“Music can help to build connections between people. Listening with others and discussing the music together can be a great way to bond and build friendships.”—Mark Fleming, a registered music therapist.
- Research shows classical music can help regulate our moods, assist with sleep and strengthen social bonds.
- Enjoying classical music in a group can also help strengthen your social bonds.
- While many people listen to music for leisure, it’s not often used intentionally for health.
Music has the power to move us deeply, and research shows it can affect us on a physical level, too.
Dr Libby Flynn, researcher and former vice-president of the Australian Music Therapy Association, describes the experience of listening to music as a “full brain workout” that can create physical, behavioural, emotional and social responses.
“Physiologically, music can change our heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate and muscle tension,” says Dr Flynn.
“In music therapy, we use this in a very targeted way to help support our clients. For example, if someone is in hospital and experiencing increased anxiety and their heart rate is too high, we can manipulate the music to try to gradually reduce that heart rate,” says Dr Flynn.
“Furthermore, increasing evidence points to a range of biochemical responses when listening to music, such as how music can help to support immune responses by helping to control the release of cortisol while promoting the release of other stress-reducing hormones.”
While listening to classical music can be an enjoyable pastime, research shows that it can also help regulate our moods, assist with sleep and strengthen social bonds.
“I don’t like to generalise when it comes to music, but the instrumentation used in classical music can often be warmer and more natural in timbre than other genres,” says Mark Fleming, a registered music therapist (RMT). “I have a background in classical piano that I am able to use in my practice and have found that playing classical music can help to ease feelings of anxiety, provide relaxation and sometimes even completely change a person’s mood.”
We tend to gravitate towards music that matches our mood and listening to particular types of classical music can help us overcome those feelings or process them.
“If you want gentle emotional support on a stressful day, you might want to choose music that is positive in mood … or if you are fed up, angry and frustrated, you might want to acknowledge that feeling and give it a voice by choosing something unrelenting,” says Vannie Ip‑Winfield, a registered guided imagery and music therapist (GIM) trained in classical piano.
Vannie suggests Maurice Ravel’s Boléro to energise, Debussy’s Clair de Lune to relax and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D for emotional release.
Music for sleep
A recent study from the University of New South Wales looked at the characteristics of relaxing music in different genres that helped people sleep.
They found that legato music (a musical technique that produces fluid, continuous motion between notes) in lower frequencies with slow and sustained musical notes such as those in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 can help people fall asleep quicker and improve sleep quality.
Another study of adults aged 60-83 found that listening to 45 minutes of sedate music at bedtime resulted in significantly better sleep quality.
Try using a clock radio, set to your favourite classical music station, to play music on a timer as you go to sleep or use the soothing tones to slowly wake you up in the morning. Or perhaps the ritual of listening to your favourite concerto as you brush your teeth and prepare for bed will make it easier to fall asleep once you lie down.
Enjoying classical music in a group can help strengthen your social bonds. “The act of singing, playing instruments or listening together stimulates oxytocin – the bonding hormone,” Vannie says.
Mark agrees, adding this can also strengthen relationships. “Music can help to build connections between people. Listening with others and discussing the music together can be a great way to bond and build friendships,” he says.
Using music for your health
Dr Flynn says that while many people listen to music for leisure, it’s not often used intentionally for health.
“Think about what music you find energising, relaxing or uplifting that might help to give some additional support,” says Dr Flynn.
That way, when you feel like using classical or any music as therapy, you know exactly what radio stations, CDs, DVDs and records to tune into to improve your mood or send you off into a deep sleep.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee titles and employer are cited as at the time of interview and may have changed since publication.