Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Effect of Music on Society

We are surrounded by music every day. No matter where we go, whether in the grocery store, the mall, our workplace, or school, there is music constantly playing. We sit down to watch a movie or flip on the TV and automatically, before our mind can even recognize the picture on the screen, we hear the music. Children often are exposed to a variety of music before they even attend middle school through nursery school songs such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Speculations have been made in the past whether music has any impact on people or affects them in any way. Research suggests that music, whether we are playing an instrument or listening to the radio, has the capability to have a profound impact on our lives.

Young babies seem to love it when they are sang a song by their parents. They clap their hands and bounce along with the rhythms. Soothing music such as “Hush Little Baby” and even classical pieces will often put a baby to sleep or calm them down. Upbeat songs or chants such as “This Little Piggy Went to the Market” or “Pat a Cake, Pat a Cake, Bakers Man” can result in babies giggling and laughing for hours. Even at this early stage in life babies can begin to recognize rhythms and songs. Music can also affect premature babies. Researchers at Brigham Young University (as cited in Robledo, 2011) conducted a study in which they played music for thirty-three newborns that were in the neonatal intensive care unit at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. After playing lullabies for forty minutes each day for four days, they found that the babies that were exposed to music had gained more weight, had a lower blood pressure, and a stronger heartbeat.

It seems that music has the largest effect on young and school age children. Children that are exposed to music from a young age have been documented to score higher on tests. James Catterall (as cited in Raise Smart Kid, 1997) of ULCA conducted a ten year study with 25,000 students and found that those involved with music-making improved their scores in reading proficiency and standardized tests. Music has been said to help with language learning skills in both a baby learning his or her first language and a child learning a second language. Lisa Karimer (as cited in Legg,2009), author of “Can Southeast Asian Students Learn to Discriminate Between English Phonemes More Quickly With the Aid of Music and Rhythm?”, conducted a study in a large comprehensive school in England. The aim of the experiment was to see if music made any difference when it came to learning a foreign language. They took the twelve and thirteen year old second year French students and divided them into two groups. In one of the groups they used music to aid with learning by putting French vocabulary into little songs. In the other group they did not change the learning environment at all. The results of the experiment were found when the children of both groups were tested on their increased level of understanding of the French language at the end of the school year. The non-music group increased their knowledge by 39.9% that year while the music group increased their knowledge by 52.8%. The non-music group held the lowest individual score while both groups held the highest individual score.

In September of 2006 a research study was conducted to see if taking music lessons effected a young child’s brain development. This was the first time this type of study was done. Previous studies had been conducted on older children to see if their grades differed such as in the previous example, but this was the first study conducted on children ages four to six. The study used two groups of children, one with no musical background and the other a group of kids just starting Suzuki music lessons. After a year of monitoring these children, they concluded that not only did the musically trained children’s brains respond to music differently but the lessons had improved their memory, literacy, visiospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ as well (Oxford University Press, 2006). So does music automatically make you smarter? No, but as researcher Kristian David Olson (1996) said, “Music won't turn anyone into a genius, but it can have some substantial effects on bringing people above average at least.”

The educational subjects that are said to be affected through music include: math, reading, English, biology, chemistry, and math. College students have been reported to score higher on tests in all subjects when they have had musical training for several years in their past. Even when they did not have musical training but listened to classical music, their scores improved. So why is this? When we listen to classical music, our brain essentially uses the same path that it uses for spatial reasoning. Learning a musical instrument can actually create new pathways in our brain (Bales, 2011). However, just as soon as we turn on or create these new pathways they can disappear. Bales (2011) says that “the effect lasts only a short time. Our improved spatial skills fade about an hour after we stop listening to the music. Learning to play an instrument can have longer-lasting effects on spatial reasoning, however.” Also, the discipline required when learning an instrument can help in the future with academic achievement. So while the music itself doesn’t make you any smarter, the effect of it can help you think and learn at a higher level.

Perhaps the most surprising type of music that can have an effect on us is background music. We often do not notice the music being played in the store when we are shopping, and for the most part that is on purpose. The music is there to cover up the noise from other shoppers, so you can concentrate on your own purchases. Some stores use the music to improve their image, and they believe using upbeat tunes will make the customers happier (Milliman 1982). Background music at work is said to improve job satisfaction, concentration, and productivity. The Journal of Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology (as cited in eMed Expert,2011) claims that “a person's ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers, is faster when either rock or classical music is playing in the background.” Human Resources Magazine (as cited in Gorden, 2008) reports a study by researchers at the University of Illinois which concluded that "listening to music may increase the output of employees in all types of work.” This study showed that the output of employees of all types increased by 6.3%. Stress in the workplace is often a cause of distraction and less productivity. According to the Journal of Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology( as cited in William Gorden, 2008) “If you are aiming to be more productive through being more relaxed, then you may be interested to learn that research has shown that music with an upbeat rhythm can reduce stress hormone levels by as much as 41%.”

Another type of background music is found in movies and on TV. The music that you may or may not notice when you are watching a movie is used as a tool by the producers to get the viewer to the emotional place of the scene. Music is often more affective and powerful than the words are. A unknown author (2008) of the blog “Hopkins Cinem Adddicts” says in a discussion about the importance of music in film, “I believe that a movie’s music is one of its most important aspects; a characteristic that is often taken for granted. A film can reveal so much within its music. Beyond the creepy background music of thrillers that tells you the killer is around the corner, music has the ability to expose characters’ feelings, actions, and a film’s tensions.” The author (2008) also goes on to say that “everywhere we go music follows us, making us desensitized to it. Our habituation to music means we easily overlook music’s role in our lives, and even more so in film. Music’s function is deeper than simply background music. Focus on the songs the director chooses, and you will have a much greater understanding of a film; you’ll learn and experience a good deal more.”

Music also has the ability to affect stress. It has been known to alleviate stress by taking your mind off it. Both classical and especially upbeat music can help you feel more positive and optimistic. Soft music can help you relax tense muscles from the stress and tension of your day. It can also help with insomnia. The eMed Expert web site (2011) explains that “music can decrease the amount of the cortisol, a stress-related hormone produced by the body in response to stress.” Music is one of the easiest, most enjoyable, ways to alleviate a stressful day; after all, it doesn’t take up any extra time doing any certain stress reliving activity. All you have to do is turn it on.

Different ailments have also been known to be relieved by music. The intensity, frequency, and duration of headaches can be alleviated through music. It can also help with pain management. The sensation and distress of postoperative and chronic pain can be eased through listening to music. The chronic pain from Osteoarthritis, disc problems, and rheumatoid arthritis has been researched to be reduced by 21% from music. The eMed Expert (2011) website lists four theories about how the music effects perceived pain. The first theory claims that music is a distracter; therefore, it removes people’s minds from the pain when they are involved in listening. The second theory asserts that music gives the patient a sense of control. The third theory states that when we are listening to music, our body releases endorphins which counteract the pain. Lastly, the fourth theory claims that slow music relaxes a person which slows their breathing and heartbeat. According to the American Society of Hypertension (as cited in eMedExpert, 2011), blood pressure can also be regulated through music. They said that “listening to just thirty minutes of classical, Celtic, or raga music every day may significantly reduce high blood pressure” and that you can heighten low blood pressure by “playing recordings of relaxing music every morning and evening.” Stroke patients can also benefit from listening to music. The eMed Expert (2011) website records a study that was done with stroke patients in which half did not listen to any extra amount of music then they normally would and the other half listened to music for several hours a day. The group that listened to music several hours a day improved their verbal memory and attention span significantly more than the other group. These are just a few of the ailments that have been researched to have been positively affected through music.

Elderly musicians have been researched to have less hearing impairments than non-musicians. Benjamin Rich Zendel (as cited in Connelly, 2011), a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, conducted a study with Dr. Claude Alain, senior cognitive scientist and assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute, and found that “being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing.” Other hearing studies have also shown that trained musicians have more auditory abilities than to non-musicians do.

The type of music we listen to makes a difference as to the effect it will have on us. Classical music, especially pieces written by Mozart and Vivaldi, seem to have the most effect when children are taking tests, trying to fall asleep, or staing focused on a task. Chasing away depression, doing monotonous tasks, or going for a run are most affected through upbeat music such as bluegrass, rock, Klezmer, Salsa, or reggae. When it comes to music having the ability to make you smarter, often it comes through the actual learning of an instrument. This has the potential to have the greatest effect on a person. It is said that learning an instrument can not only teach patience and diligence but also instill a love for learning that will last a lifetime.

No matter how old or young you are or what stage of life you are in, music has the ability to positively affect you in numerous ways. For a child, music, which comes so easy, is the way they often express themselves. Before children can even speak, they are cooing about this or that, and often, they can get their point across without even using words. The ability to make music aids their ability to learn language. Researchers have proved that the more children are exposed to music and taught how to play instruments, the higher the likelihood of them having a high IQ is. Sitting at your desk at work or shopping in the clothing store, music is once again affecting you. Music has the ability to manipulate your mind through films and ease your stress after a long day at work. A prescription for music can be taken to alleviate numerous ailments and chronic pain. As you can see, recent research demonstrates how music has the ability to have a large impact on society and how we conduct our daily lives.


Bales, D (2011) Building Baby's Brain: The Role of Music. Education Oasis. Retrieved from

Connelly, K. (2011). Older musicians experience less age-related decline in hearing abilities than non-musicians. University of Toronto News. Retrieved from

eMed Expert (2011) How Music Affects Us and Promotes Health. eMed Expert. Retrieved from

Gorden, I (2008) Ask the Workplaces Doctors. Retrieved from

Hopkins Cinem Adddicts (2008, November 13). A Brief Discourse on the Importance of Music in Film. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Legg, R. (2009). Using music to accelerate language learning: an experimental study. Research In Education, (82), 1-12.

Milliman, R. (1982) Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers. The Journal of Marketing, 46, 86-91

Olson, K (1996) The Effects of Music on the Mind. Retrieved from

Oxford University Press (2006, September 20). First Evidence That Musical Training Affects Brain Development In Young Children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from­ /releases/2006/09/060920093024.htm

Raise Smart Kid (1997) The Effect of Music on Children’s Intelligence. Raise Smart Kid. Retrieved from

Robledo, J. (2011) Music and your baby (newborn to 1 year). Baby Center. Retrieved from

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Then and Now

When I was young I lived in a world I no longer live in, a place that can no longer be found. Outside my window was an endless world of adventure where now only lays a plain, grassy lawn. My backyard was full of woods great for campouts and forts, now all I see is a few trees and a lot of weeds. I ran through my yard barefoot, the soft grass beneath my feet. I swam in vivid blue lakes lined with white sandy beaches. My yard now contains bumps and ridges, the beach is no longer white but brown and dirty, and the lake not blue but dark and murky. Was my world unreal or am I now only capable of seeing imperfection and ugliness?

When I was a child I was entertained for hours and hours dressing my dolls. Now I can’t even spend ten minutes doing something without getting bored and looking for entertainment elsewhere. I spent at least two hours every night reading books from cover to cover, not missing one word. Now I find myself skimming, my interest waning all too quickly, and no longer capable of reading every word in a book. I used to be glued to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood every time my mom would allow me to watch it; now I skim through the channels losing interest if there isn’t an exciting storyline appearing in the first fifteen seconds. Looking through the American Girl magazine over and over again until the pages were torn and falling out and dreaming of what I might be able to purchase someday used to provide enough entertainment to satisfy. Now I have to actually purchase the item, no longer am I satisfied with window shopping. It seems I had more patience and contentment back then, perhaps just more time on my hands.

When I still couldn’t see over the counter at the library, I had a lot of trust. I saw perfection in the people that surrounded me. I thought my dad could do anything. I didn’t know what limitations were. I thought my mom was an encyclopedia, a history book, a grammar manual; I didn’t think there was a school subject that she wasn’t an expert in. I thought my friends were forever. I didn’t know they were capable of disowning me. Life was simple; life was perfect. Was it really though? I had never experienced the beauty of a friend who stuck by through thick and thin when others didn’t. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate faith and trust because I didn’t know life without them.

As a child pain was experienced when I fell down the stairs. Hurt was the effect of a scraped knee. Death? That only happened to people who were really old and who I wasn’t close with. Now I experience pain through the betrayal of a friend, hurt through the action of gossip. Death, it’s all around me, raining down, and it won’t stop. It’s no longer the old person I barely knew; it’s my friends, my family, my loved ones. It would seem as life without these things would be a better one, but could it be that hurt and pain is what gives me the opportunity to realize that I can overcome, that I can be a better person despite it? Could it be that death would cause me to realize what I have, though temporal, is precious? Could it be that I am a more thankful and grateful person for today because I know that it is not forever?

In my younger years I lived in a world of utopia, a world so perfect, a world so simple. That simplicity gave me the power to see only the good in others, only the beauty in the world, and only the happiness and contentment that could be had. I now have the ability to experience the bad of the world, the pain, the suffering, the death, the discontentment, the abandonment. However, could it be that these are the very things that give me the ability to fully appreciate life so much more?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Delivery of Communication

In every word we say, every email we write, every speech we prepare, every text we send, every grocery list we write, and every idea we present, we are utilizing the art of rhetoric which is persuasive language. Whether it be in an email trying to encourage your friend to meet you for coffee tomorrow, an academic article on whether or not musically trained children are smarter than non-musical children, a speech about the effects of leading a stressful life, or simply a grocery list enlisting the shopper to buy this or that at the grocery store, we can see that in every word we say or write we are using a form of rhetoric. We are constantly trying to persuade somebody about something.

While we all use rhetoric, we each have a different style of persuasion. In fact, depending on our audience, or who we are speaking to, our rhetoric will change. For example, you would probably try to convince your bedridden grandmother to move into a nursing home in a much different way than you would try to talk your customer at the used car lot into buying a like new, one year old, warranty bearing Volkswagen Jetta. When talking to your grandmother, you would probably speak with deep emotion, or pathos, trying to convince her that this is the best choice at this particular time no matter how hard it is. When talking to your possible buyer, you would probably establish how reliable your used car lot is, and how that if anything went wrong with the Jetta in the next six months he or she would be able to have it fixed for no fee, thus establishing your character and reliability to the future buyer and convincing him or her that buying this car would be the most logical choice. As you can see, we are constantly manipulating the way we form our words in a way that coincides with our side of the argument or maybe just our side of life, the way we view this or that.

Through the years rhetoric has changed shape within its boundaries of persuasion and communication. There was a time, mainly before the 1960’s, where rhetoric and language did not hold as much beauty or depth, but rather was simply as the work Grounds for Writers puts it, “a means of expressing some objective reality or individual perception.” While rhetoric has always been a means of persuasion before the mid 1960’s, it was made up of mostly premade arguments, universalism, and absolution, creating authors that, as Grounds for Writers says, were more “meaning-arrangers” than “meaning-makers.”

Even in recent years you can see how people’s perception and use of rhetoric has changed and evolved by looking through old newspaper articles. Between 1994 and 1997 several newspaper articles defined rhetoric as words and the way a person put them together rather than where those words were leading. Examples of this were titles that included the following: “Sharp rhetoric marks opening day of House debate on welfare bill,” and “Mr. Aristide's Deadly Rhetoric.” Between 1999 and 2001 rhetoric seems to have been used to enhance and mask topics almost to the point of trying to make something better than it actually was. Articles contain phrases such as “Bush rhetoric raises some concerns,” and “Reassuring Rhetoric, Reality in Conflict.” An interesting saying was written in an article of the Toronto Star that could shed some light as to this change in rhetoric. It simply said, “Wars generate rhetoric.” Perhaps with the birth of the war on terrorism it was a time in our nation when sympathetic and reassuring rhetoric was needed the most; maybe even in the times where it led you to believe that things were better than they really were. Moving on to present day it seems that rhetoric has taken yet another turn and in many cases is used to relay an underlying meaning. For example, one article accused President Obama of sending jabs at the Republicans through a speech where he mentioned that law makers could learn a thing or two from your average Joe living outside of Washington. Another article claimed that Teamsters President Jim Hoffa issued a threat to the tea party and that while “Hoffa wasn't literally advocating violence… his rhetoric was nonetheless violent.” It seems that people are using rhetoric as a way of relaying a message to a person or group of people without actually coming out and saying it.

Rhetoric has always been and always will be a means of persuasion and communication, but as we can see even in the last several years, its existence is constantly evolving. It went from logical words between 1994 and 1997, to a means of enhancement and masking the truth between 1999 and 2001, and to yet another definition today that seems to define a “read between the lines,” underlying meaning.

Man from the very beginning has employed and been an expert in art of rhetoric in his everyday language. While some people have more flourishing and convincing rhetoric than others, and some periods in time have had a different emphasis on rhetoric than others, nonetheless, it has always been around and utilized in daily life. Rhetoric is much more than persuading words however, it is the beauty and sophistication of language. It is the very core that draws from the reader- attention, emotion, persuasion, and thought. In essence it is the very reason that we listen to a hypothesis or read a book. Every human is biased in one way or another; we are all different; it is what makes us interesting. It is also what draws us to seek out other biased opinions or perspectives. Ultimately, rhetoric is the bursting colors through which the author paints his picture to the world.