The Mozart Effect: How Classical Music May be the Best Balm for Brain, Body and Soul

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The Mozart Effect: How Classical Music May be the Best Balm for Brain, Body and Soul
The Mozart Effect: How Classical Music May be the Best Balm for Brain, Body and Soul

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

This quotation is attributed to British playwright William Congreve (1670-1729). It is usually paraphrased as “Music soothes the savage beast.”

This maxim is universally accepted. For this reason, some sort of music is played everywhere. Whether in public places or private cars, people feel the need for music for their well-being.

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However, not all music is equal. Abundant evidence indicates that classical music is highly beneficial. It can indeed soothe the hearts of those in the most trying circumstances.

The Science Behind the Saying

The Johns Hopkins Medical School explains that there is actual science behind the idea that music has many beneficial effects.

“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does. If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout…. Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.”

However, the sort of music is also essential. There is abundant evidence that the benefits of listening to classical music far exceed those of other genres.

The Mozart Effect

Some scientists refer to the phenomenon as “The Mozart Effect.” The name draws from a groundbreaking 1993 study led by F. H. Rauscher. It claimed that the participants listening to a Mozart sonata for ten minutes showed significantly better reasoning skills than those who spent the same amount of time listening to “relaxing music” or sitting in silence.

This conclusion was controversial, and even Dr. Rauscher “stressed that the Mozart effect is limited to spatial temporal reasoning and that there is no enhancement of general intelligence.” Even these limited effects, however, show that listening to classical music yields numerous benefits.

In the years since scientists discovered the Mozart Effect, many have tried to determine how it works on the human body. Benefits include increased respiration, decreases in muscle tension, narrowing and expanding blood vessels, releasing endorphins and increased heart rate. However, all of those factors are ultimately controlled by some part of the brain.

A “Tune-Up” for the Brain

Perhaps the explanation is as simple as “classical music makes your brain work better.”

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The health news website The Healthy listed “10 Wondrous Things That Happen to Your Body When You Listen to Classical Music.” To paraphrase their list, the effects were:

  1. Decreased blood pressure
  2. Emotional balance
  3. Improved sleep
  4. Pain reduction
  5. Boosted brainpower
  6. Better memory
  7. Declining anxiety
  8. More comfortable social relationships
  9. Higher productivity
  10. Relaxation

Realistically, classical music is not some mental “cure-all.” However, slight improvements in even two or three of these areas would improve many lives.

Recently, The Epoch Times interviewed Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya, Neuroscience Division Head at The University of Central Florida in Orlando. According to the Times, he said that the “Mozart Effect truly exists” and that in “experiments with local community residents, he found that when this type of classical music was played, ‘we saw a 50 percent increase in brain function.’”

The Times also quoted Dr. Michael Trimble, professor emeritus of neurology and neuropsychiatry at the University College London Institute of Neurology. “The Mozart effect is clear evidence that you can alter the brain function and abnormalities with music.”

Myriad Benefits

Many studies assert that much of the benefit comes from classical music being more complex than the “popular music” genres of the last century. There is less repetition and more variation. There is a wider variety of instruments and, therefore, a greater variety of musical tones, which, in turn, can be employed in various combinations. In layman’s terms, such factors give the brain more with which to work.

Another factor is that most classical pieces are significantly longer—twenty minutes and up—than popular songs, which usually last three to five minutes. Again, this provides the brain with more “exercise.”

An imperfect analogy would be to compare brain activity with taking a walk. A leisurely stroll to the corner taking only a few minutes can be delightful and contribute in a minor way to physical and emotional well-being. However, a half-hour walk at a brisk pace is vastly more beneficial.

An October 2023 article in Psychology Today sums up the case that music can assist in delaying the process of mental deterioration that comes with age.

“In sum, music is a powerful tool to fight against aging-related emotional and cognitive impairments. Music constitutes an enjoyable and social activity accessible to anyone regardless of his/her background (e.g., education attainment, previous musical experience). So, this accessible intervention should become a major policy priority for healthy aging.”

A Gift of Grace

That article does not distinguish between the different types of classical music. Some classical music is more effective and beneficial than others.

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In addition, music must also be seen from a spiritual and supernatural perspective. Music can aid in the worship of God and the practice of virtue. It can be an occasion for the action of God’s Grace, especially in its development through Holy Mother Church.

Musician, composer and scholar Philip Calder beautifully explains the process and its importance in his YouTube presentation, The Power of Music. It is a marvelous introduction to the beauty that awaits listeners who expand their exposure to the wonder of music of the ages.

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