Music is all around us. Deliberately or not, humans spend a great deal of their time surrounded by musical melodies.
Whether it’s humming “twinkle, twinkle, little star” in a kindergarten class, finding the tune as you ride an elevator, banging your head to death metal rock, relaxing to the softest orchestra performance, or just listening to the sweet singing of birds outside a window, music is everywhere in our world.
It’s important to note here that our brains make a clear distinction between music and noise. Though both music and noise may be a collection of rapid or slow sounds, our brains can distinguish one from the other.
This is especially clear in the effects both of these phenomena have on our brains and their effect on our behavior.
What’s the Purpose of Music?
Not only is music a fundamental part of human existence and experience, it’s an important part of every culture around the world. From the flute music of Africa to the throat singing of the Inuit of North America, music is very intricately woven into cultural systems across the planet.
Music is one way people preserve language and culture. At any given time in history, music reflected the values, beliefs, and situations of society.
For instance, the music of the 1940s centered around the world war and how people coped with it, while the music of the Middle Ages was about military conquests, nobles, and monarchies.
In the present day, music has added richness to the arts in the form of scores for films, music for spirituality, and even as part of quickly consumed art forms such as social media.
Music is also used for sacred purposes. Early cultural rituals had chants and songs believed to call gods and spirits to their presence. It was also believed that music could be used to offer praise or to cast spells and for other religious or spiritual purposes.
These days, while music is still used in ceremonial and religious spheres, it’s also now used for relaxation as well as self-expressive purposes. People listen to music as a way to unwind or declutter their minds.
People also use music, either writing or listening to it, to express themselves artistically and to show that part of themselves to others.
Some music genres such as rock and metal music have whole subcultures with their own rules, behaviors, beliefs, and modes of dressing.
Classical Music 101
Music and its forms have evolved significantly over the years and now there are many music genres to choose from, with more being made or discovered all the time. We are going to focus specifically on classical music and its effects on behavior and health.
In order to properly understand the usefulness of classical music and its health benefits, if it has any, we must first look at the history of the genre.
Classical music in the broad sense refers to any kind of music heavily influenced by western culture after the decline of the Roman Empire between the 5th century until the present day. The genre is believed to have evolved from the medieval folk music of the time.
The name ”classical music” was not given to the genre until the early 19th century when society sought to identify the period between the lives of two classical music geniuses: Johann Bach in 1703 to Ludwig van Beethoven in 1827. This era became known as the golden age of classical music.
The classical music of Europe uniquely distinguished itself from its non-European counterparts. This was mainly due to the unique use of a musical “staff,” and the use of clear names and positions for notes on this staff in creating music or arranging a musical progression.
This musical staff notation gave information of how the musical progression went, how long notes were to be held for, and other important facts all due to the nature of the notation. This way, even if the composer was absent, an accurate rendition of a musical piece could be performed.
The classical music of Europe is also unique in the sense that it led to the creation of highly intricate and sophisticated forms of instrument and vocal music including concerto, symphony, sonata, and a mixed harmony of vocal and instrumental styles such as the cantata, opera, and even mass.
The divisions within the classical period are difficult to clearly separate. This is because they were prone to overlap, and features thought to be exclusively part of a later period may be found in a work from an earlier period or be used by a composer thought to be a member of a different period.
As with most things in the history of Europe, classical music first took hold in the early days after the fall of the Roman Empire through the church. The predominant form of classical music was the Gregorian Chant used in the Catholic church during ceremonies and the reading of liturgies.
The monks of the church standardized the chants with early musical notations that eventually evolved from a singular vocal chant to multivocal chants. Music in this fashion continued to rapidly evolve and change up until the Baroque period.
Highlighted by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, the Baroque period saw extra development in the use of a myriad of instruments as well as the evolution of the opera. This period in classical music became the foundation of the standard forms of classical music we know today.
The classical era of music, also known as the golden age, is populated with household names such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Joseph Haydn. This era between 1730 and 1820 became the bedrock upon which concrete rules of the orchestra, comic operas, and other classical staples were developed.
It should be noted here that other periods of classical music including the modernist and post-modernist movements outright rejected some rules set by this period or reacted against them to evolve into a different form of the art.
If you’re interested, here is a more detailed account of the history of classical music.
Major Classical Music Health Benefits
With the passage of time and the growth of human society, classical music has followed along. Even with the creation of popular music and the splintering of music into niche genres and new forms, classical music is still created and listened to today.
In fact, it's lauded for having uses and benefits that not only have a passing ”good feel” effect on listeners, it also has long-term health benefits which we are going to look at now.
Listening to classical music has become a form of musical therapy, and studies have shown it has a good influence on the health of those who listen to the genre.
These benefits include increased physical performance, improved recovery from medical procedures, and anxiety relief. Here we look at classical music health benefits in more detail
Classical Music and Surgery
At first glance, these two terms seem completely unrelated. However, if you’re going in for surgery anytime soon, it could help to bring along some Mozart and Bach for your surgeon to listen to.
That is because according to this study conducted in 2019, doctors who listened to classical music while performing operations worked faster and made fewer mistakes.
This perk was not only noticed in the doctor, this same study posits that patients who were operated on while classical music was playing were able to handle chronic pain better.
These patients needed less anesthesia and fewer painkillers than their counterparts who weren’t subjected to classical music during their procedures.
The participant doctors mentioned that listening to classical music had a positive effect on their stress levels, making them feel more relaxed. Patients reported that listening to classical music before surgery caused a similar reduction in stress.
The World Health Organization recommends that music played during medical procedures not exceed 30 decibels as this could disrupt communication between members of the medical team, which would make mistakes more likely.
Thus listening to a Mozart sonata on a medium to low volume during medical procedures could help doctors carry out their work more efficiently.
It’s a fun thing to note that according to the British Medical Journal, listening to music while performing operations isn’t new and has been practiced for thousands of years.
Classical Music and Recovery
As described above, doctors and patients both benefited from listening to classical music before and during surgery as it made them more relaxed. But, how about after surgery and during recovery? Do patients receive similar benefits?
Some studies have shown that patients who listened to classical music after their surgeries had lower anxiety levels and speedier healing after extensive procedures than patients who did not.
Classical Music and Substance Abuse Treatment
Classical music is not only useful for patients recovering from surgical procedures, it’s also invaluable in helping people recover from substance addiction. For those suffering from addiction, this method is called music therapy.
This is not to say that music is a primary method used in aiding addiction recovery, but it can be a valuable supplementary tool. When a person attempts to recover from substance abuse, they often cannot relax naturally. Classical music can help with this.
This is also the case in people who have used substances as a means of escaping their reality. With the proper choice of musical piece, it’s possible to use classical music to create a healthy escape from present stress. This stimulus helps recovering addicts process and accept difficult emotions while reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
There is also a strong link between high motivation, music therapy, and a person’s willingness to get treatment for substance abuse. That is, using music therapy increases a person’s chances of completing their addiction recovery program.
Classical Music and Mental Health
Music has profound effects on human brain chemistry. There are several studies that have observed and researched the effects of music on the brain and how its function is affected.
In fact, going to see the opera may have more than one benefit. While it’s wonderful entertainment and great to watch, it also has a positive impact on mental health. So you get the benefit of enjoying the show on a conscious level, but you also receive unconscious benefits that improve brain health.
Other research findings show that music can help manage many different kinds of pain and mental health issues. Classical music especially has been shown to assist those suffering from different kinds of mental illnesses ranging from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to clinical depression.
Conversely, studies showed that when people who had clinical depression listened to sad music, their symptoms became worse.
All of these studies seem to suggest that classical music can have a profound effect on the brain. Scientists are still working to fully understand the scope of these benefits.
Classical Music and Exercise
When it comes to the music you choose to listen to while at the gym or doing a home workout, chances are high that classical music is not at the top of your list.
Workout music is usually upbeat, fast-paced, and chosen to help you power through the sensation of your muscles straining themselves. Classical music, on the other hand, tends to bring a much more calming and laidback image to mind.
In general, scientists support the use of music during workouts. Though other genres of upbeat music like rock, rap, or pop come to mind, research has found that classical music could have the same dissociative effects.
These effects improve your physical endurance and enhance exercise performance, which makes you more resistant to exhaustion and allows you to get in those extra reps.
So how does classical music achieve this? By reducing the stress chemical known as cortisol, endurance levels during workouts are increased.
Not only is it useful to listen to classical music before and during exercise, you can also benefit from listening to it afterward. Listening to classical music will not only regulate your heartbeat, it will also reduce muscle pain associated with exercise, thus making for a better overall workout experience.
Classical Music and Physical Health
As mentioned before, music has a huge effect on the brain. However, the benefits don’t end there as the effects of classical music extend to the rest of the body as well. Here are some of the physical health benefits you can get from listening to music.
A study carried out by the University of Oxford found that study participants who listened to classical music had lower blood pressure level readings than study participants who did not hear any music at all.
According to the study, listening to music by Mozart and Strauss for 25 minutes or more substantially lowered blood pressure in participating members.
In the opinion of the researchers, there are a few criteria music must meet in order for it to be effective at reducing blood pressure. The music:
Another one of the positive effects of music is that it can increase the quality of sleep. A study showed that around 45 minutes of classical music before bed made falling asleep easier and it improved the sleep quality of study participants.
In pregnant women, it was found that listening to classical music reduced anxiety levels and helped them feel more relaxed.
Listening to classical music over time can help improve memory retention, which is why classical music is great for studying. It can boost brain power, allow for longer study sessions, and produce higher focus levels.
From the above, we can see that classical music is a dynamic and beautiful genre of the arts. Not only is it rich in history and evolution, it also holds a myriad of surprising benefits for the health of those who enjoy it.
It can alleviate stress and anxiety levels and also provide anxiety relief to pregnant women. Listening to classical music can aid doctors in performing faster, more efficient surgeries and help promote quicker healing in patients.
Classical music has also been shown to increase exercise performance and endurance during physical activity. It can also be a form of music therapy helping those with PTSD and depression handle their pain as well as helping those recovering from addiction.
Furthermore, it can support increased brain power and improve the memory of students while reducing levels of anxiety.
Unfolding the positive effects of music is a never-ending endeavor. There are numerous physical, psychological, and mental benefits for human beings who add classical music into their lives.
This just shows that what is pleasant to the ears is not mere entertainment. It could also be a key to revamping your health and enjoying the art at a level you never have before.
We hope you enjoyed this article about classical music health benefits. If you’re interested in checking out more articles about classical music, please take a look at our site.