The Prescription is Music: Entrain Your Brain
By Darlene Koldenhoven, M.M.V., B.M.Ed., iLs-APP, NLP, GRAMMY®, Indie Music Hall of Fame
Entrainment is basically how music works as medicine. Our brains are neuroplastic, meaning, they have the capacity to change no matter our age. Neurons can be entrained by a variety of nonelectrical stimuli such as light and sound and this sensory stimulation can radically alter the frequency of our brain waves, to the extent that strobe lights and some music can cause seizures in persons with a hyperexcitable brain. Entrainment can clearly be measured on an EEG graph but I hope we all have personally experienced entrainment by moving to a beat of a song, for example. Indeed, when musicians/singers make music together, the brain waves of the participants begin to entrain with one another. We know that singing can rest the mind and singers entrain together to make beautiful music when singing in a group. Musicans’ and singers’ dominant neuronal firing rates synchronize. We musicians may call this, “getting into the groove.” So not only were the musicians in the experiment run by psychologist Ulman Lindenberger in 2009 playing together in an ensemble, the coordinated ensembles of the neurons within each player’s brain were playing together with the ensembles of neurons in their fellow musicians’ brains! I personally have experienced this entrainment many times, especially singing in several a capella vocal groups with no conductor. After a short while, everyone knows when and where to breathe and how to phrase together without one conscious effort to explain it to each other, in a rehearsal for example. We just know! We keep ourselves “open” to each other.
Rhythms of neuronal activity correspond to mental states. When asleep, the brain fires at 1-3 Hz. Awake and calm focus is about 12-15 Hz, worry and anxiety increases to 20Hz. Within the brain are multiple “conductors” generating the timing of these rhythms. Neurofeedback devices can train the brain’s off-rhythms how to control them. This is not sound therapy but training the brain’s clock by learning to listen to and react to sounds so that a person is on-beat can be transformative.1
The HeartMath Institute has a very effective type of biofeedback device called Inner Balance, along with certain tools and techniques such as timing the breath while taping into positive thoughts and emotions that can help calm a person, increase resilience and experience more heart coherence. It also can be used to open the gates to intense levels of musical entrainment, allowing musicians to perform with each other at a much deeper level; so much so that audiences can easily perceive the difference in research done by Pianist Dr. Kathleen Riley, Ph.D. who calls it musical coherence.
Many brain disorders are caused when the brain loses its rhythm and fires in an offbeat way. This is where music therapy is promising for these conditions. In the July 25, 2021 episode of American television’s “CBS Sunday Morning” a young man, with severe brain damage due to toxic heroin use, could hear (and feel) everything! While everyone thought he was in comatose state, in reality he just couldn’t respond to the sound. As part of his recovery, to assist with learning how to walk again, a music therapist walked backwards in front of him, playing her guitar with punctuated rhythmical beats to prompt moving of each foot. This is a type of entrainment.
In his book “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” Psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge, M.D. devotes an entire Chapter to discuss Dr. Alfred Tomatis’s research and methods of a type of sonic therapy Tomatis called audio-psycho-phonology (APP) or ear-brain-voice. Due to limited space here, I highly recommend reading Chapter 8 for a very inclusive overview of how the Tomatis methods work and can help with brain, body, and vocal function. I would say this is a similar but much more intense type of musical entrainment to train the brain, than general music therapy. In describing Tomatis’s work, Dr. Doidge says, “This was music medicine: using sound energy to form a bridge into the brain, to speak its language.”2 Dyslexia, autism, slow learning, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, sensory processing disorders and much more are helped through this pleasant type of sonic therapy. Tomatis’s methods are like going to the gym for the two muscles of the middle ear which regulate the timing of the impulses going into the brain.
In the July 4, 2021 issue of the Los Angeles Times I read a tragic article about Afgan rubab makers and musicians. In a stark contrast to variety of ways we use music, personally I have a deep compassion for musicians who are stifled, such as what is happening right now in Afganistan where the Taliban is taking over and banning ALL music, even classical Afgan music and musical instruments like they did in 1996. It is hard to understand why the Taliban would consider any and all music haram, or forbidden. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in a world without music when one is capable of hearing it and knowing what we know now about the healing music can bring. The Taliban says music is like drinking alcohol. But I say music is the medicine we all need to bring us together and heal the human existence.
1,2 “The Brain’s Way of Healing,” Norman Doidge, M.D., ©2015 Viking Penguin (USA)
Darlene Koldenhoven, M.M.V, B.M.Ed, NLP, iLs-APP certifications, Grammy Winner & 3-time nominee, Indie Music Hall of Fame Inductee, #4 Billboard charting artist. Recording artist with several multi-award winning, #1 New Age albums, some played in hospitals and hospices worldwide. Author, “Tune Your Voice: Singing and Your Mind’s Musical Ear.” International speaker and workshop facilitator on music education and sonic therapy. Private practice in voice and sonic therapy; in person or remotely. More info at DarleneKoldenhoven.com, ListeningMatrix.com, TuneYourVoice.net, WellnessVoiceWorkshop.com.
©2021 Darlene Koldenhoven. All rights reserved.