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Do You Hear What I Hear?

by | Jan 4, 2023 | Blog, Science

The Power of Music

The movements in CalmConnect are synchronized to music, creating a compelling rhythmic practice that activates the PSNS into a calm but attentive state.

CalmConnect’s music sets it apart, as each piece is uniquely identified with the program. All of the music was carefully written and performed to provide a strong emotional connection, rhythmically grounding each movement with each breath. Emphasizing the frequencies of the female voice, the music brings with it recognition of a safe, reassuring sound that often begins to activate a calm state on its own. Many people listen to the music before going to bed each night to quiet their minds, dispel anxious thoughts, and encourage sleep. Age provides no barrier to restless nights, as CalmConnect’s music is heard in the dark in nurseries and cognitive care centers all over the world.

When we were designing CalmConnect it soon became clear that music would be one of the most important parts of the program. We spent a long time investigating its use, strengths, and potential benefits, exploring the work of many researchers. The result was a very specific ‘ingredient’ list that included types of instruments, genres, beats per minute, and frequencies, among other things.

Luckily my husband, John, is a producer and recording engineer who found some very talented musicians, scheduled the sessions, and went to work. They created some great music, but there was something about it that just wasn’t right. There was a difference between the way that it sounded and the way that it felt. All of us were hearing different things. We had beautiful, complex music, but it didn’t sound like ‘home.’

Unfortunately, by that time we’d spent all of the money we had raised to do the music. We were running out of time, and we thought we might be running out of luck as well.

Fortunately, in addition to being a producer and recording engineer, John is also a ‘closet musician,’ and the one who finally gave the program its distinctive voice.

We didn’t talk as much about the details involved in composing a piece; we talked about what the music would do. We talked less about how to get there and more about where we wanted to end up, which always brought us back to where we began, with our daughter, Rowan.

And that’s what made the difference. John wrote and performed each piece of music out of love for our daughter. Shortly after CalmConnect was released, we began to get phone calls and emails from people telling us how much they loved the music and all the different ways it was helping them. They were all hearing the same thing. They felt a connection and they felt safe.

Much like social contact, music is hardwired into our body and brain. Researchers at MIT have discovered cortical specialization for music; neural pathways in the auditory cortex specifically designed to react exclusively to music (Norman- Haignere, Kanwisher, McDermott, & 2015). Some researchers (Norton, Zipse, Marchina & Schlaug, 2009; Patel, 2010) theorize that the neural structures that respond to music evolved earlier than the neural structures that respond to language; that speech actually evolved from music.

Historically, music was an integral piece of survival and socialization. Making music with other people in a tribe was an important part of what kept the group together (Koelsch, 2013).

 There is an interesting dynamic parallel between the temporal nature of auditory information and movement performance. Simply put, there is a strong connection between rhythmicity and brain function.

New research continues to highlight the significant impact music has on emotional and physical well-being. For example, sound waves actually orchestrate patterns in the brain that facilitate learning (Kaye, 2013).

We knew that music would be a critical part of CalmConnect because it:

  • Is strongly associated with the brain’s reward system. The brain releases dopamine 15 seconds before the moment of ‘peak pleasure, when we listen to a piece of music we know and enjoy, anticipating what comes next as the music helps to calm and engage us (Salimpoor, Benovoy, Larcher, Dagher and Zatorre, 2010).
  • Provides emotional perspective, letting us know what we should think about what we see (Cohen, 2001). The composer, Hans Zimmer said that people always do the wrong thing in a scary movie; they cover their eyes when they should be covering their ears….
  • Rewards us as it helps us to move and to learn (Levitan, 2013). Music anthropologists list “eliciting physical response” as one of the ten basic functions of music in human culture. Music has been used for thousands of years — informally and as part of very specific serious healing rituals in many cultures — to elicit motor response and enhance motor behavior. Neuroscientists studying the impact of music on motor processes have concludedthat auditory rhythmic stimuli can enhance or promote motor responses and elicit movement, and there is clinical evidence that other components of music also have an arousing effect on the motor system (Grahn and Brett,2007).

Music with a beat seems to help people with motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease walk better than in the absence of music – patients actually synchronize their movements to a beat (Nombela, Hughes, Owen, and Grahn, 2013). There are studies showing that when people move together to a beat, they’re more likely to cooperate with each other in nonmusical tasks than if they’re not in sync (Rabinowitch and Knafo, 2015).

Learning is based on pattern acquisition, which is difficult without basic rhythmic skills.

Rhythm underlies patterns of breathing and movement and helps to organize incoming sensory information into coherent new patterns of learning.

Steady beat is an important precursor to language acquisition, and it helps us to detect patterns in incoming sensory information (Weikart et al, 1998). It is the most fundamental concept in music; the ongoing, steady, repetitive pulse that occurs in songs, chants, rhymes, and music. Steady beat is the part that makes you want to tap your toes, clap your hands, or jump up and dance like no one is watching. It underlies our ability to first pick up patterns of language as an infant, express the pattern as verbal language, and finally, to read that pattern.

Music therapy is powerful in part because of its unique capacity to reorganize cerebral function where it has been damaged. (Sacks, 1995, Tramo et al, 2001) Sound and music can affect dysfunction in the brain and nervous system and have been used successfully in treatment programs to reduce stress or lower blood pressure, alleviate pain, overcome various learning disabilities, improve movement and balance, and promote endurance and strength. (Garza- Villarreal, Wilson, Vase, Brattico, Barrios, Jensen, Romero-Romo & Vuust, 2014, Karageorghis and Priest, 2012).

Music with a steady beat paired with movement certainly helps with regulation. When this is synchronized with the movement of others we meet the one universal need all of us share; the need to connect with others, the need for social engagement, which is also critical for helping to regulate behavior.