Research Article: Computational elucidation of the effects induced by music making

Date Published: March 7, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Billie Sandak, Shai Cohen, Avi Gilboa, David Harel, Trevor Hine.


Music making, in the form of free improvisations, is a common technique in music therapy, used to express one’s feelings or ideas in the non-verbal language of music. In the broader sense, arts therapies, and music therapy in particular, are used to induce therapeutic and psychosocial effects, and to help mitigate symptoms in serious and chronic diseases. They are also used to empower the wellbeing and quality of life for both healthy individuals and patients. However, much research is still required to understand how music-based and arts-based approaches work, and to eventually enhance their effectivity. The clinical setting employing the arts constitutes a rich dynamic environment of occurrences that is difficult to capture, being driven by complex, simultaneous, and interwoven behavioral processes. Our computational paradigm is designed to allow substantial barriers in the arts-based fields to be overcome by enabling the rigorous and quantitative tracking, analyzing and documenting of the underlying dynamic processes. Here we expand the method for the music modality and apply it in a proof of principle experimentation to study expressive behavioral effects of diverse musical improvisation tasks on individuals and collectives. We have obtained statistically significant results that include empirical expressive patterns of feelings, as well as proficiency, gender and age behavioral differences, which point to variation factors of these categorized collectives in music making. Our results also suggest that males are more exploratory than females (e.g., they exhibit a larger range of octaves and intensity) and that the older people express musical characterized negativity more than younger ones (e.g., exhibiting larger note clusters and more chromatic transitions). We discuss implications of these findings to music therapy, such as behavioral diversity causality in treatment, as well as future scientific and clinical applications of the methodology.

Partial Text

Musical improvisation making is a common technique in music therapy [1,2], and implies that playing can be conducted not only by people who were taught to play or to read notes, but by any person who can intuitively use an instrument to express an idea or a feeling, using the non-verbal language of music. Music therapy, as well as other arts-based approaches and interventions, is used in diverse populations and age groups to help alleviate symptoms and induce therapeutic and psychosocial effects in a wide variety of serious and chronic conditions, illnesses, mental disorders, disabilities, etc. For example, music therapy has been shown to help mitigate symptoms such as pain, stiffness, fatigue, depression, stress, breathlessness and anxiety are mitigated for cancer [3,4], Parkinson [5], coronary [6] dementia [7] and mental [8, 9] patients; young or old [10–12]. For a either patient or a healthy individual, the engagement with music also enhances one’s well-being and quality of life [13–15], and is also useful research and practice in the social sciences, aimed at understanding and empowering individuals, groups and society [16,17]. The benefits of music-based approaches are also manifested in psychophysiological measurements; e.g., reduction in heart-rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels, and increase in melatonin levels [18–21]. Music-based therapy has been employed clinically for centuries [22], in hospitals, schools, community centers, etc., and is now recognized as a discipline [23]. Nevertheless, much research is required to reveal the underlying expressive behavioral mechanisms by which music-based approaches operate, also as a non-pharmacological treatment, and to help enhance their effectiveness [24,25].

The study reported upon in this paper is a proof of principle application of our CP to empirically unraveling the effects of music making. We refer the reader to [42] for a more detailed description of the methodology’s architecture and modeling considerations for the various arts modalities. Here we provide a briefer description of the development of the method for the music modality.




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