24 April, 2010


The Background

The power of sound has fascinated millions over centuries. Certain types of music have been known to reduce  stress, depression, headache etc while other kinds make the opposite happen. Unless one realises that music-mechanics supersede the individual artist  or even the genre of music (classical, pop, jazz etc) that is being heard/rendered the field of  Music Therapy would be consigned to quasi or pseudo scientific alternative (or at best complementary) medicine. On the other hand, if more fundamental laws of physics that are the building blocks of even the highest level of music are objectively studied, the incredibly  precise though complex relationships between music and health could be quantifiably understood and tapped into. 

The need of the hour is quality research in several areas by distinguished specialists and institutions with as much scientific rigour as seen in allopathy. The scientific study and development of this area, which I termed as Musopathy (a la allopathy, homeopathy etc), can have an enormous positive impact on humanity. It is clearly distinct from the fairly subjective Music Therapy that is offered by several Universities across the planet today. In other words, Musopathy is a de-culturalised and de-regionalised objective approach to address auro-neural and hormonal responses and health issues but through measurable musical factors in a scientific manner, document the stats and analyse them to conclusively prove or disprove a number of claims and postulates such as Royal Raymond Rife’s thoughts on the relationship between certain frequencies and cancer in 1930s. It’s only gradually becoming apparent to mainstream medical scholars even at institutions like NIH (in USA) that human brains are more sensitive to musical pitches than other primates.

Music Therapy in recent times

As most of us know, music is increasingly being used by scientists and doctors all over the world as complementary or alternative therapy for dealing with hypertension, depression, physiotherapy or even speech therapy for stroke victims. Leading medical names keen about music include Virginia Apgar, (the obstetrician famous for Apgar score), Rene Laennec, (inventor of the stethoscope), Dr Richard Bing and Dr Eugene Braunwald (renowned cardiologist), to mention a few. 

Music-medicine relationship in ancient times

Musical associations of medical professionals dates back as far as the ancient Indian and Greek eras and can be traced to modern times as well. Apollo, the god of healing in the Greek mythology is seen with a lyre and Aesculapius who was Apollo’s son has been associated with flute. Indians have believed that ragas like Amrtavarshini or Meghmalhar could bring rain, Deepakam could light up lamps and those like Neelambari could combat insomnia. We also have stories of composers such as Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi, Tyagaraja and Muttuswami Dikshitar being called upon to cure patients with their music.

Experiments in modern times

Studies were conducted on the effect of music on plant growth by leading Universities such as Harvard in 1970s that noted that Indian Classical Music was the best catalyst for plant growth. (For more information on this, read Sidney Sheldon's Stars Shine Down!!). In the late 1990s, a San Diego based University claimed that students performed better in exams after listening to Mozart.

In the beginning of the new millennium, Jane Hanson, on behalf of BBC, looked at the cutting-edge research and application of music in clinical medicine which included the University of North Texas, USA, Beth Abraham hospital in New York and select doctors and musicians in Mysore, India. An audio of her experiences is available at:
In Chennai, India, the Raga Research Center led by violinist Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan claimed that cattle that heard the raga Anandabhairavi produced more milk. Some studies suggest that regular concert listening increases lifespan or that heavy weight music  makes high intensity workouts more enjoyable 

Limitations and scope

However, althese need deeper investigation as they are mostly subjective approaches based on regional cultural exposures. For example, a study in New York would not include music from India or Africa and vice-versa to ensure the scientific validity of all these claims beyond doubt. Nor do they go to absolute yardsticks like volume levels, tempo of music or the combination of notes that are responsible for specific responses.  And beat effect of music (2 sounds of microscopically unaligned pitches) have not been documented sufficiently either.  But their limitations notwithstanding, the fundamental truth cannot be disputed – the power of sound. 

Sound has immense power and potency. In fact, some scientists have even experimented with limited success in creating new acoustic weapons, which emit frequencies that may impair, harm, or kill.  Theorists such as Benjamin Boretz consider some of the results of psychoacoustics to be meaningful only in a musical context

But how well has it been tapped in the area of medicine? How well has its power been studied? No doubt that there are studies based on Music-psychology and there has also been an attempt to get to a broader picture by studying musical syntax (though it has been confined to Western systems which includes harmony). Music psychology focuses on several areas, including music performance, composition, education, criticism and therapy is only one of them. It also investigates human attitude, skill, performance, intelligence, creativity, and social behavior.

Specifically coming to the therapeutic side, there is a lot of scope to extend organized research with systematic exactitude.  Mere sentimental or culture-centric musical ideas, with intentions however sound (pun intended), can never replace the rigour of science. That is why, Music Therapy (the way it is approached now) hovers somewhere between quack medicine and quasi-science.  

There is a complete absence of standardisation as every country has a different approach to Music Therapy based on the music that is practiced there.  In India, Music Therapy is about research using certain ragas. In the West, it is about composers like Mozart and in Africa, it is about native percussion.  There is no scientific manner in which anyone can explain why certain ragas or certain composers like Mozart have particular impact on human beings, animals or plants. 


Ruminating over all these, I came up with Musopathy to de-culturalise and de-regionise music and take it to its fundamental roots, based on laws of physics using standard, measurable and repeatable factors like combinations of frequencies, tempo, decibel levels and beat-impact. For obvious reasons, I will not be able to share all the details of psychoacoustics involved here. I will just give some highlights and advantages below:  
  • Musopathy is a quantifiable approach that combines music and medicine in absolute terms. 
  • It eliminates region, religion, culture, language etc and the subjectivity associated with these, which dominate the subject of Music Therapy. In other words, it will convert the quasi-scientific music-therapy into a serious study as sound as biochemical medicine. 
  • Musopathy promises empirical auro-neuro-solutions and opens up newer areas of studies such as neuro-physics
  • Musopathy has great potential to offer viable alternatives with far lesser side effects for several ailments where chemical cures dominate today.
To summarise, this is an area that has not been fully explored but if extensive work is carried out with a combination of vision, experience and scientific precision, it can blaze a trail of its own for the benefit of mankind. It is heartening to see leading lights of the scientific and academic world with whom I have discussed this stating that this is a cutting-edge approach to the subject. I have promised myself that I will get to formal research on this as soon as time permits and I find the right collaborators and support.


Vasundhara Kikkeri said...

The intent to study the power of sound in diverse frequencies (which may be considered musical and non musical) and its impact is a great idea. Your innovative and powerful thinking takes this idea to new hitherto undiscovered heights of music and its impact on society. The new term is as brilliant as the idea itself. As mentioned rightly, it elevates the whole idea of music therapy to a brand new field in ailment healing.

When faced with the limitations of chemical healing for certain ailments, Musopathy may be one of the best solutions in the field of complementary and alternative medicine. I see great possibilities for Musopathy in treating various biological and developmental disorders such as ADHD/ADD, Autism etc. I hope that Musopathy will soon be one of the best approaches to cure certain ailments where chemicals may fall short of expectation.
Looking forward to more such inspirational ideas.

Anonymous said...

This is a "sound" article on a "sound" concept. I can begin to attest that when correctly combined, sound sharpens sight.

Shikha said...

Adding to the article there is a very live example to what you have said. We have to curry leaf- trees in our backyard which have grown about 20 feet high (still growing). This has drawn the attention of many. This could be one of the effects of Carnatic music we play all day.

Thanks for sharing.

Srinivasan said...

I have read that, music as a therapy has been in existence since music itself. One story that comes to my mind that my father-in-law Prof. Mysore V. Ramarathnam told me many years ago.

Shri Bidaram Krishnappa dedicated almost all of his meagerly earnings from music towards one dream "to build The Prasanna Seetha Rama Mandira, in Narayana Sastry Road, Mysore". He spent every penny he could towards this goal. At that time there was a rich Chettiar in Chennai who was ardent fan of Shri Bidaram Krishnappa. One time Sri Chettiar fell really ill and was bed-ridden, and some of the relatives suggested that he might recover if Shri Bidaram Krishnappa sang for him. So, they sent word to Mysore and few days after that Bidaram Krishnappa arived in Chennai and spent nearly 10-15 days with Chettiar and sang for him every day, specifically the keerthanas that were near and dear to Chettiar. The story goes that Chettiar made full recovery. The family asked Bidaram Krishnappa, what can they do or how can they pay. Shri Bidaram Krishnappa requested nothing for himself but requested the family to donate few girder beams to put a roof for the Rama Mandira. Chettiar's family did that, and those of you who have seen the Rama Mandira in Mysore, can still see the same girders and the Rama Mandiram that provides an ambience for the aritst and the rasikas like no other place. I strongly urge those of you who have not seen the Rama Mandiram to visit Mysore and ask any autowala to take you to Bidaram Krishnappa Rama Mandira on Narayana Sastry Road. For more on this refer to the following article in Sruthi Magazine:

San Jose, CA

Dr.Vinaya said...

You inspire with your thoughts about the healing effects of music; which I have been practising for sometime now with my patients. Hope I get some quality inputs from you in developing more such practices in the future. Namasthe

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