Sounds good: Feeding your brain through music

Ferrari + caballos + fuerza = cerebro Humano, Flickr

Turn down the noise and tune into a better life. Turn down the noise and turn up creativity.

As citizens of the fittest state in the nation, it would be an understatement to say that Coloradans care about their health. Boulderites, especially, are known for taking the healthy lifestyle to brave new heights. Here, people run marathons for fun, eat vegan or gluten-free en masse, practice meditation and yoga, and believe in the healing power of the great outdoors.

But most of us rarely give a second thought to feeding our brains a balanced diet of aural nourishment.

Don Campbell, a classically trained musician and author of 23 books including the 1997 bestseller “The Mozart Effect,” believes that noise pollution can negatively affect our health and wellbeing in serious ways. His newest book “Healing at the Speed of Sound,” written with coauthor Alex Doman, reveals the link between sound and health and provides techniques for improving your mood, concentration, and creativity through music and sound.

According to a recent report from the World Health Organization on noise pollution, one million healthy years of life are lost every year in western Europe due to traffic noise.

“The adverse affects of noise absolutely affect cardiovascular disease. It creates cognitive impairment in children. It is a factor in sleep disturbance and causes tinnitus [perpetual ringing in the ears],” said Campbell in a telephone interview from his home in Boulder, Colorado.

“All these loud noises can also give us this extra edge of annoyance that affects our daily lives.”

While European countries aggressively regulate noise on a federal level, the Reagan administration shuttered the U.S. Agency for Noise Abatement and Control in 1982. That’s why it’s important for us to take matters into our own hands.

In “Healing at the Speed of Sound,” Campbell recommends doing a sound assessment of your environment: where you sleep, work, and your daily commute. The constant humming of air conditioning, computers, and electric lights can all impact your health and ability to concentrate. “We have to find out where we are before we can make a decision about what to do,” said Campbell. “If you just add music on top of a general hum or noise, it can be even more distracting.”

What if you can’t turn off the air conditioning at work or remove buzzing fluorescent lights? Purchase high quality noise-cancelling headphones. Campbell wears his on planes, trains, public transport, and noisy office environments…often without playing music. “Some people work better in quiet, others with sound,” he said. “We want to access our high-yield concentration in quieter environments and if we’re a little sluggish, we can use a little “sonic caffeine,” music with a little faster pace with a higher frequency. Being able to put on your own playlist and find ways to calm yourself in high-stress environments will help you become more focused and creative.”

If all this sounds like common sense, you’re right. “A lot of what I’m saying is intuitive,” said Campbell. “And the research is there to prove it.”

“Healing at the Speed of Sound” is certainly deeply researched with 70 pages of footnotes alone. A large section of the book, which includes several inks, videos and audio clips in the electronic edition, is devoted to the relationship between music and childhood development and creative thinking. “My interest has been in how young children who start playing music early organize their time, space, and emotional release through the playing of music.” he said.

In fact, many of these musical kids grow up to be successful scientists, mathematicians, and computer engineers. According to research cited in Campbell’s book, the foremost technical designers and engineers in Silicon Valley are almost all practicing musicians. “That amazing organization of time and space and focus take place when playing an instrument,” said Campbell. “Playing is so different, because you’re not just coordinating your fingers, but also your breath. If you’re reading music, you’re using another part of your brain as well….”

Campbell, who has lived all over the world, including Paris and Japan, first came to Boulder in the 1990s to teach a class on music and health at the Naropa Institute. He has since made Boulder his home base.

“Boulder feels like a wonderful center of entrepreneurs and forward thinking in education and health,” he said. “It was easy to call it home.”

He’s sat on the board of the American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado for 12 years and has developed a close relationship with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra—leading lectures before concerts and hosting the “Super Listening Club,” where the public is welcome to meet with Campbell and other music lovers for “listening sessions,” where participants discuss the numerous ways of listening to and understanding music.

Campbell leads numerous workshops at Fortune 500 companies across the country on how to come up with new ideas. These workshops often include brainstorming activities led to the tunes of different types of music–from classical to jazz to pop. “I think that’s the magic of music,” he said. “It gives us a sense of timing and tempo that allows us to find our way through a question or problem at a different pace than our mind naturally falls. Sometimes we need to speed it up and other times we need to slow it down.”

[note color="#eee"]Hear Don Campbell speak at these upcoming local events:

Book Signing for “Healing at the Speed of Sound” at The Boulder Bookstore in Boulder. December 1, 7:30. Live music and lecture.

Meeting of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra’s “SuperListening Club” with Don Campbell. January 14, 10 a.m-12 p.m. in the Choral Room 102 of Macky Auditorium, University of Boulder. Entrance is free.