New Things We Are Learning About The Mysterious Power of Music
We Can Work Harder, Think Faster and Feel Happier to Quick-Rhythm Tunes—A New Aid in Hospitals, Industrial Plants, and in Our Homes
EDGAR C. WHEELER
A FEW weeks ago I was visiting at the home of friends, when the hostess suggested playing a few selections on their new phonograph.
“But first,” she said, addressing me, “how do you feel?”
“First rate—but why do you ask?” I replied, somewhat astonished.
“Just so I’ll know what selections to play! Here, let me show you what I mean,” she added, opening the doors of the phonograph cabinet. On each shelf, containing a number of records, she had pasted a little typewritten label. The first one I examined read something like this: “Play when life grows too monotonous; stirs you up.” I glanced quickly through the records on that shelf. One was the “Toreador Song” from Carmen, sung by a baritone and chorus. Another was the “Marseillaise,” played by a military band. A third was “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”
On the next shelf the label read : “ Play when worried ; brings you peace of mind.” Typical of these records were the “Meditation” from Thais, by Massenet, played by Alliert Spalding, violinist; “Home, Sweet Home,” sung by Anna Case; and a dance orchestra waltz entitled “ My Isle of Golden Dreams.”
Still other shelves bore classifications such as; “Play to stimulate new ideas, imagination and invention;” “Play when glum, makes you joyous;” “Play when in wistful mood;” “Play for more energy.” Love songs and selections for children had separate shelves.
“Where did you get the idea?” I asked.
“ It wasn’t my idea. A musician friend showed me how to select the records and classify them. You may not believe it, but the system works like a charm! However I may feel at the end of the day —tired, gay, nervous or whatnot—I can always pick out the right music to pep me up or quiet me.”
Like most other people, I usually take my music as it comes—good, bad or indifferent. But here was a novel idea. It interested me. The next daj’ I made some inquiries, and I discovered that its originator was none other than the greatest of American inventors, Thomas A. Edison. I found that Edison was a pioneer in the new science of applied music.
A FEW years ago, when the new marvels of multiplying music by radio, talking machines and piano players were placing the best artists in our homes, Edison came to the conclusion that this great mass of unassorted music should be sorted out scientifically and put to intelligent use. People, he thought, would welcome some guide for choosing the kind of music that would meet their mental, physical and emotional needs from day to day. He engaged the services of a leading authority on applied psychology, Dr. Walter V. Bingham, then associated with the Carnegie Institute of Technology. With a number of associates, Dr. Bingham undertook a series of remarkable tests.
Taking 589 different musical selections, varying all the way from jazz to grand opera, they tried these out on various listeners, all of whom were experienced in self-analysis. The listening conditions were carefully regulated, and all changes in moods and feelings of the listeners recorded. The tests lasted several months.
Has It Happened to You?
JJAVE you ever come home, fagged out at the end of a wracking day, and dropped into a chair with your head so awhirl that it seems about to fly to pieces? Distractedly, you reach for the radio dials. There comes to you a song, swinging slowly, soothing. Your muscles relax. You find yourself humming. The tune changes—a stirring patrol march. Before you know it you are tapping the floor with your feet. When it is over, somewhere, in the quick, rhythmic strains, your troubles have vanished.
Though we are only beginning to understand this mysterious power, already, as Mr. Wheeler tells, amazing examples of its utilization are found. Hospitals, industrial plants and men as individuals are choosing and using music today on the basis of its astounding and scientifically proved effects.
Some of the results were surprising. For example, a number of hymns, instead of creating a mood of reverence, were found to induce a decidedly frivolous gaiety. A few pieces, too, varied extremely in the way they affected different listeners. But in the end the experimenters were able to classify 135 selections which produced unmistakable and marked effects, mentally and emotionally, on all who heard them. This was the list which had guided my friend.
NOT long ago two educators at Columbia University demonstrated in another striking way the ability of music to produce moods to order. They were Prof. Charles Hubert Farnsworth, musician, and Prof. Alon Bernent, artist, and the tests were made on students of Professor Bement’s class in sketching. While a series of musical selections were played, the students were asked to draw rapidly any designs which came to mind. Titles or composers of the compositions were not announced. When the drawings were collected, it was found an easy matter to distinguish those which were sketched while a jazz piece was played, those drawn to the tune of the “Moonlight Sonata,” and those sketched to Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” No two of the drawings were alike in subject, yet each reflected unmistakably the mood created by the music.
How the blood-stirring strains of bagpipes have incited Scotch kilties to reckless fury in battle is a matter of history. Our own overseas vets know how the rhythm of fife and drum can impart new strength to weary soldiers on the march. Henry T. Finck, ixxusic critic, once declared that listening to a concert enabled him to sketch the plan for an entire book.
Most of us who enjoy music have felt its mysterious power to sway us—to rest us when we are tired, make us happy when we are glum, stimulate our imaginations, encourage us, thrill and inspire us. But just what is this strange power?
Why do we tap oxir feet to the rhythm of a lively tuixe, and how is it that a blast of music from a great orchestra can seixd chills racing down our spines? Why does one kind of music make us “feel good,” another depress us?
Scientists are just beginning to learn the answers. Within recent years they have learned that music, besides being a source of pleasure and entertaiixment, can become a force of immense practical value in our homes, offices and workshops; that melodies and lxarmoixies, chosen and used scientifically, possess remarkable powers of renewiixg our vitality.
The secret of music’s power, they generally agree, is its rhythm. This rhythm, impressed upon you through your ears, goes through your body with contagious effect, just as the footfalls of marclxixxg soldiers will cause a bridge to sway if the soldiers keep in step.
NEARLY all of your bodily machinery operates rhythmically. The rhythm of music seems to have the effect of altering the beat of this natural rhythm. It arouses or depresses the action of your nerves, changes the action of your bodily secretions, makes your heart beat faster or slower, alters the rhythm of your breathing, and acts through motor nerves on your muscles.
Your pulse rate, in addition, directly influences your reaction to lively or sad music, for the effect of any musical selection depends largely oix the relation of the speed of rhythm to the speed of your heartbeats. The average normal human pulse runs about seventy beats to the minute. A lively tune, like a quickstep march, the rhythm of which is faster tlxaix the heartbeat—say eighty to the minute—almost always has the effect of exciting or exhilarating us. We express our reaction to this excitement by tapping with our feet and applauding. On the other hand, music with rhythm slower than the heartbeat has opposite effects. Sometimes it rests us; often it depresses and makes us gloomy.
This explains, too, why in moments of high excitement, quick-rhythm music may sweep us completely off our feet and why, sinxilarly, in moments of depression, slow music nxay sink us to despair.
Fraxxz Kneisel, late leader of the famous Kneisel string quartet, took advaxxtage of these facts by deliberately setting the rhythm of his selections slightly above the normal heartbeat. The result of this was invariably a marked increase in applaxise. Moreover, he made use of the fact that the weather influences the human pulse rate. On the morning before an importaxxt concert he would study the weather forecast anxl arrange the rhythmic speed of his musical selections accordingly.
THE secret of the popularity of John Philip Sousa, the famous baixdmaster, it has been said, lay partly in the fact that he usually timed the rhythixx of his band music just above that of the normal heartbeat.
Dr. E. E. Free, authority on sound and light, learned some interesting facts about our foot-tappiixg habits iix recent experiments with theater audiences. During a slow musical number, a stethoscope detected considerable tapping of feet at the outset, but this quickly died oxit. During a lively selectioix, the tapping began softly and steadily increased, until finally at least xxinety percent of the audience were beating time with their feet. Which suggests the question: Why do we use our feet instead of our heads, arnxs, or bodies, to beat time? A few weeks ago a Swiss scientist advanced the novel theory that the nerves which first react to music are centered in the feet. The accepted explaixatioix, however, is simply that our feet are the most conveixient members to move, especially when we are seated.
To demonstrate to yourself the importance of rhythm in the effectof mxxsic, select some slow-moving (Continued on page 130) tune like “Old Black Joe” or “Suwanee River” and play it in quick-step time!
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I recall vividly a young organist in a small town church in New Jersey who, at the close of the mid-week prayer meeting, after the departure of the congregation and elders, would open the hymnal to the slowest hymn he could find and dash it off in high-speed syncopation. Soon he would have the members of the choir, who had remained for practice, dancing through the aisles.
IT IS rhythm that is giving music a definite job today in industry. Jess Hawley, the noted Dartmouth football coach, explained recently in POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY how rhythm boosts the power of his elevens by promoting unity of action, or teamwork. Similarly the rhythm of music is being put to work in factories, offices, schools and workshops, especially where the work requires constant repetition. Music not only speeds up the work but keeps the workers happier and healthier. In the plant of a large electrical manufacturing company at Newark, N. J., music noticeably increased the efficiency of the workers engaged in sorting machine parts.
Factory music has led to many interesting discoveries. For one thing, where machinery is operating with definite rhythm, the music must follow the rhythm of the machines; otherwise it may do more harm than good, possibly causing an accident. The reason is that the human body cannot do teamwork under the influence of more than one rhythm at a time.
A recent incident in a Michigan factory illustrates the importance of this. A certain punch press seemed to possess the uncanny faculty of injuring the hands of every man who tried to operate it. At last a consulting engineer was called in. He discovered that the sound made by the machine was of a different rhythm from that of the machine’s operation, resulting in confusion to the operator. A slight adjustment changed the sound rhythm and remedied the difficulty.
IN medical treatment also, music is now a recognized aid to physicians. It cheers patients and relieves pain; it infuses new energy in those who need stimulation, and calms others who are over-excited. In New York City alone some fifteen hospitals have introduced music under scientific supervision. Hospitals throughout the country have installed radio sets, talking machines and piano players. Musicians are being trained to cooperate with physicians.
In this field, too, it has been learned that music must be selected with care. An intensive study of the subject has just been completed by Dr. James Ewing of Cornell University, noted authority on cancer treatment, among his patients in the New York Memorial Hospital. He made many measurements of pulse, temperature, respiration and blood pressure among patients under musical influence. The results (Continued on page 131) proved that the kind of music which maybenefit one patient may injure another. For example, a brilliant selection was found dangerous to a patient with high blood pressure, whereas it stimulated another patient with low vitality. Pleasing music of moderate rhythm, however, played for short periods at a time, was found generally beneficial to nearly all patients.
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MANY instances have been reported where music has been employed to relieve pain and to aid as an anaesthetic. At the Providence Hospital in Washington,D. C., phonographic music is played softly in the operating room to soothe the subconscious mind of the patient under anaesthetic. In Chicago not long ago an operation was performed on a patient’s eye without any anaesthetic. Instead, a violinist played continuously during the half hour of the operation. At the conclusion the patient said that she “felt no pain and the music was beautiful.” Again, Dr. W. E. Dentiger, a Connecticut practitioner, declared not long ago that Vice-President Charles G. Dawes, when he wrote his “Melody in A,” provided “just the thing for hysteria.” And Schubert, he added, when he composed the immortal “Serenade” conceived a blessing for the insomnia patient.
Undoubtedly other factors beside rhythm have a part in giving music its power. Among them are the loudness, or volume of the sound; the pitch, determined by the rate of the sound vibrations; the timbre, or tone quality; the tempo, or characteristic movement; accent, cadence, harmony, and so on.
Many of us have had the experience of being “raised off our seats” by the very intensity of musical sound. Caruso, so the story goes, could strike a drinking glass, repeat its note with his voice, and continue to sing that note until the intensity of vibrations shattered the glass. Is it any wonder, then, that some blasts of music can send shivers down our spines?
A S FOR pitch, we know that certain JlJL tones are more pleasing than others and that some are decidedly disagreeable. A woman’s piercing scream, the shriek of car wheels, the hiss of the villain—all are sounds that “hurt” our ear or affect us unpleasantly, because their vibration frequency is higher than our ears like to hear. On the other hand, low rumbling organ tones are displeasing to many people.
To get the whole story of music, as was suggested the other day by Prof. Michael I. Pupin, of Columbia University, “we must follow the sound vibrations through that marvelous receiving instrument, the ear, which with its sixty thousand parts speeds the message along myriads of tiny nerves to the central station, the brain. There the soul of man interprets the language of music.” Perhaps, when we understand this language more fully, we shall find undreamed of uses for the vast streams of music which fill the air and which most of us now regard as little more than passing pleasure.