Art, Music, DanceHeart DiseaseHigh Blood Pressure

Music therapy: Does it matter if you like what you hear?

Researchers from Italy and the UK report that different music selections have similar cardiovascular effects, regardless of a person’s music preferences and training.

This has implications for treating blood pressure and rehabilitation.

First, the details.

  • 24 volunteers (choir singers and people with no music training) listened to music compositions in random order.
    • Orchestral adagio from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
    • The emotional and lyrical operatic aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot
    • A so-called “Intellectual” piece of solo singing from Bach, the cantata “Gott soll allein mein Herze haben” (BMW 169)
    • The aria “Va pensiero” from Verdi’s opera “Nabucco
    • The drinking song “Libiam Nei Lieti Calici” from Verdi’s “La Traviata
    • 2 minutes of silence
  • Heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, middle cerebral artery blood flow velocity, and skin vascular activity were recorded.

And, the results.

  • Most participants reported no emotional response or preference for a composition.
  • None reported strong emotions or “chills” from listening to the music.
    • That’s hard to believe.
  • Consistently, cardiovascular effects corresponded to the degree and timing of the composition.
  • Music crescendo or emphasis tended to induce progressive skin vasoconstriction and increase in blood pressure and heart rate.
  • The most rapid responses were in the interval between “R” waves on the electrocardiogram (ECG) and in the middle cerebral artery flow velocity, followed by systolic and diastolic blood pressures and skin blood vessel response.
    • The “R” wave — the highest peak on a normal ECG tracing — corresponds to the pumping ventricle moving blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.
  • Silence was marked by minor changes with progressive skin vasodilation and reductions in heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Details on the music and associated physiological response are summarized in this Medpage Today article.

The bottom line?
The researchers believe their findings have “considerable implications for the use of music as a therapeutic tool.”

Despite popular belief in a personal, emotional response to music, all participants responded similarly. This suggests that music is sensed and processed at a subconscious level that is closely mirrored by cardiovascular responses.

“If music induces similar physiological effects in different subjects, standard therapeutic interventions should be possible,” concluded the authors.

6/23/09 10:42 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.