Music is transportive, and can take us to another world or time. Now, we know that certain tunes can also improve our health. According to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers out of Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine noted that “Sonata for Two Pianos” in D Major (K 448) could help limit epilepsy-related electrical behaviour in the brain.

Mozart composed this piece of classical music in 1781, but the song became a tool used by the medical-scientific community in the 1990s due to its links to spatial reasoning. Formally named the “Mozart Effect,” the tune helps those who experience epilepsy and is now embedded in medical research. During its most recent study, researchers used electroencephalograms on 16 adult participants living with medication-resistant epilepsy. The volunteers also listened to 15- or 90-second clips of music, notably “Sonata for Two Pianos” in D Major (K 448). The result? Those who listened solely to Mozart had a 66.5 percent decrease in epilepsy-centric activity in the brain.

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“We analysed the musical structure of Mozart’s K448 and the electrical brain response, using both human experts and machine listening algorithms, to determine the effects on the brain of specific musical features. Participants listened to songs selected from a range of musical genres, with acoustic features matching Mozart K448, to replicate the Mozart effect with a more diverse music selection,” said Michael Casey, PhD, a professor of music and of computer science at Dartmouth, in a university release. “However, despite selecting genres to match participants’ preferred listening habits, so far only 40-Hz auditory gamma-band tones and Mozart’s piano sonata K448 were observed to be effective at reducing interictal epileptiform discharges.”

The study’s researchers discovered that the reductions in epilepsy electricity were most prominent in the left and right frontal cortices in the brain, which are known to control emotions; the authors think that this change, which happens after listening to about 30 seconds of Mozart, could be for a specific reason. “One explanation,” Casey said, “is that the Mozart sonata has a relatively constant repeated sixteenth-note rhythm (around 128 beats per minute in the recording that we used) that can evoke neural entrainment. Another would be that the classical sonata form is engaging attentional and emotional circuits by setting up and then playing with musical expectations. For these reasons, in our search for effective music medicine, we must factor in music-theoretic elements of the selections, such as: tempo, onset density, timbre, key, and musical form.”

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(Main and Feature Image Credit: Grafissimo / Getty Images)

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