Classical Music and The Real World

Occasionally, some of my friends take me to task about my blog entries, and that’s fine. They want to bring me back to the real world. They tell me that it’s wonderful I’m aggregating all these studies, but that what goes on in the laboratory doesn’t mean that it will work in the real world. I’m not quite sure what that means, because I grew up in a scientific family, but I can understand that others may feel a disconnect between controlled experiments and getting out and practicing things in real life. And so for them, I bring this bit of news.

The United States Department of Homeland Security is using the music that our brains create to alter the brains of first responders. According to their web site,

Every brain has a soundtrack. Its tempo and tone will vary, depending on mood, frame of mind, and other features of the brain itself. When recorded and played back to an emergency responder, say a firefighter, it may sharpen their reflexes during a crisis, and calm their nerves afterward.

Over the past decade, the influence of music on cognitive development, learning, and emotional well-being has emerged as a hot field of scientific study. To explore music’s potential relevance to emergency response, the Science & Technology Directorate has begun a study into a form of neurotraining called “Brain Music” that uses music created in advance from listeners’ own brain waves to help them deal with common ailments like insomnia, fatigue, and headaches stemming from stressful environments. [emphasis added]

If the brain “composes” the music, the first job of scientists is to take down the notes. Each recording is converted into two unique musical compositions designed to trigger the body’s natural responses, for example, by improving productivity while at work, or helping adjust to constantly changing work hours. The compositions are clinically shown to promote one of two mental states in each individual: relaxation – for reduced stress and improved sleep; and alertness – for improved concentration and decision-making. [emphasis added]

Each 2–6 minute track is a composition performed on a single instrument, usually a piano. The relaxation track may sound like a “melodic, subdued Chopin sonata,” while the alertness track may have “more of a Mozart sound,” according to Burns. (It seems there’s a classical genius—or maybe two genii—in all of us.) Listen to an example of an instrumental alert track.

(An aside: I listened to the sample of music provided and felt rather agitated. And does anyone else think it sounds like “Linus and Lucy” played upside down and backwards–or, to use the technical terms, in retrograde inversion?)

So for my readers out there: the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t seem to think this is pie in the sky, but rather a legitimate tool to enhance safety. And it won’t stop with first responders, because I can see this being used in combat situations as well–and other situations which I haven’t thought through completely and so am not ready to discuss.

I don’t think the Department of Homeland Security would be focusing on this if they didn’t think it was legitimate. I’ve already posted about the music our brains create, and about using music to alter mood, promote sleep and relaxation, and promote better task performance in a variety of situations. Take a look at some of the other studies I’ve gathered here, and think about how this information can benefit you! (Hint: use the “Search” box to search for a subject that interests you.)

Happy reading and listening!

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