How are people in my non-music field using music?

Students often ask, “why should I bother with music when I’m going to be an engineer/doctor/lawyer/chef?” Well, that’s a valid question. It only makes sense to put a lot of effort into something if it is of great benefit to you. There are plenty of speech transcripts and anecdotal, statistical and scientific articles on how music has intrinsic merit—it stands on its own for its cultural value, its enjoyment potential, its ability to communicate, its permanent benefit to mental capabilities, and soo many other reasons. That’s not what I’ll touch on here; I’ll only share some of the more interesting uses of music in certain non-music fields.

Music Therapy, ENT, Audiology . . .

Everyone knows music has the power to touch our emotions. Music therapists take this to the next level and use it to help people. Here’s one short article from the APA, another from Harvard, and a third page from the American Music Therapy Association that contains a long list of articles that all touch on the healing aspects of music.

Clarity Way, a Pennsylvania treatment facility that embraces music, put together a great infographic on not only what music therapy does, but a little about its history and job prospects as well.

Using Sound to Diagnose Cancer

Researchers from MIT, Penn State and Carnegie Mellon have come up with a way to diagnose extremely rare forms of cancer using sound waves. They run a blood sample between two different audio transducers, which act upon cancer cells differently than regular cells, pushing the cancer cells down a different channel. The method is 20 times faster at cellular differentiation than the method previously used.

Drumming away Tourette’s

One of the most amazing stories of music as medicine was featured on Nova: Musical Minds (a transcript is available at the link). One of the four subjects in the video is Matthew Giordano, a man with severe Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette’s can be as simple as an occasional twitch of the eye, but in Matt’s case, it often manifested itself in fits of extreme rage. “I blamed myself even though I knew it was my symptoms’ fault and I had no control . . . It didn’t matter though. I was the one who hurt the people I love, and I was the one who always felt so terrible about it,” Matt wrote, in the family’s book on the subject.

Matt broke windows and punched and kicked holes in walls. His condition wasn’t deterred by his own artwork or strong plexiglass; it always had the same result. About dealing with Matt’s condition, his mom remarked, “It’s similar to asking what can be done to make someone sober when he is drunk.” Matt’s parents tried everything they could think of, but were left with no suitable options.

Eventually, Matt’s parents began to focus on his abilities as a drummer, and not on his disability. At two years old, he played a toy drumset along with “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” by The Moody Blues. It was at that age that his tics began, but Tourettes wasn’t a well-known condition at the time.

When the documentary was filmed, Matt was 26 years old and had long since figured out that drumming was able to channel his mental energy away from the tics. “I was playing this rhythm in a very balanced form of my body, a very balanced form of tempo and everything else. It was almost like my brain was a puzzle, right? And some of the pieces were not in place, and, all of a sudden, everything kind of clicked in the two hemispheres of my brain. And I literally felt it like this. I was doing it, and, all of a sudden—it went about this fast—and it kind of just clicked into place . . . . When that happened, it was amazing.”

Now, drumming circles exist in some Tourette’s support groups and have helped many other patients cope with their condition.

Bedside Performances

There are many opportunities to bring live music to hospitals. Musicians on Call in the United states and Musicians in Hospitals in the UK are two organizations that try to make this happen as often as possible.

Teaching Science through Song

It’s safe to say that setting scientific principles to music has helped many, many budding scientists to remember the concepts they’ve been taught, and I’m not talking about “History of Everything” from Big Bang Theory. Whether it’s Bill Nye’s parodies, The Animaniacs’ geography or School House Rock, music sticks with us.

A “Symphony” of Science

Remixer John Boswell takes ordinary media from Discovery, PBS, BBC, Comedy Central and others to form music videos that are enjoyable and accessible. His Symphony of Science teaches with auto-tuned voices of some of the most famous scientists of all time—Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and others.

Protein Music Reveals DNA Sequencing Patterns

Anne Clark is a biologist who codes proteins at Texas Wesleyan Univerity, Fort Worth. Scientists like her are used to unraveling DNA, recording the data, then looking for patterns. But, with 20 different amino acids and sometimes thousands of them in a protein, it’s sometimes hard to find the patterns among the mess of data points. “When people look at a page full of text corresponding to protein sequences, they tend to spot clusters of letters, but fail to see the larger pattern,” she said. But, when they assigned a different sound to various proteins and played it like a song, they noticed the patterns more easily. “You hear stuff you can’t see,” said Clark.

Clark sometimes uses the music to analyze DNA, and other times uses it as a teaching tool. Ross King, at the University of Wales, designed his protein music program to assigned a note to each of the three compounds in amino acids to create a three-note chord (triad), based on various properties. The proteins are both unchanging and variable enough to make some pretty interesting music. One fun application of the music is teaching about evolution; students can hear the various musical themes that change via evolution, and which ones remain the same. Source: National Geographic.

Communication and Writing about Music

Businesses, blogs and podcasts all need content, and much of it is about music. Besides the world’s largest blogs, which often have sections about music, there are plenty of blogs dedicated to the subject; Feedspot keeps a rotating list of the top 100 here (based on search and social metrics). Most of the time, new writers have articles accepted individually. An example is Jaclyn Schiff’s article for The Penny Hoarder on how podcasting reached financial viability in 2014, and how to use it to make money.

Learning English and History

Schoolhouse Rock set the standard for teaching through song, and any parent knows how often educational toys and videos use songs to help kids remember what they’re learning. Songs for Teaching compiled a short list of articles on why music is so powerful in a learning environment; they also specialize in educational songs, representing more than 200 artists. While music technology isn’t a subject they cover, there are a lot they do.

Learning a Second Language

Kao Tung-an and his young daughter decided to use Hip Hop to learn English. Tung-an first enjoyed the music; then he analyzed the lyrics to create a custom textbook; then he searched the culture behind the music for additional meaning. These strategies can be applied to any language and used with any musical style that is meaningful to the learner. His article on the subject can be found here, and is a paid article, even with most institutional subscriptions.

Performance Poetry

Poetry has been set to music for a long time. One recent incarnation is the six-year project of Natalie Merchant—taking old children’s poems and singing them. The above link is to a recorded TED audience.

Hypersonic Sound

Engineering is all about finding ingenious solutions to problems that haven’t been solved. One standout example in the audio world is the ultrasonic speaker, designed by Woody Norris. He saw that mankind had figured out how to focus light in hundreds of useful ways, but not sound, so he invented a speaker that does just that. It ignores the typical, distorting issues of low-frequency sound by transmitting ultrasonic waves, effectively creating the sound at each minute point along a columnar path in the air or other medium. Effectively, it’s a speaker that’s almost completely directional.

The device has many simple, consumer uses, such as: the driver of a car and his passengers listening to different audio; supermarket lines where if you step a foot to the right, you no longer hear the TV ads in front of you; audio playback can be more private; and others. Commercially, there are even more possibilities: customer engagement/signage; communicating information via ultrasonic waves; detecting minute temperature changes at a huge distance; military beaming the sound of troops miles into the distance; and more.

Special Application Retail Speakers

Necessity is usually the mother of invention, and businesses are a great source of technological needs. For audio, that means speakers that do all sorts of different things. If you’re going into business, it’ll be good to familiarize yourself with the specialty options available.

One such option is the omnidirectional speaker, which comes in many varieties. One is the Soundsphere. It creates a diffuse sound field that requires fewer speakers in a system and fewer variation as you walk from one speaker to the next.