Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brain soundtrack: personal power music?

Every brain has a soundtrack. When that soundtrack is recorded and played back, it may sharpen a person’s reflexes during a crisis, and calm nerves afterward.

To explore how music could be used to help during emergencies, the Department of Homeland Security is studying a form of neurotraining called "Brain Music" that adapts music created from listeners' own brain waves to help them cope with insomnia, fatigue, and headaches stemming from stress. The idea: use the frequency, amplitude and duration of musical sounds to get their brain to relax.

Scientists record the brain music, then convert it into two 2- to 6-minute musical compositions designed to trigger the body's natural responses. The compositions trigger either relaxation – for reduced stress and improved sleep –and alertness, for improved concentration and decision-making. Each track is performed on a single instrument, usually a piano. The relaxation track may sound like a melodic, subdued Chopin sonata, while the alertness track is more like Mozart. Listen to an alert track here.

Each person is then given a set listening schedule. A group of firefighters will be the first emergency responders studied in this project. Since most of us won't have access to brain music recordingings, consider this prescription from Cervantes: "He who sings scares away his woes."