Want to relax? Listen to Verdi, scientists say

Research shows the Italian composer's music can lower blood pressure

Steve Connor
Tuesday 09 June 2015 01:07 BST
Members of the public watch a performance of Verdi's opera 'Rigoletto' broadcast in Trafalgar Square last year
Members of the public watch a performance of Verdi's opera 'Rigoletto' broadcast in Trafalgar Square last year

If you want to relax and feel calm then the scientific tip is to listen to the music of the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, which is more likely to lower blood pressure than pop, rock or jazz.

According to new research, slow music with a 10-second repetitive cycle has a noticeable calming effect on listeners because it matches the body’s natural 10-second waves of blood-pressure control.

The music of Verdi, along with the slow movements of Ludwig Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the arias in Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot, are among the most calming pieces of music because they happen to be rich in 10-second cycles that match perfectly the control rhythm of the cardiovascular system, said Professor Peter Sleight, of Oxford University. Blood pressure measurements are sent to the brain after every heartbeat, but because the brain sends control messages back to the heart along two separate nerves operating at different speeds, they arrive out of phase with one another and only come back into phase once every 10 seconds, he explained.

Music with a similar 10-second rhythm is therefore likely to have a calming influence because it exploits this natural cycle controlling blood pressure, Professor Sleight said. He will describe the study today at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester. “When we picked up some music by Verdi it was quite clear that he seemed to know instinctively about this when he composed his 10-second arias,” Professor Sleight told The Independent.

Verdi seemed to instinctively know that his music had a calming influence

Studies carried out on 12 musically trained volunteers and 12 untrained individuals demonstrated that certain kinds of slow music were particularly good at helping to control blood pressure – in contrast to jazz or fast classical compositions, he said.

“Music is already being used commercially as a calming therapy but this has happened independent of controlled studies into is effectiveness,” Professor Sleight said.

“Our research has provided improved understanding as to how music, particularly certain rhythms, can affect your heart and blood vessels. But further robust studies are needed, which could reduce scepticism [about] the real therapeutic role of music.”

It is not just music that has a calming influence on blood pressure. Professor Sleight and his colleague Luciano Bernardi found that the prayer Ave Maria, when spoken in Latin, also has a 10-second rhythm when it is read out 50 times, as it is in some Catholic services in Italy.

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