A glimpse of a bodybuilder pushing out heavy weights during an arduous workout brings to mind the old rock group Black Sabbath’s eerie intro to one of their classic songs. I remember the very first time I walked into the local gym, Black Sabbath’s ‘Ironman’ was blasting forth a hair short of the pain Solfeo. I also remember that the song seemed to be the force that drove the bodybuilders on and on.
In every gym we hear ‘the beat’. It makes you wonder why we are so preoccupied with music. Suggests one national caliber bodybuilder: ‘It’s the magic of music. Music will give you strength, when nothing else will.’
A review of musical folklore certainly indicates that the sound of music can significantly enhance and/or impress human performance. Music theory was also an integral part of primitive medicine. Let us not forget the impact that the singing of the sirens had upon seamen, as described by Homer in the Odyssey. Or the Pied Piper of Hamlin, who lured away all the children of the town with his enticing music.
Of course, the widespread use of music in athletics supports the commonly held belief that music enhances human performance. Is such a belief founded? Is music a true ergogenic aid or is it a myth?
In recent years considerable research has been conducted to determine the effects of music therapy – the systematic application of rhythm, melody, harmony, tone and pitch to treat a physical or mental disorder. Many therapists believe that music has a great potential to influence and benefit the mind, and in turn, the body. Music therapy has already been shown to be a viable treatment for treating addictions such as alcoholism and psychiatric disorders such as psychosis. Music can also have a very calming and comforting effect.
Soothing music seems to lower the levels of the body’s catecholamines (stimulatory chemicals such as adrenalin). This soothing action can lower heart rate, blood pressure and the amount of free fatty acids in the blood, leading to reduced risks of migraines, hypertension, and coronary heart disease. It only makes sense that if soothing music can slow your heart and pulse, then stimulation music can speed them up. Most researches feel that music affects the pleasure centers of the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of your body said to govern emotional experiences. It is through these channels that the right type of music can be used to generate feelings of excitement and agitation.
Neurological studies have shown that rhythmic drumming when presented at certain frequencies can synchronize the brain’s rhythms, when measured by an EEG, to those frequencies. In short, an upbeat rhythm may result in upbeat brain rhythm, which in turn can result in feelings of excitement. And, as you know rhythmic drumming is certainly not hard to find these days.
The Thrill Theory
Indeed, we can be moved by music. Researchers have studied the effects of sudden emotional changes in people – or what they call ‘thrills’. They claim these thrills may be manifested as a chill, shudder, tingling, goose bumps, or even a lump in the throat. They also report that these feelings are more likely to occur in response to music, than they are for sexual activity. I’d venture to say that if you’ll remember your reaction to the theme from the film Rocky, you could accurately describe it as a thrill.
These thrills may also stimulate the release of endorphins – powerful opiate or morphine like substances secreted by the brain. It is these same endorphins that respond to a marathoner’s pain by producing a ‘runner’s high’. Yes, music seems to possess the vital ingredients that can help you in one of those brutal workouts. In response to music, people’s heart rates increase when they experience a thrill and decrease when they do not. The key then is to learn what trips your thrill trigger.
Since the effect of music is the result of an individual’s brain responses, then it should be obvious that what activates the brain’s mechanisms becomes a highly individualized matter. In other words, what lights my fire may not even spark your emotions. The emotional content, or degree of thrills, etc, is different with each piece of music for each individual.
Researches also say that if a certain piece of music is to elicit a thrill, there must be some association with an emotional charged event in the person’s past. It’s almost as if the music has become a conditional stimulus for the emotional response. Let’s refer again to the theme from Rocky. If you had never seen the movie and just heard the theme, it probably would not have much effect on you. For most people, it’s the fact that they associate the theme with an emotionally charged story that allows the music to become inspirational.