Fast Facts: The Power of Music
- Music has a tremendous impact on mental and emotional health .
- It has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve sleep.
- Inmates at the Richmond VA prison learned about music’s power to focus and uplift their lives.
The United States has some of the highest incarceration levels in the world. Even more disturbing is that more than 40% of inmates are back in prison within a year of being released. These rates are complex and while there is no easy solution, one successful musician found a way to make a difference.Read More
“It’s about changing attitudes and behavior,” says one REAL staff member to a group of inmates who have joined a session. “You have to do something different.” He repeats, fervently, “You have to, fellas.”
Speech Thomas decided to get involved with the effort. He started a workshop for inmates, instructing them on his passion: making music.
How Music Heals
The idea was that music had the power to heal trauma and give people new pathways for their lives.
Thomas worked with four inmates at the jail, and in 16 Bars, we see how the program – and music – impacted their lives.
For years, scientists have known that music – listening to it, as well as creating it – can have a powerful impact on health. “Just listening to music activates more brain regions simultaneously than any other human activity,” says Dr. Alexander Pantelyat, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins. Studying music’s effects on the brain, he says, is both a “challenge and a promise,” because there is so much to learn, but it is all positive.
Music’s Many Benefits
Here are some of the ways in which music can impact health:
Reduces anxiety before surgery. Studies showed that people who listened to music before an invasive procedure experienced “reduced anxiety and a reduced need for sedatives.” Furthermore, people who listened to music during recovery had a smoother post-operative transition, and cancer patients who made music part of their treatment had an easier time handling the side effects of chemotherapy.
Improved heart and cardiovascular health. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that music can lower blood pressure, among other benefits. This might be due to its calming effect on the brain. Other research has found that playing music helps blood flow more easily through a person’s veins.
Improved sleep. Several studies show that listening to music can help people sleep better at night. This could be for a number of reasons, one of which might be the lower stress levels.
Enhances memory. This one shouldn’t surprise you. Have you ever been startled to hear a tune you haven’t heard in years, only to remember the beat or the lyrics perfectly? Listening to and studying music can train your brain’s memory abilities. Music is complex, even though it sounds seamless, so when you remember a song, you’re remembering many different components at once.
Aids in speech recovery. Strokes or traumatic brain injuries can lead to speech impairments. Music therapy can aid in the recovery of speech. Music is a form of communication, but it uses a different part of the brain than speech does. Therefore, someone can sing, even if they have trouble speaking. According to the Institute for Music and Neurological Function, “many people are surprised to learn that they can sing familiar songs after a stroke, even if they are unable to produce fluid speech.”
Eases depression. Music can bring joy into a person’s life, no matter which genre or style is played. Enjoying music been shown to ease the pain of depression, perhaps because people can tap into its emotional energy. A study published by Cambridge University Press concluded that “Participants receiving music therapy plus standard care showed greater improvement than those receiving standard care only in depression symptoms.”
As the inmates in the REAL program discovered, music also leads to an improvement in a person’s general outlook on life. Speech Thomas told the inmates at the Richmond jail that Arrested Development calls its music “life music.”
“It means we appreciate this journey of life,” he says in 16 Bars, the documentary about his program.
Watch 16 Bars for an uplifting look at the ways that Thomas’ workshop – and his passion for music — made a difference in at least four lives.