The math of music! Do you see the balanced triangles in this rock band? Stained glass window of angels playing instruments.

Harmonizing Hearts: Music Therapy

Music is an important link within mindfulness and well-being psychology. As you may know, mindfulness attempts to maintain a positive or balanced state of emotions. Balance creates optimal performance, just as an engineer who is trying to set up a bridge or shoot a rocket into space.

As a musician and mindfulness researcher, I know that music has a relationship with emotions felt at a certain time. Music, a wordless language, is one of the most direct ways to access a memory or create a new one.

Do you have a wedding song that transports you back to your blissful first dance? This probably isn’t the same song that was playing the first time you had your heart broken. Music and memory are intertwined. I believe that it is possible to use balanced music notes and chords to influence mood, behavior, and increase well-being. 

Below, I discuss the mathematical changes between “happy” major and “sad” minor chords.

In music, a major chord has a a frequency of 1 1/4, while a minor chord has a frequency of 1 1/5. This frequency is multiplied by the Hertz of the basic note. Stay with me. A basic note is the one which the scale is named after. This is also the first note of a scale. For example, the basic note in an A scale is an A. 

“Take a sad song, and make it better” Hey Jude by the Beatles was originally written in a minor key. What differences do you hear?

Hertz is the unit of measure we use for musical notes. It is the fundamental vibration of that note. For an A, the fundamental frequency is 110Hz. One octave above this note would multiply this fundamental frequency by two because there are two octaves accounted for, the base and the new: A1=110Hz, A2=220Hz. 

What songs are on your playlist? We perceive music with feeling and emotion. We can see this in the type of music we listen to depending on how we feel, or what stage of a relationship we are in. We listen to different songs if we are in love or in a breakup. The music both causes and is effected by the root emotion. Art is life is love is life is art. 

Happy, jovial love songs typically use major chords; while sad, nostalgic breakup songs typically use The difference, then, between a happy, self-confident sounding major chord and a dark, brooding minor chord is a minute alignment. 

From the above mathematics, we see that the difference between a major and minor chord is 1/20th. We get this number from 1 1/4 the major chord frequency minus 1 1/5 the minor chord frequency. This small change in frequency becomes two opposite worlds of experience. The small change of 1/20th frequency is the difference between being in love and being dumped. 

Imagine what we can do with this measure! Could the difference between happiness and sadness be as simple as improving your mood 1/20th?

This small change is the difference between a stoic, straight-line expression and a curved smile.

Noticing and changing this difference would lift us from emotional abyss into emotional bliss. Both ends of the spectrum exist in unison. Good and bad, happy and sad are ever-present opposites.

The math of music! Do you see the balanced triangles in this rock band? Stained glass window of angels playing instruments.
The math of music! Do you see the balanced triangles in this rock band?

The measure of Hertz can be an important tool for noting your place on the emotional spectrum in relation to the chromatic–colored–scale. Once measured and standardized, it can be manipulated as a tool of improvement in therapy. Someone in a low mood could notice the sadness, sing a song in a major chord, and potentially become uplifted.

First noticing an unpleasant thought or behavior, such as sadness called by minor music, brings awareness to the change that can be implemented, such as happiness called by major music. 

Tuning an instrument creates pleasant music, imagine what tuning yourself can do. Now imagine the bliss that could come from a few tuned, harmonized hearts.

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