The structural features and physiological effects that music brings with it make it an ideal tool for studying heart-brain interactions, learning how they work and react, and finding treatments for neurological conditions.
Nephrologist Michael Field used an extraordinary tool to teach his medical students to decode everything they hear from the heart using a medical phone. These sounds are very distinct. For example, when the heart valves open to allow blood to reach them, or when the valves close after draining blood, certain sounds are produced.
Separately, a musician-mathematician named Elaine Chew used electrocardiographic (ECG) effects from heart rhythm disorders to record abnormal rhythms that are also known in music. Among the available pieces of music that match the heartbeat is Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à la Turk, which weighs 2: 4: 3.
Another piece of music called Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango has been released as a remix in which the irregular rhythm of atrial fibrillation is heard. In this regard, other piano instruments have been performed by cardiologist Pier Lambiase, which is a prelude to the study of the heart’s electrical abnormalities through the sound it produces.
What is surprisingly evident in these studies is that abnormal heart rhythms have a repetitive rate of short beats. This rhythm is very similar to the rhythms heard in Beethoven’s music. Cardiologists speculate that these rhythms are Beethoven’s irregular heartbeats, and suspect that his inner awareness of the rhythm has increased with his deafness.
This is just one of the reasons why music should be part of a cardiologist’s toolbox. Music and the heart are deeply connected because of the common connections they establish between the human emotions and the human brain. History is full of examples of emotional events that are usually written down after each person’s death. “This sad story of portraying life after death always impresses me,” says heart surgeon John Hunter.
Cardiologists Peter Taggart and Pier Lambiase are studying how emotions can change the characteristics of individual heart cells. Their research shows that the stress on a person alters the recovery period of heart cells. The recovery time of heart cells after experiencing any sensation is called the potential action period.
Taggart conducted an experiment in which people with heart disease, while their hearts were beating at a constant rate at the time, were faced with exciting scenes of falling from an altitude of 2,000 meters. The potential for action for these stressed people is very short. This short duration of time can explain how the association of underlying heart disease with stress can lead to life-threatening arrhythmias.
Acute and momentary stress has devastating effects on how the heart works. On the other hand, chronic stress that occurs over a long period of time increases the risk of death and disease. When the immune system is attacked, the sympathetic part of the immune system goes out of default, which means that the body is under a lot of pressure. The theory of stress insecurity, proposed by psychologist Julian Thayer, suggests that unconscious feelings of insecurity caused by long-term stressors may increase the risk of heart disease. These factors include low social status, numerous life problems and emotional loneliness.
Because music is based on rhythms similar to the rhythm of the heartbeat, it can have a tremendous impact on the human condition. Until the mid-19th century, before the invention of the mechanical metronome, the heart rate was the standard unit of time in music. Franchinus Gaffurius, the composer theorist, wrote in his treatise Practica Musicae in 1496 that the correct measurement of beat in music should be based on the pulse of a healthy person, noting that the pulse of people with a fever increases and is different from normal. This prompted doctors to conduct further studies.
When we listen to a piece of music, in addition to receiving its rhythm, we also feel other physiological states. The steady rhythm set to Op.100 at the beginning of the Schubert trilogy not only evokes a state of power but also a sense of calm. The breathless octaves heard in Der Erlkrönig evoke the heartbeat of a feverish boy in his father’s arms who has lost his way on a stormy night. In a study by musician and scientist Grace Leslie, listening to a heartbeat or music with a regular rhythm can increase listeners’ ability to understand the feelings of others.
Music changes the rhythm of our heartbeat. It also determines our respiration rate and blood pressure. Changes in heart rate can affect our health and mental well-being. Neuropsychologist Loui and colleagues studied the physiological changes caused by listening to music in a central node in the brain network called the internal insular cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for regulating the body’s unconscious functions.
The internal insular cortex matches the internal and external experiences of the body. This part is connected to the parts of the brain that are responsible for hearing (auditory cortex) and pleasure (dopaminergic system). These sections help to adapt what the human ear hears and then turn it into a joyful pleasure within the body. It seems that the emotions that arise within us are due to the style of music that we listen to.
In other words, music can be considered an ideal catalyst that can cause physiological changes in the human heart and brain. The type of change can be determined by the content characteristics of the music and how the person interacts with the music. Evidence shows that the different characteristics of each piece of music make the brain react differently. Michael Casey, a composer and neurologist, analyzed data from human brain imaging while listening to music and found that the specific characteristics of each piece of music dictate specific patterns of activity to the brain. These patterns were so clear, specific, and orderly that recording and receiving them through fMRI scans was easy for the research team.
On the other hand, the characteristics of each piece of music can be related to the physiological responses of the body. In a study by doctors Luciano Bernardi and Peter Sleight, the loudness of music causes vasoconstriction, followed by high blood pressure. Ten-second sounds equivalent to the Mayer wavelength – the body’s natural period of fluctuations in blood pressure – caused the listeners’ heart rate to match the rhythm of the music. Such physiological changes that occur subconsciously in the body are due to the body’s emotional response to music.
The effect of music on the physiological system of humans is common. In other words, people who listen to the same music synchronize not only their movement, but also their breathing rhythm and heart rate. Part of this is the heartbeat due to the coordination of breathing. But there is also a slight coherence (with a linear relationship) between the heart rate of people who match long notes of music. It also helps synchronize breathing rhythm and heart rate.
Musicians are no exception. The cognitive and physical demands that music brings with it also directly affect the musicians’ heart rate and respiratory rate. Psychologists Caroline Palmer and Shannon Wright have shown that musicians’ heart rhythms when playing pieces they are unfamiliar with are different from those of musicians who do not pursue music professionally. Also, their heart rate when playing a particular song in the morning is different from their heart rate when playing the same piece at night.
In heart patients, changes in the body in the direction of listening to music can regulate blood flow to the brain, reduce preoperative anxiety and postoperative pain, thus improve the outcome of surgery, and ultimately Help lower cortisol levels in the body. Research has shown that music can directly affect the heart rate and blood pressure of people with coronary heart disease. Listening to soothing music not only reduces heart rate and respiration rate, but also reduces the patient’s need for oxygen in patients with a heart attack.
Advances in technology in biofeedback sensors mean that changes in heart rate and respiratory rate can be measured more accurately when listening to music. The effects of music can be used to control people’s heart rate. Today, with the help of biofeedback sensors, the effect of music on the neuro-cardiac states of different people has been well studied and a therapeutic version of music has been presented to improve the condition of patients.