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Music Soothes The Soul

by Linda Weaver Clarke May 15, 2006

“Do I really have to practice?” came the disgruntled voice of a teenager.

How many times have we heard this? I remember when my mother encouraged me to practice my instrument and how I tried to find one excuse after another to get out of it. Soon, she was sitting at the piano, willing to help me practice. I reluctantly began playing, not putting my heart into it, feeling a bit rebellious.

But it did not take long until I began to feel the soothing notes of the music and my soul began to relinquish the unruly attitude within me. Why did this music soothe my rebellious soul?

Music has changed throughout the years, but its purpose is the same. The type of music we listen to affects the brain. Some music has been proven to help memorization, to help us retain information we have learned. It has to do with order, symmetry, rhythmic patterns, repetition, ideal mathematical form, and harmony.

A study was done to test whether or not music can help in retaining information. White mice were taught to go through a maze to find food. One group listened to no music, the second group listened to Strauss waltzes, and the third group listened to hard rock music. After eight weeks, the mice were tested to see if they had improved. The mice with no music had improved but the mice that listened to Strauss waltzes made it through much faster. When the scientists checked the rock mice, they were not prepared for what they found. The mice did not get better in finding the food, but had gotten worse, becoming disoriented. The scientists waited a few weeks to see if the results were the same. The Strauss mice had retained their memory while the rock mice had lost their memory of the whole thing.

The American Psychological Association wrote, “Those dreaded piano lessons pay off in unexpected ways: According to a new study, children with music training had significantly better verbal memory than their counterparts without such training, plus, the longer the training, the better the verbal memory.

Psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied 90 boys between age six and fifteen. Half had musical training as members of their school´s string orchestra program. The other 45 participants were schoolmates with no musical training. The researchers, led by Agnes S. Chan, Ph.D., gave the children verbal memory tests, to see how many words they recalled from a list, and a comparable visual memory test for images. Students with musical training recalled significantly more words than the untrained students. There were no such differences for visual memory.” (“Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory,” American Psychological Association, Neuropsychology, Vol. 17, No. 3.)

C. A. Harding did brain studies in 1982 at the University of North Texas. They brought in 300 people. They wanted approximately the same kind of learning abilities, so everyone they chose had Phd´s. These people were separated into two groups and taught 300 vocabulary words. The first group listened to Handel´s Water Music as they learned the words and definitions. The second group learned their words without music. To the surprise of the scientists, there was a big difference in the test scores. The group with the music scored much higher. Two weeks later, the groups were brought back in and checked to see if they had retained the words, and there was a much bigger difference in the scores. The group without music had forgotten half the words. In the first group, the brain must have felt the orderly manner of the music and was able to retain the vocabulary words.

I read an article in the TIME MAGAZINE from July 5, 1999 titled “Fingers, Brains, and Mozart.” It said, “Mozart´s music has intrigued researchers since 1993, when scientists at the University of California at Irvine found that college students who heard 10 minutes of the composer´s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major raised their IQ scores on tests of spatial-temporal reasoning—a skill related to math. Mozart appears to strengthen the neural connections that underlie mathematical thought. Other researchers have used the two-piano sonata to improve the spatial-temporal reasoning of an Alzheimer´s patient and to reduce the number of seizures in epileptics.”

It has been found that music can change behavior. The right kind can turn depression into joy, anger to calmness, hate to love, and fear to courage. Beautiful music has an effect on people and it can soothe and take away feelings of frustration and anger.

Music definitely makes a difference in alleviating tension. Professor Vladamir Conechne tested this theory. He paid actors to antagonize a group of people, making them angry and hateful. After the actors left, he turned on gentle soothing music and watched the people carefully as he took notes. He noticed that their behavior and attitude began to change and their hatred left.

In another part of the country, this theory was proved once again. At the Soviet Union, the Soviets used music to rescue 3,000 Beluga Whales trapped in the Narrow Strait off the Bering Sea. Icebreakers had cleared an escape path for the whales, but they were confused and frightened by the noise of engines and propellers that had chopped the ice away. It finally dawned on the captain to pipe music through the loud speakers. When the whales heard Beethoven´s music, they began to calm down and after a while followed the sound, swimming through the narrow channel to freedom. The music seemed to calm them down.

One time our little family traveled many hours to see our folks up north for Christmas. It was an eight-hour drive. The children were tired, crowded, and miserable from the long drive. We were traveling through a beautiful canyon and only had a half an hour left to arrive at our destination. I started singing some Christmas songs, and then my husband joined in. Soon the rest of the family joined in singing and the contention gradually left and we were laughing and having fun as we joyfully sang Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and many Christmas Carols.

Music does make a difference. David O. McKay said, “Music is truly the universal language, and when it is excellently expressed how deeply it moves our souls!”

In 1865, during the Civil War in Atlanta, Georgia, General Sherman had his army ready and prepared for a battle. It was recorded that while they waited, a young man began to sing American Songs, beloved songs that were familiar to both sides. The music was soothing and nostalgic, and it floated across the field for everyone to hear. The soldiers on both sides heard the songs that were sung. The hearts of everyone were touched, and the battle that was supposed to be, did not occur that day. No one felt like fighting. It had deeply moved their souls.

It is vitally important to listen to music that uplifts us. When words and music are combined, I believe it expresses our deepest thoughts and feelings. What we can´t understand in words, we can understand with music. Words alone, many times, can´t express the true feelings that are meant, but music and words put together can touch the hearts and souls of people. When music is added to sacred words, it helps us to understand the simple love of God and feel the spirit of reverence.

Isaac Watts described it best. With all the power of heart and tongue, I´ll praise my Maker in my song. Angels shall hear the notes I´ll raise, Approve the song, and join the praise. Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Copyright 2006 – Reproduction of this article may only be used with the author´s byline intact. Written by Linda Weaver Clarke, author of the historical/fiction/romance series: “A Family Saga in Bear Lake Valley.” To learn more, visit www.lindaweaverclarke.com.

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