Many people find music helps them relax, whereas other people listen to music because it makes them excited, helps them run or exercise, or inspires them to write or paint. This experiment looks to see whether music actually does have an effect on the human body, including the heart rate.
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Checking the Heart Rate
The easiest way to check heart rate in beats per minute is to take the pulse – the pulse is the surge of blood passing through the arteries from the heart and reflects the heart rate. Get a volunteer to hold his or her hand up, palm upwards, and press on his or her wrist with your first and middle finger, just below the base of the thumb. Count the number of beats in a minute (or the number of beats in 30 seconds and multiply by two). In healthy people, children under ten should have a resting heart rate of around 70-120 beats per minute, and children over ten or adults should have a resting heart rate of around 60-100 beats per minute. Count the volunteers’ breathing rate as well.
Music and the Heart Rate
Pick two pieces of music with a strong tempo (speed of the beats in the music), one that is a bit slower than the volunteers’ heart rates, and one that is faster. Let them listen to it for a few minutes, and then check their heart rates – have they changed? Is there any change in breaths per minute?
Is it the tempo of the music that makes a difference, or the style? To test this, try some other pieces of music with the same tempo, including rock, metal, jazz, classical or other types of music? Does it make a difference if the volunteer likes the music or hates it? Are any of the volunteers’ musicians – does this make any difference? What about sitting in silence – does this change the heart rate or breathing rate?
What Is Happening
A study published in the medical journal Heart in 2006 looked at the effect of music on heart rate and breathing rate. Fast music increased the heart and breathing rate of the volunteers, and increased their blood pressure, and stopping the music or playing slower music slowed breathing and heart rates and allowed the blood pressure to fall. The speed of tempo seemed to have more of an effect than the style of the music.
American researchers have shown that listening to enjoyable music relaxes the blood vessels (and so reduces blood pressure) and listening to music that makes them feel anxious makes their blood vessels tighten up.
If musicians’ heart rates are more affected, this may be because they know music better and understand how it works.
Why Is This Important?
In the Heart study, the increased heart rate seemed to be linked with high blood pressure. Increased high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and so listening to slow music could be good for the heart.
Other Effects of Music on the Heart
In a study in Japan in the 1990s, people tended to prefer music with a rhythm that was within the normal range for their heart rate, at around 70-100 beats per minute.