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The 'Feel Good' Factors in Music

by - Dr. T V Sairam

‘That which pleases the mind’, declares a verse in Sanskrit’, `is music!’

In order to become music, sound has to be pleasing to its listeners.

Musical experience involves emotional titillations, resulting in the kidnap of the mind. By diverting the mind from its concentration on a pain location (or a painful experience) music can work like a pain-relieving drug, sans its side-effects!

Through its subtle rhythms and with variations in frequencies and modulation, music affects our mind. It can agitate or soothe, attract or repulse, tense up or relax!

What are those “Feel Good” Factors in music, which promise therapeutic impact when we feel forlorn or sick ?

Feel Good” Factors in Resonance:
Resonance refers to sympathetic vibration of bodies capable of producing sounds, as soon as a pitch similar to that of the body or one of its overtones is heard. It is curious to note that a tone or a musical sound can be viewed differently by the same mind. For example, if a pitch is sounded by striking a Himalayan singing bowl, what emanates is not just a tone of uniform frequency. In addition to the fundamental tone of the bowl, a feast of secondary tones called harmonics also raise, their heads at fixed intervals above the fundamental tone. These harmonics are heard as the constituents of the fundamental tone, but can be produced separately. For example in violin, this can be done by touching the string lightly at various points (“nodes”), so splitting up the vibrations and producing nodes of a flute-like purity. In brass instruments, harmonics are produced by varying the method of blowing. Practically every note of normal musical instrument is a companion of the fundamental and certain upper partials, the only exception being the tuning-fork.

It is by observing this intra-tonal frequencies and focusing his awareness on them that a Tibetan monk is able to get in EO the depths (or heights of) meditation.

In the ancient system of Nada Yoga there has been a ritualistic practice of concentrating on the inter-tonal fluctuations of frequencies and utilizing them for raising one’s level of consciousness. In other words, each chakra in the body gets associated with a particular swara and by sheer practice, repeated over years, the sadhaka (practitioner) achieves synchronization between a particular swara and the chakra associated with it. This method is referred to as nada-anusandana.

Feel Good Factors in Rhythms :
In the full sense of the term, rhythm refers to practically every thing pertaining to the time aspect of music, as distinguished from the pitch aspect. In other words, rhythm includes the effects of beats, accents, measures, grouping of notes into beats, grouping of beats into measures, grouping of measures into phrases etc. Tremendous mental impact can be produced by a judicious use of rhythms in music. Most of the ‘hit’ songs and long-established nursery thymes are full of such powerful rhythms. Music Psychologists believe that mind is more easily trapped by rhythm rather than by resonance. The Baul Singers use ek tantri or ektara an ancient string instrument having a single string to produce such monotonic melodies, which have a sedative impact on mind in the long run.

The Music-Mind Nexus:
The ancient Indian thinkers were aware of the role of two minds in man : the analytical mind works on the basis of analysis segregating the self from others and the emotional mind. The analytical mind is a divisive mind which may ensure worldy progress by being selfish and self-centred. The emotional mind works at a deeper level exhibiting inherent powers of creative and intuitive capabilities.

The modern neurologists, while analyzing the human brain have attributed these functional characteristics into two hemispheres, assigning the left to the analytical mind and the right to the emotional mind.

As thinking segregates the individual from the rest and feeling integrates, there is always a conflict within an individual when each of these minds try to out-smart each other. The ancient system of yoga has a ready answer to solve such conflicts, as it aims at balancing theses two minds and harmonizing their functions.

Music is akin to yoga in as much as it aims at balancing the two minds which otherwise, are capable of conflicting with each other. Indian music, In the tala system is totally analytical in its approach as high mathematics is involved in its 108-odd tala possibilities emerging through various combinations of rhythms. On the other hand, Indian ragas are fully emotive.

It is by a careful combination of the emotional raga and the analytical tala in a single thread of composition, that Varnams, Gitams, Tillanas etc have succeeded in achieving the required balance between emotion and analysis, not only in performers but also inn listeners!

It is curious to note here that the Western system of music has employed a reverse technique to achieve the same results! For instance Tchaikowsky’s composition, Marsch Slav Op.31 (1876) is woven with `intelligent Western notes’ (the Western notes are known for their precision in frequencies) combining with faltering, emotive beats.

Both these systems help us in balancing our mind—the same way yogic exercises can help.

Dr T V Sairam, A serving bureaucrat and a writer, is from F/48B, Hari Nagar New Delhi 110064. For any doubts you can contact him at - tvsairam @ gmail. com