:

“an analysis of Shamanic drumming that showed that the rhythmic beats encompass a frequency range of .8 to 5.0 cycles per second, which she notes as having “theta driving capacity.” Achterberg is referring to theta brain waves, a frequency we attain when in profound states of relaxation, states most notably achieved in waking consciousness by masters of Buddhist meditation. This research suggests that sound, here in the context of a Shamanic ritual, can entrain brain waves in a manner that is clinically significant, both for altered states of consciousness and for healing. Theta states are considered a bridge between conscious and unconscious processes, rarely traveled routes to profound self-understanding and physical regeneration. Tibetan Buddhist meditators use two small bells shaped like tiny cymbals called Ting-Sha’s. In meditation rituals, the Ting Sha’s are rung together, and each produces a slightly different tone. Careful studies have shown that this tonal difference causes the bells to emit Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) sounds between 4 and 8 cycles per second. This is range of brain waves during meditation”. (Gaynor 2002)

Music and the Brain

The effects of music on the brains was popularised in 1997 by the book “The Mozart Effect” by Don Campbell. According to Campbell in the book “listening to Mozart (especially the piano concertos), music may temporarily increase one’s IQ and produce many other beneficial effects on mental function. Campbell recommends playing specially selected classical music to infants, in the expectation that it will benefit their mental development”. (Wikipedia, 2017)

One year after Campbell’s book was published, Zell Miller, governor of Georgia included $105,000 every year in his state budget so that every child born in Georgia will receive a tape or CD of classical music. Many parents had also rushed to get Mozart CDs for their children and even babies who are still in the mothers’ wombs. Since then, there has been much debate on Campbell’s theory. According to Gordon Shaw, a physics professor who specialises on the structure of the brain’s cortex, “the music of Mozart may ‘warm up’ the brain,” and also “that complex music facilitates certain complex neuronal patterns involved in high brain activity like math and chess”. (Gaynor 2002)

Campbell’s book drew the attention of the scientific community to the effects of music on the brain and more research went to study this area. With advances in brain mapping technologies, scientists can look with precision at the regions of the brain that are activated when listening or playing music. According to Levitin in his extensive brain research:

“The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions; involving the oldest and newest part of the human brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of the head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes. It involves a precision choreography of neurochemical release and uptake between logical prediction systems and emotional reward systems. When we love a piece of music, it reminds us of other music we have heard, and it activates memory traces of emotional times in our lives. Your brain on music is all about, as Francis Crick repeated as we left the lunchroom, connections”.  (Levitin 2008).

Francis Crick as quoted above is the co-discoverer of the DNA molecular structure. The capacity of brains lie in the amount of neural connections it is able to make. The real power of the brains reside in these connections. According to Anthony Storr, “Exposure to music with a reasonably complicated structure facilitates the establishment of neural networks which improve cerebral function”. (Storr 1992)

In the last 30 years, there have great developments in the research of cortical plasticity which believes that the brain functions can be shifted around within the brain and that the functions that each part of the brain performed is not fixed. Depending on how the brain is stimulated, the functions within the brain can shift their positions internally. For instance in deaf people, the auditory cortex has been reallocated for visual processing and in blind people the visual cortex has been reallocated for auditory processing. This could explain why there is greater sensitivity to sounds in the blind compared to normal people.

The theory of cortical plasticity has been applied to treat patients with speech problems using music therapy. In 1973, Martin Albert and his colleagues developed a form of music therapy called  “melodic intonation therapy” to help patients with speech problems. This therapy is very helpful to patients who have lost their speech ability due to the loss of the left hemisphere of their brain which is responsible mostly for speech functions. But because the right hemisphere is still working well, they could use music to stimulate the right hemisphere which is responsible mostly for musical processing and develop it for linguistic functions. In this form of therapy, sentences were sung to the patients and they have to repeat what they heard. Slowly bit by bit, the musical elements are removed one by one until only the spoken words are left. Albert and his colleagues used this therapy on a “sixty seven-year-old man, aphasic for eighteen months-he could only produce meaningless grunts, and had received three months of speech therapy without effect, started to produce words two days after beginning melodic intonation therapy; in two weeks, he had an effective vocabulary of a hundred words, and at six weeks, he could carry on “short, meaningful conversations.”  (Sacks 2008)  

It has also been discovered that in musicians the corpus callosum or the bridge between the left and right hemisphere is enlarged. Such examples show that the brain is very moldable and depending on how it is stimulated by music, can form the necessary connections and even new functions.

Dancing in Harmony

“Two individual muscle cells from the heart are seen through a microscope each pulsing with its own separate rhythm. Then they move closer together. Even before they touch, there is a sudden shift in the rhythm, and they are pulsing together, perfectly synchronized.” (Gaynor 2002)

This phenomena is known in modern science as entrainment. It can be observed with 2 pendulums swinging at different speeds and then placed beside each other. After a while, these 2 pendulums will adjust and swing at the same rate. When listening to a piece of music, there is often the tapping of feet and movement of bodies according to the rhythm of the music. This is a common occurrence in people but is not a possibility for primates. “No primate tested so far—with exception of the human species—can dance or collaboratively clap to the beat of the music”. (Wikipedia, 2017)

According to Levitin, “Music breathes, speeds up, and slows down just as the real world does, and our cerebellum finds pleasure in adjusting itself to stay synchronized”. (Levitin 2008) The cerebellum is the part of the brain involved in coordination and motor movements.  

Entrainment reveals a tendency in the universe towards harmony. Rhythmic patterns appear throughout universe and music is just one of them.

“To entrain is to draw along or fall into step with a particular element. In music therapy, it refers to the way that the body’s behaviour and physiological responses synchronize to the period and phase of a sound wave form. There is impressive evidence from the fields of chronobiology, biomusicology, and music therapy, that as the tempo of a piece of music changes, the listener’s behavior comes into correspondence with that pace and moves in the same direction”.  (Gaynor 2002)

Human beings derive pleasure and is strongly attracted to synchronising itself with external rhythms.

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