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Healing at the Speed of Sound: a book review

By Dianne Witte

Co-authors, Don Campbell and Alex Doman collaborate on this examination of how sounds and music transform our brains and our lives.

Don Campbell (now deceased) was the bestselling author of twenty books and produced sixteen albums, many of which topped the Billboard classical charts. He founded the Institute of Music, Health and Education in Boulder, Colorado. He is best known for popularizing the notion that there is a “Mozart Effect” or a cognitive benefit, gained from listening to certain music.

Alex Doman represents the third generation in a family of pioneers in the field of child and human brain development. He has focused his career on sound, music, and technology and their capacity to improve brain health and performance and is the founder and CEO of Advanced Brain Technologies.

The authors first encourage the reader to examine the soundscape of their lives by exploring how sound, especially music, penetrates every phase of our lives, beginning before birth and continuing on through the death process. They encourage the reader to note the sounds of their day, since noise is “described as the most pervasive pollutant in America which presents a significant threat to human health. Not only can it affect hearing, but a certain levels it can increase blood pressure, increase your breathing rate, disturb your digestion, contribute to the development of ulcers, interfere with sleep….intensify the effects of drugs and alcohol, speed up the appearance of signs of aging and affect the fetuses of pregnant women, possibly even contributing to premature birth.” Statements and claims are liberally footnoted with studies documenting their validity.

The book outlines ways to create your own personal sound diet, using personal preferences to compliment activities, designing a kind of “sonic caffeine” for creative endeavors and exercise or “sonic sedative” for relaxing and contemplation. They use the metaphor of three gears, like those on a car, to illustrate how the beats per minute (bpm) of music can enhance each activity.  First gear is low sounds of low frequency (under 50-60 bpm) and helps ground, relax and calm. Second gear is described as music with a moderate tempo, between 50-60 bpm and mid to high frequency, such as instrumentals to focus the mind by entraining the brain waves to an alpha state for optimal attention and learning. Finally, third gear has a wide frequency range and tempo of 90-150 bpm. This tends to increase your heart rate and energy levels as you listen, motivating you to exercise and be active.

Throughout the text they offer suggestions of specific music to accomplish a particular activity, identify websites to help determine the bpm of your favorite music and note there is even a free app decibel meter available for your phone. For those who don’t have time or inclination to create their own soundscape, there are services available to create them for you. They can identify and provide a music menu to deal with issues such as tinnitus, asthma, pain, autoimmune conditions, autism, other learning disabilities, and memory issues, to name a few.

The importance of music in the lives of children and learning is a particular emphasis. They say sound shapes the development of our bodies and minds, thus influencing the state of our health, and identify numerous studies to support these claims. One such study found “teenagers who play a musical instrument score significantly higher on the SAT than non-musicians.” This is particularly concerning at a time when funding for school music programs are being cut time and again. But, the authors also offer a range of activities and ideas for parents to incorporate the benefits of music into their daily lives.

The World Health Organization recommends a maximum background noise level of 35 db (somewhere between the noise level of a whisper and a humming refrigerator). What levels do you experience each day? Like me, I’m sure your environment is much noisier than that and we also notice when noise levels are irritating. The authors suggest we have become habituated to much higher decibel levels than are healthy and that leads to hearing loss. Any hearing aid user I’ve ever encountered complains about the effectiveness of their hearing aid, so that’s not a place I want to go.

Personally, after reading this book, I’m convinced that music can make a difference in my life and will explore further how I can decrease the sounds levels in my environment. I’m intrigued by the idea of creating a personal soundscape and perhaps adopting other healing options. For instance, I’ve traveled a lot recently and had difficulty with the standard earplugs providing true “soundproofing.” On the recommendation of a travel companion I became aware of new ear plugs that are available on the market. They are a kind of silicone putty, which provides truly significant sound blocking. They are widely available at your favorite stores if you are interested.

In addition, I’d like to note, my sister has used “The Listening Program” offered by Doman’s Advance Brain Technologies to assist in recovery from her liver transplant which left her cognitive abilities compromised. She has nothing but high praise for its effectiveness in bringing back her life skills. My mother, too, seeing her improvement has adopted a listening program to assist with memory retention. Of course, these are anecdotal examples but I think much more preferable option than continued challenges.

I highly recommend this book and for readers to follow-up on its recommendations.

Healing at the Speed of Sound is available in paperback from Plume as of 2012 ($16 US; 263 pages)

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