Anxiety can cause feelings of worry, panic and apprehension. Physically, people who experience high levels of anxiety also have elevated heart rates, muscle tension and increased cortisol production. Many of the treatments used for anxiety include relaxation and meditation techniques designed to address the physical and emotional symptoms of the problem. “As well as being a potential benefit in circumstances such as those mentioned above, music as a relaxation aid is also used extensively within receptive music,” said Dave Elliott of the University of Cumbria in Carlisle, UK. “Indeed, the American Music Therapy Association (2010) cites stress reduction as being one of the major goals of music therapy.”
Elliott and his colleagues conducted a study to determine which characteristics of music and music selection relieved anxiety the most. “In particular we aimed to (a) provide detailed information on the characteristics of relaxing music; (b) determine which music components (e.g., tempo, melody, harmony) are considered to be most important to relaxation; (c) establish which music genres are most appropriate for this application; and (d) record the emotions induced by listening to relaxing music.” The researchers enlisted 84 participants for their study and chose from several music styles and had them rate the selection of music, the relaxing qualities of the music and the emotions they felt when listening to the music. The participants were also asked if they liked the music and if it was familiar to them.
The results revealed the musical selections rated the most relaxing by the participants had unique qualities that differed significantly from the other selections. “Specifically, in relaxing pieces, the melodic progressions were more likely to ascend (progress from low notes to high) and contain a narrow interval,” said Elliott. “In other words, the sounds were harmonious.” Elliott added, “The most common labels for the relaxing tracks were, ‘peaceful,’ ‘serenity,’ ‘sadness’ and ‘joy.’ This implies that as well as bringing about a relaxing state, music should also provoke feelings that are generally associated with an increase in arousal.” Elliott hopes these findings help researchers and clinicians provide clients with more suitable options for the reduction of anxiety symptoms using music therapy.
Elliott, D., Polman, R., and McGregor, R. (2011). Relaxing music for anxiety control. Journal of Music Therapy, 48.3 : 264-288. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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