A candle is lit, a client is on the massage table, lotion is poured into one palm, and gentle music floats through the session room.

That last component of most relaxation massage sessions, music, has been shown through new research to have implications for the treatment of depression and physical pain.

Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, are using an innovative combination of music psychology and leading-edge audio engineering to examine how music conveys emotion.

“The research could lead to advances in the use of music to help regulate a person’s mood, and promote the development of music-based therapies to tackle conditions like depressive illnesses,” noted a press release from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is supporting the research. “It could help alleviate symptoms for people who are dealing with physical pain and even lead to doctors putting music on a prescription” tailored to suit the needs of an individual.

“The impact of a piece of music on a person goes so much further than thinking that a fast tempo can lift a mood and a slow one can bring it down,” said project leader and audio engineering specialist Don Knox. “Music expresses emotion as a result of many factors.”

These can include the tone, lyrics and structure of the piece, he added, as well as “where or when you first heard it, whether you associate it with happy or sad events, and so on.”

The researchers’ ultimate aim is to develop a comprehensive mathematical model that explains music’s ability to communicate different emotions, the press release noted. “This could make it possible, within a few years, to develop computer programs which identify pieces of music that will influence a individual’s mood.”

Emotion Classification in Contemporary Music” is a –three year project due for completion at the end of October 2010.

Related articles:
Are Humans Wired to Appreciate Music?

Lift the Veil with Music

Music Promotes Heart Health