Music and the Mind is a unique new series on RTÉ lyric fm - melding music and conversation, the shows will cover relaxation and mindfulness; exercise and an active life; and sleep and its importance to our health - listen to the first instalment here.

In a series of live broadcasts from RTÉ Radio Centre, presenter Liz Nolan will be joined by experts in the fields of psychology, fitness and holistic living, and The RTÉ Concert Orchestra will play specially curated selections of pieces to match the theme.

Music Therapist Dr Hilary Moss, a guest on the first edition of Music and the Mind, introduces the series...

Since time began, societies in every country and culture have made music. 

We express ourselves through sound from the earliest days of life, and the ability to respond to music remains possible beyond serious brain injury and in the very late stages of dementia. It is only in more recent decades that researchers have studied, in earnest, how and why music affects us so profoundly and helps us communicate, express ourselves and be motivated. 

There is growing research evidence that music has a powerful effect on our behavior, increasing how much we buy and how long we exercise. (For example, in one study of background music played in off licenses, sales of German wine increased when German music was played whilst this altered when French music was played and French wine sales increased significantly! None of the purchasers had noted the music when interviewed). 

Dr. Hilary Moss

Clinical benefits of music are many, and music therapists across Irish health services are currently using music to reduce pain perception (for example, one study showed that  listening to music in emergency departments reduced the perception of pain when receiving stitches for a laceration repair); assisting recovery in the early stages of stroke (listening to favourite music post stroke has shown benefit on a range of variables); assisting people with dementia to reduce agitation and engage socially and supporting vulnerable parents to bond with their babies. These are just a few of the many ways that music can be used to support healthy minds and bodies. 

We must not forget, however, that our everyday use of music can contribute to a healthy mind.

This ability of music to relax our bodies and minds is the subject of the first programme in the Music and the Mind series. As a Music Therapist, the most common question I am asked is: What music is best for relaxation? The answer is: there is no prescription for music. The most effective music is that which is personally meaningful for you and that you prefer or choose. In one study I asked 150 participants what music they would like to listen to in hospital to relax, and every genre of music was listed by the time I finished the interviews! To prove this point, just ask a teenager what music they like to relax to and compare this with their parents’ choice! 

There are some common features of music which lend themselves to relaxation, for example, soft, slow, tonal music. But the wonderful magic of music is it’s emotional power, and this makes music impossible to prescribe. We build emotional and historical connections to pieces of music and songs, so that a piece that I love might make you feel very sad as it reminds you of a loved one you have lost, or might be your wedding song from a failed marriage. That is why music must be used carefully and sensitively when working with vulnerable people and the skilled use of music by qualified professionals in healthcare settings is advised. 

We must not forget, however, that our everyday use of music can contribute to a healthy mind. Choose to listen to music which will help you relax on the drive home from work, make a play list to help you get to sleep and use music to create an atmosphere at home where the kids and parents end up dancing around the kitchen. Offer people in your family who find verbal communication difficult the opportunity to play an instrument, bang a drum or sing. And of course, one of the most powerful aspects of music is actually the silence between the notes. As a musician and music therapist, I actually seek silence regularly to help me relax and unwind. 

The most wonderful thing about music is that no-one can tell you that you are wrong. What you choose to listen to (whether for relaxation, stimulation or self-expression) is right for you and no music is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Your opinion is valid, and your musical preference essential to what makes you unique. 

Dr Hilary Moss is the Course Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.

Music and the Mind runs on RTÉ lyric fm from 3-4pm on Fridays 11th, 18th and 25th January 2019, as part of The Full Score with Liz Nolan. Listen to the series here, or watch the series on the RTÉ lyric fm Facebook page.