The influence of music on human emotions has long been known, but it appears that the relationship between a human mind and sound (and music particularly) is much more complex and interesting. The human mind, which is really what we think, how we process the information coming from the outside world and use it, very much depends on the emotional state. In fact the two are so much intertwined that it is reasonable to consider them as a whole.
There are different ways of improving mental health, but all of them affect human brain in one way or another. Some – by chemical reactions (antidepressant drugs), others – by stimulating certain parts of the brain using electromagnetic impulses, transferred through electrodes connected to a human body. Music is also often used in treating different mental conditions by positively affecting emotional state of patients. Physically music is nothing but a sequence of waves emanating in time and space at frequencies that our ear can perceive. However, music therapy looks much more safe compared to other methods, since chemical drugs always have some negative side effects, and the influence of electromagnetic stimulation hasn’t been studied well enough to firmly conclude that it is absolutely safe.
So, how it works exactly ? A human brain produces electric impulses at certain frequencies (brain waves). And a particular frequency is associated with one kind of activity or another. Here is a diagram, showing this process.
Thus, sounds we hear create sort of response in our brain, particularly in the auditory cortex and we are able to discern pitch, tonality, rhythm, melody etc. Music therefore affects our brain waves. However, different kinds of music do so in a different manner. Fast-paced music with a lot of beats, expressing passion is likely to stimulate beta brain waves, whereas more harmonious sounds and deep sounds invoke alpha or even theta waves. Those of you, who are familiar with musical genres such as ambient are more likely to understand what I mean by harmonious sounds. But those who are not, can imagine some classical music or can go and listen the masters of that genre, like Steve Roach or Pete Namlook.
Here is where it gets deeper. Sound affects not only the mind but also the intellect. The intellect is a higher consciousness (and therefore is superior to the mind), which allows us to form concepts, ideas, to have morals and think abstractly. Music affects the intellect in a very subtle way, due to the fact that music is a product of intellect itself, because it is born as a concept or abstract idea, and then developed into a concrete piece of art. Therefore, since the intellect is the source of music, they are interconnected, directly influencing each other. On a physical level it can be explained by the fact that the auditory cortex has connections to the frontal lobe of the brain, just behind the forehead, where much of our capabilities for abstraction, anticipation, and inference sit. It has also been proved that children who attend school classes show an increase in IQ, compared to children who attend other art classes or none at all.
Another theoretical explanation of the phenomenon I found in the ancient text of Vedic culture – “Vishnu Purana”, where it is said that the sound is a rudiment of space, which in turn is a product of intellect (book 1, chapter 2).
However, the degree to which the intellect can be affected by the music depends on the strength of the intellect. Another side of this fact is that a person’s level of intellect can be judged, by implication, according to what type of music he/she prefers. And here the preference is directly influenced by the capacity to perceive, understand and enjoy certain type of music. For example, my friend, who knows my music tastes very well and tried listen to the kind of music I usually listen, told me that he can’t focus on it and it somewhat slips from his memory. I think we are safe to assume that everyone has an affinity with a certain type of music. Of course it can change in the course of time, depending on age, level of education, life experience and many other factors, since the intellect develops as well.
Sound can heal people, but it can also cause panic or even death at certain frequencies. The power of sound is immense, since it is one of the essential characteristics of the Universe, and, perhaps, we’ve just begun to understand the significance of sound and its influence on human beings.