Perhaps you can help me figure this about. As a researcher motivated by self-interest (meaning that I was a good Type A ex-New York male needing to relax more), I began studying the field of stress management and relaxation 28 years ago. If you've been tuning into this column in the past, you know that I've summarized the general considerations and characteristics that scientists use to describe a relaxation state. Chief among these is a slowed-down heartbeat, and deeper, slower and more regular breathing rate (no more than 60 beats per minute).
In past columns, I have also described the phenomenon of rhythm entrainment, when your heartbeat and breathing rate match the speed of an external rhythm. I've also mentioned that most music is played at tempos faster than 60 bpm, sometimes 2 or 2 1/2 times as fast with some techno and house disco music.
So, how could it be that so many people find music played at 90 bpm-- almost 50% faster than a normal heartbeat--relaxing??
That hypothetical question became more specific as I receive feedback to my latest album, Trance-Zendance. It's a combination of hypnotic, atmospheric music with hot urban tribal rhythms. It's very much in the same arena with Enigma, Nomad and other ambient and world music cross-cultural recordings. Never in my wildest imagination did I expect that so many people would tell me, "This is the most relaxing music I've ever heard."
For some of the few times in my life, I'm speechless. I honor their experience, and my delighted that they enjoy the album.
Several others, some of whom know many of my other recordings, have reported that they use Trance-Zendance when they are working at their computer. They say it helps them concentrate.
Once again, I'm not sure how to respond. It works just the opposite for me. I listen, and the music entrains me so immediately that I cannot concentrate on anything; I just want to merge with the music.
What I need when I'm working, like writing this column, is something that helps me to concentrate and focus, and help me "stay in the zone." I need some background ambiance that becomes virtually "transparent."
Most music grabs (distracts) my attention; I pay attention to it, rather than the task at hand. I first I guessed it was it was because I am trained musician, and because I have perfect pitch. However, I've observed my advertising and graphics department, and it appears that they get 50% less accomplished when listening to the radio or "regular" music. When it comes to the bottom line, I choose efficiency over entertainment ...especially if I'm paying.
Perhaps their are different people: folks who can relax to fast drums, and folks who can't. Maybe we're discovering, as Timothy Leary says, "a new genetic/evolutionary mutation."
I'd be interested in hearing what you think.
Bottom line might be, as it always has been, to trust yourself. If it works for you, go for it. But make an informed decision.
By that I mean, get to know if it's really relaxing. Or get to know how it really affects your work/performance or the nature of your being.
For instance, when I first tried writing this column, I was listening to Planet Soup, the latest release from Ellipsis Arts. It's a rhythmically-propelled compilation of global music that highlights the intermingling of musical cultures and creation of new hybrid musical expressions.
The music was a times fantastic, at times irritating. I found myself repeating the same sentence over and over, at which point I recognized that this was "listening" music, not working music (at least for me).
Different strokes for different folks, once again.
Like all the releases in Ellipsis series, you'll probably find it handy, perhaps essential, to have a remote control to skip over certain tracks. Compilations are a two-edged sword: there is much great music that will stimulate you to go out and buy the complete album...and there are other selections that are an instant headache. Used in this way, you'll find much to enjoy in Mickey Hart's Planet Drum or the popular world music series, Big Bang.
Another area of sound that has recently become more divergent is "healing music," and "meditation music." I bought a copy of Mozart For Meditation a few weeks ago to hear for myself. What I got was a clear case of marketing hype. In my native tongue I'd call it "chutzpah." The music was a far cry from music that would aid meditation. In fact, music like that was part of the reason I got into this field in the first place!
I knew there were others like me who wouldn't buy into the "party line" about using "classical" music (hardly intended for relaxation or meditation) for that purpose.
Yet, who knows? Maybe it will work for you. There are recording artists who are promoting the use of dissonance for healing. "It is often very important and appropriate to use dissonance of varying degrees in healing music. If you are stuck, sometimes you need bit of push to move on," says musician Jim Oliver.
Well, there's dissonance, and there's dissonance. Sometimes that discord will push you over the edge into more stress and dis-ease. One (wo)man's passion is another (wo)man's poison, maybe be the operational secret here.
How do you determine whether the dissonant music that is part of his CD is knocking you in tune, or further out of tune? Check it out an let me know how it feels for you.
Speaking of which, I'd like to acknowledge Tower Records, Best Buy and the Barnes & Noble chains, and the many new age bookstores that are playing my music, and many other non-pop, or rock star recordings. If you haven't been to a music shop lately, give one a visit. Listening before you buy is a great way to get what you need. But remember, music will often sound quite different at home than it does in a store
Until next time, stay tuned and enjoy...
©1999 New Frontier Magazine. All rights reserved. Steven Halpern is a award-inning recording artist and educator who as touched the lives of millions through his music. You may write to him at SoundAdvice c/o New Frontier Magazine, PO Box 17397, Asheville, NC 28816.
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