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The Effects of Music on the Brain

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“Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really seem to feel what I do not understand, to have powers which I cannot have.”  ~Tolstoy


The Power of Rhythm

    Rhythm is a patterned measure of time. We sense it in music as stressed and unstressed beats in a pattern that repeats itself over and over again. This patter of stressed and unstressed beats is used to either enhance or thwart the way we perceive things. Rhythm is also the glue that holds our very lives together. All of our systems, from the smallest to the largest, work under the influence of rhythm. Rhythm plays an important roll in the ability of our mind to organize billions of electrical impulses into clear, understandable mental pictures. When there is movement of any kind or size, microscopic or gigantic, rhythm controls that movement. When you change the rhythm of a movement you can also change the outcome of the movement. Rhythm then controls the way the message is sent along the neurological system, thereby controlling the way it is perceived. This means that rhythm can change our mental pictures or our perception of reality. A closer look at the way a message travels in the body will help us understand the use of rhythm.

    Communication within the body is electrochemical. For example, with the ear picks up sound waves it changes them to electrical impulses or messages. These electrical impulses then move from the neurons (in the ear) along an axon to a dendrite or dendrite spine to a synapse. This impulse or message crosses over the space to the synapse by a chemical movement to the next dendrite and continues moving electrically to the next neuron. This process is repeated over and over along the neurological system until the message reaches its destination. This process is repeated billions of times throughout our body in every minute of the day. The very fact that impulses move, places them under the control of rhythm. Research is beginning to show that this is the case.

    On pages 90, and 131, of this book Battle for the Mind Dr. William Sargent, a leading scientific authority on the human nervous system, writes, “Electrical recordings of the human brain show that it is particularly sensitive to the rhythmic stimulation by percussion and bright light among other things, and certain rates of rhythm can build up recordable abnormalities of brain function and explosive states of tension sufficient enough to produce convulsive fits in predisposed subjects. Of the results caused by such disturbances, the most common one is temporarily impaired judgement and heightened suggestibility.”

    When the mind and body are subjected to rhythms that abide not the law, that are not in harmony with the bodys natural rhythm, the mental picture is altered or not clear. The body is put under stress and problems begin to appear.

    Rhythm induced stress shows up in many ways, including decreased performance, hyperactivity, increase in errors in the work force, decreased decision making ability, emotional pressures, depression, and lack of respect for authority. One doctor said that “in my practice I have found that the academic records of many small children improve considerably after they stop listening to rock music while studying.”

    Unnatural rhythm, like many drugs, can become addictive. Repeated exposure to it causes one to seek it. It is as if a switch is thrown in the mind. After this switching takes place the body begins to crave this unnatural beat or rhythm over a natural one.

    It is as if the body can no longer distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful. In fact, the body actually chooses that which is destructive over that which is constructive.

    Consider the following statements:
    In Vancouver, during a 30 minute Beatles performance, 100 people were stomped upon, gouged and assaulted. (Satan’s Music Exposed, L. Hart)
    In Melbourne, nearly 1000 were injured at a rock concert. (Satan’s Music Exposed, L. Hart)
    “Our music is capable of causing emotional instability, disorganized behavior, rebellion and even revolution.” (Beatles, 1960)
    Here is what a person who attended a rock concert said, “After an hour or so, even I felt drugged. But 20,000 people, most of them high on marijuana, if nothing stronger, were rocking the whole building, swaying, standing on their seats, arms around each other…the crowd seemed hypnotized in thrall. It was part of a mass frenzy.” (Readers Digest,  July 1973, pg 173)
    A popular rock singer said this about their music. “Rock’n roll has always been sexual. Rock’n roll has always been violent. It has teeth. It will scratch your face off. That’s why I like it…..if you like having your brains blown out and pushed up against a wall, then its for you.” (Entertainment Tonight, January 9, 1982)

    In Rock From the Beginning, a 1969 book by Nik Cohn, Mick Jagger, lead singer for the Rolling Stones, described the heavy emphasis on rhythm in his group’s music, saying, “It was nothing but beat, smashed and crunched and hammered like some amazing stampede. The words were lost and the song was lost. You were only left with the chaos, beautiful anarchy. You drowned in noise. The sound destroyed you, raped you regardless, and you had no defense left.”

    “There must be a condition of harmony or perfect balance,” wrote Boston psychologist Dr. James Girard in The Wanderer, “between the mental, emotional and physical operations of the organism if it is to function properly. It is precisely at this point that rock and roll, and much modern music, becomes potentially dangerous. This is because, to maintain a sense of well being and integration, it is essential that man is not subjected too much to any rhythms not in accord with his natural body rhythms.”

    It would be impractical to explain through written word the difference between natural and unnatural rhythms. However unnatural rhythms are almost always accompanied by other elements that are easily recognized. Following are some of the elements that accompany unnatural rhythms.
    Lyrics: They promote drugs, sex, crime, and rebellion.
    Style: The delivery of the singer or group is offensive to anyone who seeks a clean and fulfilling life. Their sound is very heavy on the bass, with a throbbing heavy beat. The vocals include yelling, primitive sounds. Music is repetitive, using the same cords over and over.
    Visual effects: The attire of the performers is trashy, scanty, or excessive in the style of costume. The performance is geared to grasp your senses and create a high, both physically and emotionally.
    Body movement: The movement is vulgar and suggestive.
    Music video: The settings for the performers are often in back alleys, junk yards, abandoned buildings, or in places where only the physical senses are excited.

The Power of Volume

    Volume is nothing more than an invisible source of energy, air pressure or air movement. In the movie Back to the Future, Micheal J. Fox walks into a room, turns on the stereo and is thrown against the far wall. The volume is so loud that the speakers cause him to fly across the room.

    When music is too loud, it blocks out our other senses and we lose tough with reality. Our thinking and actions are changed and under a prolonged exposure to loud music, a moral apathy pervades.

    Consider the following three types of damage that takes place in our bodies under exposure to loud volume.
    First, loud volume slows down our ability to memorize and do other brain functions by constricting the flow of blood to the brain. In the words of Dr. Arnold Scheivel, professor of medicine at UCLA and an expert on brain growth, “If there is a bottom line, it is that no neuron is healthier than the capillary that supplies it. We have a very strong feeling that in the capillary supply system is the story of the maintenance or slow decline of the brain.” How does volume effect blood supply? The blood vessels undergo a narrowing of caliber in the presence of loud sound. This narrowing decreases the flow of blood to the different parts of the body, including the mind. A person studying under the influence of loud music has a decrease in the amount of blood flowing to the brain. This makes it more difficult to memorize and to understand their studies.
     Second, loud music can cause a form of schizophrenia. When a person is exposed to high level sound, a chemical is formed in the brain that is normally found in schizophrenia patients in mental institutions. A music therapist, investigating the effects of loud music, gave an emotional stability test to 240 teenagers while they listened to music. A psychologist, who was unaware of how it was given, examined the results and determined that the test had been given in a mental institution. Martin Polo, the director of Audio Visual Services at UCLA and noise consultant for the aerospace industry and related technologies writes, “Lastly, the presence of continued exposure to high level sound can trigger psychopathological impacts on individuals….These impacts can range from depressions noted among females during the menstrual period to actual presence in the brain of chemicals normally found in schizophrenia and psychosis. There are a number of other interesting reaction to the presence of high level sound which involve the brain, including interference with vision.”
    Third, loud music can cause ulcers. When susceptible individuals are exposed to loud sound over a period of time, certain stomach functions are disrupted and an increase of hydrochloric acid is released, causing ulceration of the stomach. Martin Polon of UCLA writes, “The continuing exposure to high energy sound creates a stress reaction in the body that significantly involves the gastrointestinal system. Certain stomach functions are disrupted by abnormal contractions of the abdominal area, and increased infusion of hydrochloric acid causing dyspepsia. Recurring activation of this syndrome will lead to peptic ulceration in susceptible individuals.


    Bloom, A., The Closing of the American MIND,” New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987
    De Azevedo, Lex., Pop Music and Morality, California: Embryo Books, 1982
    Diamond, John M.D. Behavioral Kinesiology, New York: Harper & Row, 1979
    Hart, L., Satan’s Music Exposed, Penn. Salem Kirban, Inc.1981
    Hutchinson, M., Mega Brain, New York: Ballantine Books, 1987
    Methvin, E., The Riot Makers, New York: Arlington House, 1970
    Oliphant, Bob., Music and its Effects, Essay, Professor at Ricks College: Rexburg, Idaho
    Restak, Richard M.D., The Brain, New York: Bantam Books, 1984

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