By Linda Melone
Your next prescription from your doctor may include a playlist of songs to go with your medication. Studies of music healing show more than ever how music affects the brain and, subsequently, health, says Kamal Chémali MD, a neurologist with Sentara, an integrated health system in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and co-founder of the Cleveland Clinic Arts and Medicine Institute.
Every civilization in history has used music to heal and cure, says Chémali. “The difference now is we have ways to prove we were right about the benefits through modern technologies such as the MRI.”
Aside from medical uses, listening to music can help you prepare for an exam, improve your memory and help you sleep better, says Joseph P. Cardillo, PhD, clinical psychologist and co-author of Your Playlist Can Change Your Life (Sourcebooks). “Your brain's plasticity, or ability to change, helps you create long-term change and even target those changes to specific tasks and goals.”
For example, to “rewire” your brain to relax, first play a recording of a nature sound that relaxes you, suggests Cardillo. Then play a song you know relaxes you. You'll feel a greater effect from that song. “As little as two 5-minute applications of your playlist a day and you’ll feel better within about two week’s time,” says Cardillo.
Cardillo recommends making a variety of playlists to target different situations. For example, he recommends making two lists for driving, “One to calm down and one to bring you up if you need to be energized for a meeting or presentation.” The key lies in using beats per minute (BPM) of a song. Slow, relaxing songs include those with 100 or fewer BPM (such as Sinatra’s “New York New York,” which is in the range of 30 BPM), versus those at 100 to 130, which will start to alert you; 135 to 155 beats will bring you to a higher state of alertness and 165-plus to the highest state. High-alert songs are popular for exercising and running. Examples include:
|Boys of Summer||The Ataris||201 BPM|
|Chain Gang||The Pretenders||138 BPM|
|Rebel Yell||Billy Idol||167 BPM|
|Rock This Town||The Stray Cats||204 BPM|
|Beat It||Michael Jackson||139 BPM|
|Power of Love||Huey Lewis||155 BPM|
To find a song’s BPMs, search on Google by typing in the name of the song and “BPM,” says Cardillo.
“Music changes the speed at which your brain waves vibrate,” says Cardillo. So when you’re feeling elated you brain is likely producing more neurochemicals (brain chemicals such as serotonin) and your brain waves are vibrating at a higher velocity; when you’re feeling mellow you’re producing different neurochemicals and your brain waves are vibrating at a slower velocity, explains Cardillo.
“You can trick your brain into producing more of that blood chemistry to bring you up or down and train your brain waves to enter a specific velocity at a specific time.”
For example, imagine you play the same playlist to help you relax in traffic on your way to work. In about three weeks, as soon as you get into your car—even without the playlist—your brain calls up the mindset in your head and you relax without the music. “You’re training your brain to alter itself in specific situations for the better,” says Cardillo.
For the greatest benefits pay attention to music actively rather than having it play in the background, says Chémali. Live concerts intensify music’s effects the most. “The concert setting allows you to see the emotion of the musicians. The visual effect also affects the listener,” Chémali says.