Music and Well-Being

The research is clear – the better the sound, the better the health benefits.

By Eric Schwartz

ACCORDING TO JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE, research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure and pain, as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory. We’re still trying to understand how our brains can hear and play music. Johns Hopkins re­searchers have had dozens of performers improvise music lying inside a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine to watch and see which areas of their brains light up.

Music has been around since ancient times and is known to every culture. Scientists are just now understanding how a healthy brain tries to make sense of the world and the massive amounts of information it receives, including sound and music.

“Sound is an important and profound force in our lives,” ex­plains Northwestern University neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus. “The more we exercise our sound processing in the brain, the better the brain becomes at making sense of sound and the world around us. Music does this more than any other sound.”

When music stimulates the brain, it shows up on brain im­ages as flickers of bright light. Studies have shown that mu­sic “lights up” brain areas involved in emotion, memory and even physical movement. The human brain and nervous sys­tem is able to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm, repetition, tones and melodies.



Now that it is clear that music has positive effects on our health, a large international study was set up with more than 3,000 people from different European countries. “Our goal was to learn more about the impact of sound quality on pos­itive emotions. And it worked,” says Daniel Mullensiefen, mu­sic psychologist at Goldsmiths College. Check out some of the notable benefits of listening to music that have emerged from this research:

  • By listening to music with good quality sound reproduc­tion, people appreciate music more. Up to 20 percent more! Good sound makes music a lot more intense.
  • People who value sound quality turn out to be a lot happier.
  • By listening to music from a quality audio system, people achieve their health goals faster.

If we were to highlight some of the current trends — from technology through to design — in modern performance homes, we would start with lifestyle and a push towards healthier environments. From clean air and water to intelli­gent lighting, to wellness architecture and room acoustics, these trends act as a catalyst to heighten the richness of these environments we’re creating. A quality audio system plays a central role in setting the right ambiance and stimu­lating us to lead healthier lives.

Over the past six years as Technology Designer Magazine has explored and explained the various technologies and de­sign choices that go into a performance home, we’ve always held the opinion that a luxury performance audio system was in and of itself one of the critical components in the home. And now these emerging studies are reinforcing our initial inclinations of the impact great audio has on our well-being.

One of my favorite groups engaging a broad range of mul­tidisciplinary stakeholders including scientists, music thera­pists, musicians, clinicians, patients, music and art organiza­tions, funders and the general public is the Sound Health Network (SHN). The SHN is an initiative of the National En­dowment of the Arts, in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the John F. Kennedy Center for Perform­ing Arts and Renee Fleming.

Through their coordinating role, SHN will facilitate individual and collaborative efforts that promote the quality, quantity and relevance of research at the intersections of music, neu­roscience, health and wellness across the lifespan, advanc­ing the potential of music to improve all our lives.

Another interesting study by the University of Southern Cal­ifornia (USC) and the Australian National University shows that audio quality influences whether people believe what they hear — and whether they trust the source of informa­tion. The findings can apply to countless situations, such as Zoom calls. So make sure you have good sound quality be­cause your credibility depends on it!

For most homes a reference audio system in the great room is the main investment. There are any number of creative designs that compliment any décor and provide a lifetime of enjoyment. And now that invisible in-wall speakers are achieving remarkable sound quality, you never have to com­promise with added wall or ceiling clutter. A whole house — indoor and outdoor — audio system lets everyone enjoy the benefits of listening to music.

So there is no denying the power of music and sound in our lives. Sound plays such a key role in our everyday lives and how we experience the world, and investing in quality audio transforms the very experience of being in a soundfield. The better the soundfield, the better the experience. Better for your head, and better for your overall health. If you’ve never experienced audiophile, reference sound, go visit a quality high-end audio retailer and let them show you how good it feels on your body and mind, whether it’s your favorite artist or your favorite movie soundtrack. Good audio equals qual­ity well-being.