Music Can Soothe the Heart

Tempo -- Not Personal Taste -- Is the Key to Heart Benefits, Study Shows

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 28, 2005 -- "Take two tunes and call me in the morning" isn't usual advice from heart doctors, but maybe it should be.

Luciano Bernardi, MD, and colleagues aren't suggesting music as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle and heart medicines. However, music could enhance heart health, they note.

Learning to play music may help even more. Musicians showed more heart sensitivity to music in Bernardi's study, which appears in Heart's advance online edition.

Bernardi works at Italy's University of Pavia.

More Than Setting the Mood

Music is well known for setting the mood. Think of a harp's formal, delicate sounds; rock and roll's rebel yell; the forlorn howl of the blues; or the sheer force of a gospel choir singing as if their lives depended on it.

Music has also gotten attention from scientists. It's shown to cut stress, upgrade athletic performance, improve movement in nerve-damaged patients, and boost milk production in cattle, write Bernardi and colleagues.

Tune Test

Bernardi's study was small. It included 24 healthy people in their early to mid-20s; half were accomplished musicians.

Participants lay down and rested quietly for 20 minutes. Then they donned headsets and listened to a random selection of music.

Meanwhile, researchers monitored their heart rates, breathing, blood pressure, and other vital signs (including during the rest period).

Musical Menu

Curious about what the participants heard? Here's the play list:

  • Raga (Indian classical music): "Sitar Music Meditations" by Debabrata Chaudhuri
  • Slow classical music: an adagio from Beethoven's 9th symphony
  • Fast classical music: a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi
  • Techno music: "You Spin Me Round" by Gigi D'agostino
  • Rap music: "The Power of Equality" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Dodecaphonic (12-tone) music: a slow, modern orchestral piece by the late composer Anton Webern

Tempo Trumped Taste

The study's results:

  • Fast tempos drove up heartbeats, breathing, and blood pressure
  • Slower tempos were calming
  • Personal taste in music didn't affect the results; only tempo mattered

During pauses between music types, heart rates, breathing, and blood pressure improved beyond that seen before the participants listened to any music.

Researchers say this suggests that any type of music -- fast or slow -- may have beneficial effects on the heart.

Musicians' Advantage

The musicians in the study were more sensitive to musical tempo.

That may be because they've learned to breathe in time with the music or to concentrate harder during fast rhythms and relax during lulls or slower passages, the researchers write.

Since the participants were all young and healthy, more research probably awaits. But the findings may be food for thought as you scroll through your musical collection.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Bernardi, L. Heart, advance online edition. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.
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