‘Relaxation Music’ Works–But So Does Chopin

There’s a whole genre of music called “relaxation music.” <> Also called “Meditative Binaural Music,” because it includes sounds recorded in stereo, and sometimes sine tones with a beating pattern, called ‘binaural beats.’ But is all that any more relaxing than some gentle Chopin? <> 

Researchers attempted to answer that question by sitting 30 people, aged 18 to 80, in a comfy chair, one at a time, with noise-cancelling headphones on. On a desk in front of them was a slider, on which they could indicate their changing levels of alertness versus relaxation, as the researchers played new-agey calming music <>; the subdued Chopin… <> or a more lively piece by Mozart. <> 

Based on the slider info, the participants were all jolted into alertness by Mozart’s strings, regardless of age. And the “relaxation music” was indeed a relative chill pill. But not any more of one than the Chopin. And in a post-listening survey, only listeners in their teens and 20s described feeling slightly more sedate when listening to harps and birds chirping in stereo. All of which suggests that relaxation music, while effective, doesn’t have any unique soothing powers compared with peaceful classical music. And that’s true even when the relaxation music has ‘binaural beats.’ The study is in the Journal of Music Therapy. [George Lee-Harris et al, Music for relaxation: A comparison across two age groups]

Still, the scientists say the new relaxation music has its advantages. It’s got fewer cultural connotations than classical music—which could be preferable in, say, a hospital waiting room. And if you’re trying to relax before bed, the new stuff is probably not as likely to get stuck in your head. <>

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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