What evidence is there that some kinds of music are harmful?

mmw-mice-music-032212 (Image from this article.)

My eyes and ears are constantly on the lookout for information about the influence of music on people. When I was in a Suzuki violin teacher training several years ago, I was given a reprint of an article published in Scholastic Magazine, an educational magazine for children distributed in schools across America. Unfortunately, the article did not have a citation. I’m big on accurate research and look for citations.

So today, after reading an article about mice and music in another magazine, I searched on the internet for the study about which I had formerly read. I found a description of the study in several places, but this post had the most information about the experiment.

Beginning in 1996, David Merrill, a high school student in Virginia, performed two lengthy experiments. He took 3 groups of mice: one that listened to classical music, a second that listened to hard rock (Anthrax), and a third that was not exposed to any music. The group that listened to classical music fared the best in the maze timings, the silence group scored second best, and the hard rock group killed each other. He had to end the experiment the first year because he ended up with only one mouse alive in the hard rock group.

The second year he performed the experiment, he put the mice in their own aquariums to keep them separate, so they couldn’t kill one another. The first group listened only to Mozart, the second group to Anthrax, and the third group to no music. Again, the Mozart and no music group improved their times, while the hard rock music group took 20 times as long to complete the maze.

(Here is another brief description of Merrill’s experiment, along with some other videos related to music/animal experiments. Fascinating.)

Today I read another article that cited a study made on mice and music. The article states,

“Two researchers explored this relationship by studying the effects of music and rhythm on the nervous system of mice. For eight weeks, one group of mice constantly listened to Strauss waltzes (highly organized and orderly music), while a second heard disharmonious sounds in the form of continuous drumbeats. A third group was raised in silence.

“After eight weeks, the mice were placed in a maze to find food. The mice in the second group wandered off with no sense of direction–’a clear indication they were having trouble learning’–and took much longer to find the food than they had at the beginning of the study. The mice exposed ‘to discordant sounds not only developed difficulties in learning and memory, …but they also incurred structural changes in their brain cells.’ The researchers diagnosis is very interesting: ‘We believe that the mice were trying to compensate for this constant bombardment of disharmonic noise….They were struggling against the chaos.'”

While I couldn’t find the original study online, I did find another summary here.

Beat, rhythm, volume, and harmonies all affect our brains, which in turn affects our bodies. Some kinds of music that is disharmonious and has a heavy beat or certain kinds of repeating rhythms apparently affect our brains and bodies negatively.

It helps to know that what we put into our brains and bodies affects us, and to better understand how it affects us, so that we can choose the music that helps us, and the children around us, to be healthier, happier, and kinder.

Kick up your heels

Turkey in the Straw Try “Turkey in the Straw” by Zip Wilson

I love dancing in the kitchen or family room with my children to some lively tunes. Here are some fun tunes that you might consider as upbeat music to enliven those energy slump moments (that’s about 4-6 pm for me) or put a little pizzazz into your Saturday family housework mornings.

Irish Dance CD Try “Slip Jigs” from “Step in Time” CD (Irish dance tunes)

And here’s a change for you! Harmonica and harp! This album has the most amazing harmonica playing I’ve ever heard in my life (and I haven’t heard a lot, but I bet this would surpass any I might hear!). I didn’t even know that there were people who played classical music on the harmonica!

harmonica and harp CD Try “Merrily-Go-Round” from Serenade Vol. 2 by Tommy Reilly and Skaila Kanga

And then there’s always “When will my life begin?” from Tangled. That’s a good dancing song.


Here’s to variety! Share it with your children!

Happy Dancing!


My Mom’s Song

Keep the Commandments original (Published in The Friend magazine, 1975)

My mom wrote a religious piece of music when I was young, a song called “Keep the Commandments.” She needed a song for the children’s church organization (“Primary”) in her local geographic area (“stake”). I sang the song in my Primary and then, maybe 5 years later, traveled with her and my sister to Switzerland where we heard it sung (in German) in a Primary meeting there. (We just showed up on that Sunday to attend church and heard them sing it.) That enlarged my perspective at how one little song can affect a much broader audience than we might imagine.

This morning, as I sat in my home watching a church meeting being broadcast live to almost 200 nations worldwide, I heard the most beautiful arrangement of her song sung by a 360-member choir. Their performance was soothing, peaceful, comforting.

Listening to the song caused me to marvel at how a single mother with 5 children just wanted to help the children in her neighborhood. Instead, her song has ended up influencing many. I know she wasn’t thinking, some 38 years ago, “Oh, I’ll write a song that will be sung around the world.” But she did.

My mother is one of my greatest inspirations in teaching music. She has written a number of songs–some simple, some more complex, but has always just wanted to help others with music. Other people have done the same, and I believe that our children–our incredible rising generation will surely create even more beautiful music than we have yet heard in the history of our world. I believe they have that capacity.

(Note: ASL videos for a number of religious songs are available here. These videos were made over many years, so the fashions of interpreters varies according to when they were made. Also, if you are not familiar with ASL videos, it is helpful to understand facial expressions in signing interpretation. Adult interpreters may be more animated in their facial expressions than children.)