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Alice Smith

February 24, 2005 at 2:55 AM

I have played the violin for nine years, and have been part of a musical family all my life. I've made many friends, both musical and non-musical. We have a lot of things in common, but music is not one of them.

While I listen to classical music almost everyday; Mozart, Sarasate, Vieuxtemps, Beethoven, kids my age listen to rap, rock, and popular music. Until I was started school I didn't have a lot of exposure to music that wasn't classical or jazz, opera or musical theater.

I asked my dad why our family didn't listen to popular music. He told me that when he and my mom were younger they used to listen to other styles of music, like the Talking Heads and reggae, but when our family grew to 6 people, we were too busy to listen to any music, really, except the sound of four girls sawing away at Suzuki. And when things calmed down a bit, pop music wasn't so much to their taste. I also asked him what problems he had with today's rap, rock, and pop. He said that, being a doctor, what bothered him most was the amount of noise being played into your ears during a song. Pop music is often amplified, and if there's percussion, and screaming vocalists, it can't be the best thing for your ears. He said to expect to see a big increase in people who wore hearing aids.

One thing in particular that annoys me about some music that I've heard is the incredibly stupid lyrics. This only applies to a small section of pop music; I've heard many songs whose lyrics have moved me, but a certain part of pop music has always had me saying, "Did she just use the word 'dead' twice in two lines? Did I hear that right?" This probably comes from the fact that my mom is a writer.

If I said this to any kid my age, they'd probably say, "So what? You like classical, I like rap. We have our differences, and listening to what I like to listen to is not hurting me." Which sounds like a perfectly solid, sensible argument. But it's not entirely true.

Studies have been done linking the music teens listen to with their arrest records. Kids that listen to heavy metal music are more apt to end up in residential treatment facilities or group homes than others, and kids with classical music education have the least trouble with the law. Some people think that the reason for this is the lyrics in music like heavy metal, which are filled with hate and death which encourages the listeners to act violently. It's not a surprise that soldiers in Iraq listen to heavy metal before launching their offensive attacks.

This kind of music doesn't only have effect on teenagers. When doctors played heavy metal next to the stomachs of pregnant woman, the fetal heart rate went up and the baby started kicking violently. But when the music was replaced by classical, the heart rate steadied and the kicking lessened.

In my research for this essay, I've come across many articles on the Mozart Effect. I'm not exactly sure when the Mozart Effect was first reported; either in France during the 1950s, or in 1993 by scientists at the University of California at Irvine. Basically, the Mozart Effect theorizes that listening to the music of Mozart increases spatial scores of high school and college students on IQ tests.

In 1993, a test was done at the University of CA, where the Mozart Effect was discovered (or re-discovered). After listening to 10 minutes of Mozart's Sonata for 2 pianos in D major K.448, 36 undergraduates scored a full 8 or 9 points higher on a spatial IQ test. The boost was temporary, lasting between 10 and 15 minutes, but the scientists learned that something in classical music, at least classical music by Mozart, increased IQ scores, if only temporarily.

Of course, the media translated it as "Mozart makes you smarter". Unsurprisingly, the next day, Mozart CD's flew off of record store's shelves across the nation.

Since then, many more tests have been conducted. A study in England found students scored 10 points higher on an IQ test after listening to Mozart compared to those exposed to silence, white noise, or other music.

Another study reported showed the visual spatial skill of preschoolers who took six months of piano lessons improved up to 36%, compared to other preschoolers who received lessons in computers.

The College Entrance Examination Board in 1996 found that prospective students who had classical music education, were part of a band or orchestra during their life, or played an instrument scored 51 points higher on the verbal part of the SAT and 39 points higher on the math section than the national average.

Mozart has also been found helpful to children with Attention Deficit Disorder. A controlled test was done on a group of children with ADD, ages 7 to 17. Brain wave biofeedback sessions were held three times a week. The kids were split into groups to listen to different types of music The group that listened to Mozart had reduced theta brain wave activity (slow brain waves often excessive in ADD) in exact rhythm to the underlying beat of the music, and displayed better focus and mood control, diminished impulsivity and improved social skill. Among the subjects that improved, 70 % maintained that improvement six months after the end of the study without further training.

And another study: before an IQ test, three groups of people listened to Mozart, silence, and mixed sounds which included music by the modern composer Philip Glass, an audiotaped story, and ballet music. All three groups improved their scores spatial from the first day to the second, but the Mozart group improved their pattern recognition scores 62% compared to 14% for the silence group and 11% for the mixed group.

Studies that involved the patients to listen to different types of music before tests had the results in this order: The highest scores were the people who listened to Mozart, second highest listened to nothing, the lowest listened to heavy metal and rap.

I was wondering, why does listening to music make any difference before IQ tests? Why do our bodies and minds react to music at all? Some people say it's because our bodies themselves are rhythmic. Our pulses, heartbeats, breathing; it's all one big rhythm. And the rhythm of our heartbeat changes to the music we're listening to. Some doctors are concerned that the unnatural rhythm of rap music could be harmful to your body.

Einstein played the violin, because he said it helped his subconscious mind solve problems. But classical music has also been used for health reasons, such as that people with insomnia say Bach helps them go to sleep.

I've always been bothered by how unpopular classical music is. I've tried to imagine what it is about it that makes most kids uninterested. Maybe they think it's boring, or too formal. I agree, it probably would seem boring if you just listened to it once or twice and immediately dismissed it. But I think that if people just gave it a chance, and tried to learn a little bit about it, they would see that it's not just about "songs" that go on forever, or grumpy old men in tuxedos. They might discover the chocolaty melodies filled with strength and grace that make you want to sing, cry, and dance, or the exhilarating, fierce passages that make you want to scream your lungs out, laugh, or punch a hole in the wall. But because all this is being hidden by two hour concerts, uncomfortable dress clothes, and snooty, old rich people, I'm afraid they will never experience it.

From Nisha Bala
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 3:22 AM
I'd give an A+ for that essay alice :)
From Henry Liao
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 7:02 AM
I would like to mention that appreciating all kinds of music - whether classical, pop, rock, rap, alternative, etc. - allows us to understand the creative options available to us. Though "studies" show that "arrest records" have some correlation with the types of music you mention, there are plenty of people who listen to such music who are competent enough not to cross apply themes of fantasy into reality. Yes, some songs have lyrics that are just plain "dumb" and overly repetitive, but there's plenty of genius involved in many pieces that unfortunately seem like "noise" to classical musicians. Most of the problems actually lie within the shallow interpretations by some listeners.

If we don't treat other genres of music with an open mind, how can we expect listeners of other genres to do the same with classical music?

From Shahrzad Taghavian
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 12:11 PM
Maybe the reason that alot of teens don't listen to classical music, is that they feel that they don't understand it, just like, I really can't understand some of those pop singers. and in addition, because they haven't had the proper exposure to this genre, they don't know what piece to listen to and when. so they don't even give it a chance. too bad for themm, the way, great blog.
From Sean Gillia
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 1:15 PM
Thank you for a very thoughtful blog entry.

I did have a thought about the studes you mention. To engage in criminal behavior, it is neither necessary to have listened to the music you mentioned, nor is it sufficient in itself to cause criminal behavior -- since many who listen to this music do not engage in such behavior. In other words, correlation is not a proof of causation.

Of the many and complex reasons for ciminal behavior in our society, my suspicion is that the type of music we prefer doesn't make the list.

All the best.

From alicelizard s.
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 2:14 PM
Hey Henry and Sean,

Thank you guys for your comments. I agree with you about the value of popular music. I was just supposed to write a persuasive essay, so I backed it up with studies I found. The truth is, most of my friends listen to pop music exclusively, and none of them are criminals! ;-) The point I was trying to make is that people shouldn't overlook the joys of classical music.
Sorry if I seemed like I was stepping on anyone's toes.
Well, off to my lesson. Thanks again

From Carl Fulbrook
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 3:59 PM
Rather than thinking of the relationship between listening to certain types of music and criminal record as causal, I believe it is correlation. Members of certain social groups grow up in situations where life is harder and crime is more prevalent. Because of the background of these people is often violent/more difficult, there is an identification with music that deals with this life. Unfortunately, different genres of music do have associations with certain social groups.


From Nick Bleisch
Posted on February 24, 2005 at 8:53 PM
Great blog! I agree with most of what you say and I only wish the school boards would take note and restore music to our public schools. It should be every American kid's birthright to be exposed to great music and art from an early age and helped to appreciate it.

I must disagree with you one point, though. I think that the formality of classical music has little to do with the decline of its popularity. I am more inclined to think that the dumbing down of the way classical music is presented (if it is presented) is more to blame. What I mean is, giving everybody a plastic "tonette" and teaching them to blow three notes and consider that they have given some music education.

About the physiological effects of heavy metal vs. classical. It's true that the criminal record probably reflects socioeconomics


what about those famous studies with plants? Three fields of crops: the first had heavy metal piped in, the second had classical music piped in and the third had silence. The plants with classical music grew more than plants with silence that surprised me. But the plants that heard heavy metal didn't hear it for long. They all died.

Everybody can like what they want, but you can learn to like anything if it's what you are mainly exposed to and that goes for escargot as well as McDonalds.

From Christopher C
Posted on February 25, 2005 at 3:30 AM
This was a very nice blog post :)

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