Music, especially by
Bach, helps reduce stress
By Helen Altonn
Music, particularly classical compositions by Bach, relieves stress,
says a University of Hawaii music professor.
"Of all the music we tested in medical school with patients,
colleagues and others, Bach's music consistently made the brain work
in a balanced way better than any other genre," said Arthur Harvey,
who is also an internationally known neuromusicologist.
Loudness, speed or tempo of music, the degree of dissonance and tone
quality are primary elements of music that can affect health, behavior
and emotions, Harvey said.
He created a recording called "Bach for the Morning," intended for
nursing home and hospital patients who "didn't wake up very nicely.
... Each piece gets a teeny bit faster, so it is a very helpful way to
wake people up."
He also has created a "Handel for Sleeping" recording and softly
played Handel's music during a recent interview in his office at
Calvary-by-the-Sea Lutheran Church, where he is musical director.
Harvey has taught for 45 years and studied music as a force in
education, religion and health. For the past 20 years, he has been
interested in learning more about "why and what happens" when music is
Therapeutically, he said, music "can be a tremendous intervention." It
can relieve pain and stress, calm the heart rate and blood pressure,
affect physical responses for healing and growth, and stimulate
creative thinking, he said.
Hawaiian music, for example, has orderly and predictable patterns that
tend to be calming, he said. "Someone like brother Iz (the late Israel
Kamakawiwo'ole), besides the emotional content of singing and beauty
of his voice, the majority of his songs are near resting heart rate
(62 beats a minute), in the lower frequency."
Harvey created a recording of Hawaiian songs with a heartbeat tempo,
"Island Sounds Healing Heart," to help care for senior Hawaiians with
Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. It was done for Alu Like's
Kumu Kahi Department.
Cadences in the recording stimulate "feel-good chemicals" and physical
systems that reduce effects of stress, he said.
"If we utilize music that slows down the stress hormone, we then can
help with things such as development of ulcers, diarrhea, even Crohn's
(chronic inflammatory) disease and irritable bowel syndrome."
Last year, Harvey tested the effects of Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese
music with a heartbeat on 37 volunteer patients, 50 and older, of
cardiologist Dr. Pon-Sang Chan.
He compared cardiac responses to recordings with heartbeat only, with
heartbeat and keyboard performance, with heartbeat and vocal
performance and heartbeat with both keyboard and vocal performances.
The object was to see if music could be used as a relatively
inexpensive technique to regulate the heart rate of cardiac patients,
who tend to be highly stressed, Harvey said.
All recordings helped, he said, but selections combining heartbeat,
instrumental and vocal performances were most effective, calming and
regulating the heart rate from 62 to 72 beats a minute.
Joseph Ruszkowski, UH-Manoa music professor; Michelle Wong, of the
Integrative Health Care Consortium; and Kathleen Cramer Baker assisted
with the project.
Harvey presented the results in June at a symposium of the
International Society on Music in Medicine, founded by two
anesthesiologists in Hamburg, Germany.
He annually discusses how music can enhance health and learning at the
Hawaii Medical Service Association's Akamai Living program, scheduled
from 8:30 a.m. to noon May 22 at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.
Harvey sings and plays 35 instruments, develops recordings and videos
for therapeutic use and is a popular speaker at workshops and
seminars. He is also a prolific author, writing about "Music and the
Brain" and related topics.
"He is so multitalented," Ruszkowski said. "He has a wealth of
knowledge in so many areas and is an unbelievably good piano player. A
lot of people around here (at UH) say he was a musical prodigy."
Harvey said UH-Manoa offers music courses and workshops but not music
therapy and training, which he would like to see integrated into the
medical school's complementary and alternative medicine department.
He was involved in establishing Sounding Joy Music Therapy Inc., a
nonprofit organization, to educate the public about music therapy,
provide clinical services and encourage research in therapeutic music.
Among his new projects, the neuromusicologist is creating a recording
of spirituals with a heartbeat for hospice patients and caregivers and
a recording of Japanese lullabies with a heartbeat.
Although he makes all kinds of music, he said he probably likes
classical the best. "Sacred is second and I love old-time music, the
'20s and '30s. I play it in hospitals regularly."
But some music should be avoided, he said, pointing out excessively
dissonant, loud and repetitive music can affect thinking, behavior and
hearing. "And if you're impacted by emotional pulses, you tend to
behave in a way that's not always rational."
Music has been his "passport to the world," Harvey said, taking him to
every state and 36 countries and places like the White House and