20 September 2011

Music as treatment for depression

From Scientific American, reporting on presentations from the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience:
Classical music as antidepressant.  This study comes out of Alzahra University, in Tehran, where a group of researchers, noting that music therapy has already been shown to reduce pain, improve sleep quality, and improve mood in cancer patients underoing therapy and multiple sclerosis patients, wondered if music might alleviate depression as well. It does. They took 56 depressed subjects, had them listen to Beethoven's 3d and 5th piano sonatas for 15 minutes twice a week in a clean, otherwise quiet room -- and saw their depression scores on the standard Beck Depression Scale go up signficantly.
I have no idea how valid those data are, but just in case, I've embedded a particularly interesting graphical presentation of the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
Following the first four bars, Beethoven uses imitations and sequences to expand the theme, these pithy imitations tumbling over each other with such rhythmic regularity that they appear to form a single, flowing melody. Shortly after, a very short fortissimo bridge, played by the horns, takes place before a second theme is introduced. This second theme is in E flat major, the relative major, and it is more lyrical, written piano and featuring the four-note motif in the string accompaniment. The codetta is again based on the four-note motif. The development section follows, using modulation, sequences and imitation, and including the bridge. During the recapitulation, there is a brief solo passage for oboe in quasi-improvisatory style, and the movement ends with a massive coda.


  1. I feel much less depressed already. And, I note that there is great scope for continued lifting of spirits, as this outfit seems to have graphically represented quite a lot of my favorite classical music.

    Is this being used to teach schoolkids? Because if it's not, it should be.

  2. I went to a Montessori Middle school where they played classical music as a practice while we studied. The head teacher always said it helps to facilitate clear thought.
    He also made reference to the 'Mozart Effect', which he attributed to helping many cognitive functions.
    I have since read studies which indicated an increase of spacial-temporal intelligence, but nothing more.
    Despite the lack of evidence (I have found) supporting more a more broad spectrum of cognitive boost, I feel, personally, that such music has perhaps a more profound effect on cognition. This article was a nice affirmation of that feeling.

  3. Both the theory and the video are very interesting. I'd point out, though, that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (embedded here) is not his 5th Piano Sonata, which you can listen to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNiYhHix5WU. I wonder if the writer was mistaken. The 5th symphony is much better known and a little more upbeat.

  4. Erika, I do know the difference. I chose to embed the symphony because I liked the visual adaptation.

  5. Great study! I know music is a fantastic antidepressant for me.

  6. I found myself trying to figure out how I could weave it - the video has a link at the end to the 9th symphony that would make the most spectacular rug/blanket/shawl I can imagine, assuming I can figure out how to thread the darn thing.

  7. A lovely rendering of the music.

    I can't resist passing on this different but equally uplifiting analysis of the same movement:



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