Celebrated 19th-century composer Beethoven once declared that music is “the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life”. Two hundred years later, science has evidence to back the pianist’s claims: binaural beats influence brainwaves to relax uptight minds. This is achieved by playing two tones of slightly different frequencies, which the brain “hears” as a unique sound.
“Pairing music with a dynamic progression of binaural beats from theta to delta waves associated with deep sleep reduces anxiety, and relaxation eases listeners into a state of lower anxiety,” explains Samuel Wong, who holds a PhD in music.
His arts nonprofit, The Teng Company, recently released an album of wellness tracks claiming to be the first to meld binaural beats and Chinese instruments. Music for Mindfulness is rooted in science, the fruit of collaboration with researchers from the Singapore Institute of Technology, music therapists, and psychologists.
Tested on stressed-out listeners, the tunes proved more relaxing than quotidian bops, says Wong, who — along with all others interviewed for this piece — pointed to the pandemic as a tipping point for mental health, catapulting mindfulness from bohemian pastime to mainstream concern.
While booming wellness practices, from yoga to spas to hypnotherapy to reiki, tapped its soundscape to soothe, music, quite literally, stayed in the background. However, that is changing as more musicians produce tracks that are themselves the star.
“Music is appreciated by our parasympathetic nervous system, which needs attention in the frenetic pace of modern living,” says Danielle Van de Velde, who has published over 50 music and meditation tracks on Spotify. “We are all in the age of sensory overload, with high uncertainty in job and capital markets, and world politics. Music moves us out of our thought field and into the felt intelligence of the body.”