They see the power of music

Music can be used as therapy, a path to emotional awareness or as a powerful research tool. We have met three researchers with different doorways into the world of music.

"Music contributes to a better society"

Namn: Eva Bojner Horwitz 

Title: Affiliated researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet and Professor at the Royal College of Music.

Conducting research into: How music can impact our health from cradle to grave.

Eva Bojner Horwitz next to a piano.
Eva Bojner Horwitz. Photo: Karl Nordlund & Alexandra Bengtsson/TT

"I come from a musical family and at an early age I wondered about how music and sounds in nature, such as the noise of the sea or the wind in the trees, actually affect us.

Today, I know that music produces bodily effects that can be measured quantitatively. But I want to understand more about how music affects us deep down. Through so-called micro-phenomenological methods, we map the subjective experience of music in a systematic way.

As we learn more about the impact of music, we can also find new ways to take advantage of it. For example, our emotions are awakened when we are affected by music, and emotions can, in turn, increase our ability to learn. Based on this, we are now developing Knowledge Concerts, a research project on how music can promote compassionate meetings and new forms of knowledge exchange. In this project we are investigating how emotionally charged concerts about difficult topics, such as abuses linked to Me-too, affect our ability to discuss the topic in seminars held in connection with the concert.

The aesthetic experience can also increase awareness of our own feeling and those of others and we believe that it can affect the development of empathy and self-esteem. In the Song Health Project at school, we are investigating whether increased singing activity could support the cognitive and linguistic development of children, create an environment for studies and contribute to social cohesion.

We lose an important part of our emotional regulation if we do not receive regular aesthetic injections. In one study, we asked 5,000 choristers to rank what they lacked most from not being able to sing in choir during the corona pandemic. The longer they had sung in a choir, the more they lacked the aesthetic aspect, of having contact with their senses.

Music contributes to a better society. By increasing access to music-creating activities, we have the opportunity to create security in different contexts. Instead, if we de-prioritise aesthetic subjects, I think we will contribute to increased concern."

"Music therapy brings forth the child's inner resources"

Namn: Lena Uggla 

Title: Affiliated researcher at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet.

Conducting research into: PhD 2019 with a dissertation on music therapy for sick children. 

Lena Uggla playing an instrument.
Lena Uggla. Photo: Karl Nordlund & Alexandra Bengtsson/TT

"For seriously ill children who are in hospital for a long time, music therapy can be a way to gently bring forth internal resources, such as the desire for interaction and communication. Allowing children to sing or choose an instrument to play on and express themselves in interaction with the therapist can have both a vitalising and reassuring effect. It can also be affirmative and strengthen social bonds.

Music therapy is today a researched area of treatment. I have a PhD on the effects of music therapy for children with, among other things, severe malignant and benign blood disorders. The children were isolated in hospital in conjunction with undergoing a stem cell transplant. Half received music therapy twice a week while a control group received regular therapy. In the treatment group, their heart rates went down in the evenings four to eight hours after music therapy, which we interpret as a decrease in stress. A elevated heart rate is an indication of anxiety and excitement and can predict post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, in children. In the control group, the heart rate increased in the evening.

At the time of discharge, the children estimated that their quality of life had improved after music therapy. But the parents did not see the improvement, on the contrary, they estimated that the quality of life of the children had deteriorated. It is important to ask children how they perceive their treatment; children have their own experience and it is important to understand this.

As a music therapist, I continue to meet children with long periods of treatment in hospitals and I know that music therapy can be invigorating for different age categories."

"Certain brain areas are more developed In musicians"

Namn: Fredrik Ullén 

Title: Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. Concert pianist.

Conducting research into: Music as a model for understanding brain functions for learning, motivation and creativity.

Fredrik Ullén playing piano.
Fredrik Ullén. Photo: Karl Nordlund & Alexandra Bengtsson/TT

"Musicians practice a lot and this training has an effect on the brain. In a pair of twins, one of whom has only played music as a young person while the other has continued to play music, we see that the auditory system, motor areas and connections between different areas of the brain are more developed in the twin playing music.

My research group and I investigate brain mechanisms behind learning and creativity and have developed a new explanatory model for expertise. We have seen that many factors other than exercise come into play to make us really good: a musical ear, cognitive abilities, interests and motivational factors, as well as a stimulating environment. A person’s interests and natural ability vary and it is good to find the thing that stimulate you – and for which you have a natural ability.

I now want to investigate how the brain represents and controls expressive properties in music, i.e., how the brain allows us to play a melody with a certain emotion or expression.

I myself am a concert pianist, playing music gives me a sense of meaningfulness, inspiration, stimulation and personal development. The pandemic has affected cultural practitioners and at the beginning of the pandemic I found more peace to work, but both music and research are forms of communication and I miss the interaction. In a survey study on the importance of culture, we asked the public how culture affected them during the pandemic. There is clear evidence that the culture that one has been devoted to has been important for feelings of community and quality of life."

As told to: Maja Lundbäck & Ola Danielsson, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap no 2/2021. 

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