How Music Affects Your Kids...

What Parents Need to Know

The following is an excerpt from a report I've written with the above title. This report is about the effects of music on the body and the mind. You can click on any of the section titles below to jump to an area of particular interest to you.

Thanks for taking the time to look more deeply into this subject,

The Dance of Plants

From An Animal's Perspective

The Physics of Sound and Music

Body Mind and Spirit

For More Information...

If you pay attention, nature often will tell you what is beneficial for you and your family to lead healthy lives. It is fascinating to watch how nature responds to changes in the environment. Nature has told us which types of music that she likes through some very interesting experiments with plants and animals. The nice thing about these studies is that you can try most of them yourself at home. These experiments also serve as good science projects for school or science fairs.

The Dance of Plants

A researcher named Dorothy Retallack did some pioneering studies into the effects of different kinds of music on plants. Using strictly controlled conditions, she kept her plants in large closed cabinets where light, temperature and air were automatically regulated. She found that in under four weeks, three hours a day of acid rock, playing through a speaker in the side of the cabinet was found to stunt the growth of and damage philodendrons, squash, and corn plants.

Retallack also studied groups of petunias exposed to two radio stations. One station was a semi-classical station and one was a rock station. At the end of the second week, the petunias exposed to the rock music were leaning away from the speaker and growing erratically while the petunias listening to the classical station were all leaning toward the speaker. All the plants exposed to the rock station died within a month.

A third experiment was conducted with some fascinating results. Retallack used groups of beans, squash, corn, morning glory and coleus plants. These plants were divided up into groups that had the music of Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge played to them; another group had contemporary avant-garde atonal music played to it; another group was kept in silence and an additional group had peaceful devotional music played to it.

Retallack found that after ten days, the group exposed to Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge (hard rock music for those not aware of these musical groups) were all leaning away from the speaker and after three weeks these plants were all stunted and dying. The plants exposed to the avant-garde atonal music were leaning 15 degrees away from the speaker but they had medium sized roots. The plants left in silence had the longest roots of these three groups and grew the highest. However, the last group that had the devotional music played to it produced plants that not only grew two inches taller than the plants left in silence, but they grew toward the speaker! I think nature was making a statement here.1

Some other fascinating research was done by Dr. T. C. Singh, the head of the Department of Botany at Anamalia University in India. Dr. Singh discovered that classical music caused plants to grow twice as fast as plants not exposed to classical music. He then went a step further and found that a music instrument creating sound waves will cause the protoplasm of cells (the fluid medium inside all cells - plant, animal, human) to increase its motion. Dr. Singh found that violins produced the most movement of the protoplasm.

Another discovery of Dr. Singh has far-reaching implications. When he tracked the plants that showed vigorous growth in response to the music, he found that later generations of their seeds produced plants that also showed increased growth. Think of the implications! This means that the music somehow altered the chromosomes of the plants! What could this mean for music that is harmful for the plant - or for our bodies? Some of the animal studies shed even more light on this subject.2


From an Animal's Perspective

I came across a very interesting magazine article in the April 4th, 1988 issue of Insight Magazine about a study done by physicist Dr. Harvey Bird from Fairleigh Dickinson University and neurobiologist Dr. Gervasia Schreckenberg from Georgian Court College in Lakewood, NJ. Dr. Bird is very interested in the effects of sound and music on our bodies. I subsequently got a chance to meet Dr. Bird and discuss his work and his theories. He and Dr. Schreckenberg had teamed up to study the effects of music on laboratory mice. They subjected one group of mice to incessant voodoo drum beats, one group to Strauss waltzes and one group was kept in silence. The experiment used music played at low volume so that volume was not a cause for any behavioral changes observed. Over the period of the experiment, they tested the different groups to see how well they could run through a maze to get to their food. This was a measure of their cognitive ability - their ability to remember the maze over time.

Bird and Schreckenberg found that the group that listened to the voodoo music had a very difficult time with the maze that increased over time to the point where they were totally disoriented and unable to complete the maze. The other groups had no problem learning the maze, with an edge given to the mice listening to the waltz music. Even when the mice were given a break from the music for three weeks, the group that had previously listened to the voodoo music "still could not remember how to get to their food, while the others found it quickly with no problem," said Schreckenberg. This was pretty compelling evidence of the effect of different kinds of music on mental functioning. But the best evidence was yet to come.

When the mice brains were later dissected at the end of the experiment, it was found that the mice that had been listening to the voodoo music had abnormal structural changes in their brain cells! The neurons in their brains were growing out wildly in all directions without connecting to other neurons. There was also abnormal amounts of Messenger RNA, a chemical that the brain uses for storing memories. Wow! Real physical evidence of brain damage as a result of exposure to harmful music! Finding abnormal changes to brain tissue like this proved that music can affect areas deep inside the brain, which other activities don't affect. Schreckenberg further commented, "We believe that the mice were trying to compensate for this constant bombardment of disharmonic noise.

They were struggling against the chaos. If more connections among the neurons had been made, it would have been a good thing. But instead there were no more connections, just wild growth of the neurons....Everything in life goes in a rhythm, even the life of a single cell. All the biochemical reactions are rhythmic. If that harmony is disrupted by some kind of disharmony, then it can cause detrimental effects. And, regarding the extension of the results with mice brains to human brains, Dr. Bird added, "What we are seeing here is the effects of disharmonious music on mammalian brains. And, insofar as human beings have mammalian brains, we cannot preclude the possibility that disharmony may affect human brains as well." 3

As with the voodoo music used in Bird and Schreckenberg's study, I have seen documentaries about how people respond to this music. With the voodoo rites, the participants dance in a trance-like fervor. At the conclusion of the dancing, the participants report that they feel "clean". I would describe it as "cleaned out". They've had their energy and proper nerve functioning cleaned out. I suspect this same phenomena could occur with some other forms of tribal dancing where the rhythms are constantly syncopated (some tribal music such as that of Native Americans actually emphasizes the strong beat and is not syncopated - I would expect that Native American music might be strengthening to the body, although I've never tested it.)

The concept that what we take into our bodies as stimuli affects our brains is not a new concept to neuroscientists. Their experience and experiments have shown them, particularly for children whose brains are still growing, that the stimuli to which they are exposed to shapes their brains. In addition to shaping the way the brain uses its existing neural pathways (functional change), these stimuli also cause physical alterations in neural pathways (structural change). Dr. Kenneth A. Klivington of the Salk Institute in San Diego has said, "Structure and function are inseparable. We know that environments shape brains; all sorts of experiments have demonstrated that it happens. There are some studies currently being done that show profound differences in the structure of the brain depending on what is taken in by the senses." 4

This discussion of brain damage from harmful music ties right in with what had been reported at some rock concerts. People have put eggs on the foot of the stage and the eggs were hard boiled midway through the concert. Think about what that does to our brain! This phenomena was confirmed scientifically by Dr. Earl Flosdorf and Leslie A. Chambers who found that shrill sounds projected into a protein based liquid would coagulate the proteins (this is what happens to eggs when they are hard boiled).5

I think about this phenomena every time I hear a car going by with cement shaking bass notes blasting from the speaker system. I wonder about the passengers of that vehicle and how much of their mental potential is being scrambled each minute (or in this case hard boiled) by listening to this kind of music. It is really a shame when you think about it. A lot of the lyrics of songs that are popular in the various rock and rap genres complain about the lack of control and the lack of opportunities that so many people face in this world, particularly our youth. It is so ironic that the very music that is conveying these sentiments is part of the process of taking away their control of their lives and their opportunities for a better life and better health.

Animals seem to make a choice for better health when allowed to choose between different kinds of music. One experiment that demonstrates this involved rats and their music preferences. Rats were allowed to freely move between two boxes that were connected by a passageway. In each of the boxes a speaker was playing one kind of music. Johann Sebastion Bach's music was played into one box and rock music into the other. Even though the boxes were identical in all respects except for the type of music played through the speakers, the rats spent all of their time in the "Bach box". To further verify their results, the scientists switched the music that was playing in each box. The rats then all migrated away from the rock music to the box where the Bach was playing. Doesn't it seem as if nature is trying to tell us something here? 6

Are we smarter than rats and plants when it comes to our choices of the music we listen to? Or, are we so out of touch with our bodies and our health that we are numbed to the effects of certain kinds of music on us? One possible explanation comes from my previous discussion of switching. It is likely that many people are simply experiencing some confusion in their nerve pathways as a result of the music they been barraged with.

Isn't it striking that this is precisely the description of what many addictive drugs do to you? Your body ends up craving that which is destroying you. The drug causes your body to have an actual physical dependence on continuing to get the drug. Have you ever known anyone that always had to have the radio or the TV on? Are your kids like this? Are they craving that constant barrage of hyperactivity and tension? Do they feel that they need certain kinds of music (i.e. rock music) to get going with their day? To lesser or greater degrees, many of us suffer from this syndrome because of all the sound pollution we are subjected to on a daily basis. Like I said before, try the music fast and feel the difference for yourself. See what kinds of behavioral changes you notice in your children (and your plants and pets).


The Physics of Sound and Music

We don't often think of the physics of sound, and the fact that sound has power to effect physical objects. Just the mere fact that you perceive sound shows this vibrational nature. The sound waves cause your ear drums to vibrate, which causes a chain reaction in your middle and inner ear. This eventually causes nerve impulses to reach your brain that are perceived as sound.

To truly appreciate the power that sound can have, it helps to think of two examples. An earthquake is actually a series of sound waves caused by two plates of earth sliding by each other in a quick motion. The scraping that ensues causes a sound wave to be produced. Sound travels faster in the air than it does in the denser earth, so you can often hear an earthquake before you feel it. We all know about the power and destructive capabilities of an earthquake. Another example of the destructive power of sound is the ability of some singers to break a glass merely by singing a particular note. Both the example of the earthquake and that of the singer illustrate the characteristic principle of resonance.

Our bodies also resonate or vibrate in response to and in concert with sound waves that we are exposed to. In fact, there is some fascinating research that's been done that even shows the relationships of this resonance to the planets of our solar system. Our DNA and RNA molecules, which are the building blocks of our very chromosomes, resonate to an octave tone (a musical relationship) of the earth's rotation pattern. Is it any wonder that with our DNA vibrating in concert to the energies we are exposed to, that when we listen to certain kinds of music we could be damaging our own bodies and those of future generations (through our chromosomes).

The different frequencies of the sound waves that are produced when a musical instrument is played correspond to various musical notes. For example, a sound wave that produces the note that is commonly called "concert A" vibrates at a frequency of 440 cycles per second (hertz or Hz). Different parts of your body resonate with different notes and the harmonics produced by different types of musical instruments. Each one of us becomes a magnificent dance of tissues, cells, molecules, atoms, and energy fields swirling in rhythm to the beat of the sound waves. When this dance is a dance of harmony, it is healing and life giving. When the dance is one of dissonance and inharmony it brings on disease and it takes away life energy.

This dance of nature to sound and music was visually demonstrated by two different scientists in similar ways. An eighteenth century physicist named Ernest Chladni investigated the effects of sound an music on matter by sprinkling sand on steel disks and watching what happened when a violin played various notes. The changing patterns that were produced were striking in their symmetry and artistic and mathematically precise patterns.

In this century, Dr. Hans Jenny took Chladni's work a few steps further. Dr. Jenny devised a device he called a "tonoscope," which consisted of a metal plate on top of an oscillator. The oscillator produces vibrations in the plate that are adjustable according to volume and pitch. When different materials are placed on the tonoscope, patterns emerge in response to the vibrations that are very much like patterns found in nature. For example when paste is placed on the tonoscope, a patterns emerges which looks like the early stages of cell division. Other substances mimicked honeycombs and nautilus shells. A pattern produced when a crescendo of sound vibrated through powder looked remarkably like the iris and pupil of an eye.

However, one of the most fascinating results occurred when Jenny used a microphone to vibrate the tonoscope. When he uttered the ancient mantra, AUM or "Ohm", a pattern was produced which consisted of a perfect circle filled with concentric squares and triangles. Coincidentally, the very same pattern is found in the yantra or geometric artwork that has been used for centuries in the East to represent the AUM, the so-called mantra of mantras. Once again, science demonstrates the profound relationships that sound has with matter.

Another profound relationship that sound has with our bodies and minds was discovered by a French ear specialist named Dr. Alfred Tomatis. Dr.Tomatis spent decades measuring the affects of different sound frequencies on our bodies. He researched which frequencies boost energy and which ones deplete it and how they bring about these effects. He came to a startling conclusion. Dr. Tomatis says, "The ear is made not only for hearing. The ear is designed to energize the brain and body."

How can we possibly get energy through our ears? Well, in our previous discussion of the power that music has, we talked about resonance and how the right frequencies of sound waves produce sympathetic vibrations in other physical objects, including our bodies. Tomatis discovered that certain kinds of music which had an abundance of certain frequency ranges actually were effective in recharging the central gray nuclei cells in the brain. These cells act like tiny batteries that power your brainwaves. You would expect that these tiny batteries must be recharged by your body's internal systems and metabolism. Tomatis found otherwise.

Dr. Tomatis discovered that it wasn't something inside you that recharged these brain cells, it was certain frequencies of sound from outside your body that provide the recharge. As sound travels through your inner ear, it whirls around and around through the coils of the snail shaped cochlea. From there it comes upon a long line of 24,600 cells called Corti cells, which dance a perfectly synchronized dance to each sound. This dance of the Corti cells produces energy that splits off, some going to the brain and some going to the vestibular branch of your auditory nerve and then to the muscles throughout your body.

So, with all we've discussed about the benefits of certain kinds of music, what kinds of music would you expect to have the ability to produce the most energizing of the brain as well as the most release of muscle tension and improvement of bodily functions and posture. I'll give you a hint, it isn't rock music (surprise, surprise). The same Baroque and Classical music that we've discussed before, especially those pieces rich in strings, produce frequencies that Tomatis found to be energizing and healing. In fact, Tomatis found that it is possible to rejuvenate your ears with sound.

Dr. Tomatis developed and patented a devise he calls the Electronic Ear. This device emits bursts of different high and low frequency sounds, alternating from ear to ear. This process effectively exercises the muscles of the middle ear so that they get in shape and work as they are supposed to. Tomatis found that sounds in the range of 5,000 to 8,000 hertz recharge the cells that are like tiny batteries in our brains the fastest. He also found that the music that is the richest in these high frequency sounds is that of Mozart. And, he went on to pinpoint those sounds that were damaging to the body and the mind. These were low frequency sounds, like the noise at an airport, a construction site, in traffic, etc. Tomatis also singled out the low pounding sounds in rock music as "brain drain" sounds. 7

When I discovered Tomatis' findings about Mozart's music, I marveled that the first music that really grabbed me and stirred my soul after I stopped playing rock music, was Mozart's music. I even made some of my own compilation tapes culled from my favorite up-tempo Mozart pieces. I called these tapes, "Mostly Mozart Movin' Music" and I used them whenever I wanted to do aerobic exercise or just get a brain boost. If you want to get a real burst of energy, I particularly recommend Mozart's Symphony #29. When I used to play this piece and ride the LifeCycle at my health club, I would peddle so fast that the readout reached its maximum for revolutions per minute! I was afraid I might break the machine! Now that's power.

Others have taken the same frequency ranges that Tomatis worked with and found that these appear to universally benefit life. A researcher named Dan Carlson found that 5,000 hertz also energizes plants. He performed experiments in which he embedded a 5,000 hertz pulsed sound (which resembled big cricket sounds) in tapes of Baroque and other classical music. He played these tapes to plants as he sprayed them with a nutrient mix. He found that the plants showed a 700 percent increase in efficiency of absorbing the nutrients. It was discovered that this frequency of sound actually helps the little pores on the plant's leaves called stomata, to open up. Guess what the frequency of bird song is. Yes, it's around 5,000 hertz. And who says nature doesn't have a plan. You'll find that in areas that don't have a lot of birds singing, there's not a lot of plant growth either.

Speaking of plant growth, Dan Carlson found that his mix of life enhancing music and spraying of nutrients on his purple passion plant produced some record results. He was able to take a plant that normally grows to a height of around 18 inches and produced a plant that grew 1,400 feet long in the course of two and a half years! This feat earned Mr. Carlson and his plant a place in the Guiness Book of World Records.8

Researchers have also applied this 5,000 hertz frequency to studies on people. A recent test was done using this frequency added to Baroque music played while people ate dinner at a restaurant. It was found that people who ate to slow classical music ate more slowly, digested better, and didn't gain weight. On the other hand, those that ate to rock music ate very quickly, digested poorly, and gained weight.

In addition to benefiting the body and its functioning, Tomatis discovered that these life giving frequencies could bring psychological health also. He found that he was able to help learning disabled and even autistic children to lead normal lives. One of his lines of research revolved around the sounds that a baby hears when in the womb. Tomatis discovered that by placing a specially sealed microphone and speaker into water he could simulate the sonic environment that a baby experiences before birth. When Tomatis played the sounds of a mother's voice through this fluid media to her autistic child, the child went over and turned off the lights, climbed onto his mother's lap, assumed the fetal position and started sucking his thumb. Over time, by gradually substituting the mother's voice through regular speakers instead of through the fluid media, Tomatis was able to get the child babbling and eventually brought the child to complete normalcy.

Guess which sound frequencies predominate in the fluid environment that Tomatis used. They are some of the same sound frequencies that dolphins make and the same frequencies found quite often in bird song. It was also the same frequencies that Tomatis found to be most beneficial for recharging your brain cells - around 8,000 Hertz!

One very important aspect of charging your brain cells is the benefits you experience in accelerated learning. This subject is beyond the scope of this report and is covered in another report I've written called, How to Accelerate Your Learning Through Music. In this report, I discuss the fascinating relationship that music has with the learning process. I examine the many benefits of using certain kinds of music to speed up the learning process as much as 10 times or more, make learning more enjoyable, and heal the body and the mind at the same time.


Body, Mind and Spirit

There's all sorts of fascinating research and wisdom available about the many ways that music affects your kids (and yourself) but it can be difficult to find.

For example, did you know that:

* Certain kinds of music are energizing for your children's minds and can help them learn much faster, and even help them digest their food better. Other types of music actually drain energy from your children's brains and bodies and can actually affect their hormone levels (this is especially a problem with teens).

* Certain frequencies of sound are beneficial to your children's bodies and are more often present in certain instruments and in works by certain composers.

* There are certain kinds of music from certain composers that can help in your home with everything from household chores to soothing a crying baby, enhancing homework, creative writing, math - you name it!

* Music affects cell protoplasm and even chromosomes. Consider what you are passing on to your children and their children.

* Listening to music by a certain composer has been shown to temporarily increase students' IQ scores.

* There is a moral component of music that is totally separate and independent of any lyrics and significantly impacts your children.

* Educators and researchers are finding direct relationships between music and television habits and the mental, verbal and behavioral development of our children.

If you weren't aware of these points, don't worry - you're in good company. Most people have never been exposed to these concepts. Some researchers have even commented on how this subject almost appears to be a taboo subject. I hope I've given you some food for thought (or at least an appetizer). If you'd like the main course, check out the information below.



1. Tame, David. The Secret Power of Music. Destiny Books, 1984. pp. 141-145.

2. Ibid., p. 145.

3. Lipkin, Richard. Insight Magazine, April 4, 1988. p. 58.

4. Healy, Jane M., Ph.D. Endangered Minds. Touchstone, 1990. p. 51

5. Tame, David. The Secret Power of Music. Destiny Books, 1984. p. 138.

6. Ibid., p.141.

7. Ostrander, Sheila & Schroeder, Lynn. Super Learning 2000. Delacorte Press, 1994. pp. 91-94.

8. Ibid., p. 95.


For More Information:

Copyright (c) 1995 by Greg MacKay. Feel free to forward, copy, print and redistribute this article in its entirety as long as you do not alter it in any way, and you include the section you are now reading (bounded by the lines) with the text of the article. The above article is an excerpt from my report entitled, How Music Affects Your Kids...What Parents Need to Know. This report and another entitled How to Accelerate Your Learning Through Music, are published in booklets and are available for $10.95 and $9.95 respectively, plus $2.50 for postage and handling for one or two booklets (outside the U.S., include an additional $3.00 for shipping - use U.S. funds). Send your name, address and either $10.95 or $9.95 depending on which report you would like, plus shipping and handling charges to: Greg MacKay, Green Light Technologies, P.O. Box 161, Gardiner, MT 59030 USA .

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