Study to develop ‘musical prescriptions’ for patients

Patients could be prescribed music tailored to their needs as a result of new research. Published by BBC News 9 September 2010.

Scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University are using a mixture of psychology and audio engineering to see how music can prompt certain responses.

They will analyse a composition’s lyrics, tone or even the thoughts associated with it.

Those behind the study say it could be used to help those suffering physical pain or conditions like depression.

By considering elements of a song’s rhythm patterns, melodic range, lyrics or pitch, the team believe music could one day be used to help regulate a patient’s mood.

Audio engineer Dr Don Knox, who is leading the study, said the impact of music on an individual could be significant.

He said: “Music expresses emotion as a result of many factors. These include the tone, structure and other technical characteristics of a piece.

“Lyrics can have a big impact too.

“But so can purely subjective factors: where or when you first heard it, whether you associate it with happy or sad events and so on.”

So far the team has carried out detailed audio analysis of certain music, identified as expressing a range of emotions by a panel of volunteers.

‘Emotional content’
Their ultimate aim is to develop a mathematical model that explains music’s ability to communicate different emotions.

This could, they say, eventually make it possible to develop computer programs that identify music capable of influencing mood.

“By making it possible to search for music and organise collections according to emotional content, such programs could fundamentally change the way we interact with music”, said Dr Knox.

“Some online music stores already tag music according to whether a piece is “happy” or “sad”.

“Our project is refining this approach and giving it a firm scientific foundation, unlocking all kinds of possibilities and opportunities as a result.”

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