Monday, April 6, 2009

The Effects of Music on Plants

Many studies have been conducted on communication with plants. Not only do plants react to human touch, but they are listening to us. You might wonder: how do plants hear? Well, they don't have ears. Plants seem to have another way of listening, though, perhaps through some sort of a universal vibe...

Consider Dr. T.C. Singh who, in 1950 when he was performing experiments on hydrillas with the encouragement of Professor Julian Henry Huxley, was excited to discover that the raga, a devotional song rising out of South Indian tradition, did in fact have a "religious" effect on the plant species-- among other physical growth, the hydrillas' stomata per unit area was 66% higher than in control plants. Singh since has conducted his raga experiment with various other types of plants, including economic ones such as radishes and sweet potatoes, and believes that he has "proven beyond any shadow of doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flower, fruiting, and seed-yields of plants." It is interesting how this relates to the ancient myth of Lord Krishna, the eighth and principal avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu who induced plants to blossom by singing ragas to them.

Other studies have shown that Bach's sonatas work as a nutrient supplement for plants, and those that listened to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" 24/7 sprouted earlier than those kept in silence. The following video on an experiment conducted by Dorothy Retallack reveals the music that plants prefer:

In the late 1960s, Retallack created two distinct environments for her test plants that varied only in one element: one group of plants listened to semi-classical music, and the other listened to hard-rock.

The plants that listened to composers of the eighteenth and nineteeth century including Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert, seemed to move toward the speaker and draw strength from the melodius sound. Those that listened to Led Zeppelin, Vanilla Fudge, and Jimi Hendrix, however, drank more water, but grew less, and eventually stopped growing. No wonder my plants are dead. :(

It appears to be the quality of the music that determined the fate of the plants, and while most people were impressed with Retallack's study, one rock musician expressed concern: "If rock is doing that to my plants, man, I wonder what it's doing to me?" I doubt he has anything to worry about -- plants are more likely just extremely sensitive to certain sounds.

I am currently reading a chapter entitled The Harmonic Life of Plants in "The Secret Life of Plants" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which is where I discovered most of this information. It is so interesting to learn about the effects of music on plants. I am intrigued by the research that has been conducted in this area, and perhaps one day when I have the time, will conduct my own study on my plants at home.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Music for Animals: More than Relaxing?

Can music affect animals? Well, we all know that music affects humans -- we all get excited when our favourite song is played on the radio, or when we're going to a concert, but what about our pets? Do they rock out and relax to their favourite tunes, or desire to go see their favourite band play? The second part of that question may be out of the question since I doubt your bird knows who Bon Jovi is and you can probably slip the name Hendrix by your hamster without a squeak. Music does have effects on animals, though, and some very interesting ones, indeed!

Contrary to popular rumour that fish cannot hear, they do in fact have ears according to LiveScience and the National Wildlife Federation:
"Fish don't have ears that we can see, but they do have ear parts inside their heads. They pick up sounds in the water through their bodies and in the ear, according to the National Wildlife Federation."
This makes sense because my pink kissing gourami, Splash, appears especially intent when my brother, Justin, jams on his guitar:

Splash swims over to the side of the tank closest to the guitar and sends kisses, which interestingly enough happens more often when my brother is playing -- it looks like he loves the music!

I was discussing the effects of music on animals with musician and fellow blogger, Andrew MacLeod, who informed me that his dogs often lie down and fall asleep in front of the drums when he plays! That's pretty crazy considering how loud drums are, and goes against research conducted by Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dogs Trust, formerly the Rehoming Centre of the National Canine Defence League in Evesham, England:
"Dogs seem to relax to soft slow strains, and sometimes become agitated to loud, drum-based tunes."
Some might think that Andrew has very strange dogs, but I believe there is more research to be done. Perhaps certain beats are somewhat relaxing or even have sleep inducing effects on dogs. Consider Pooch, whose nap is interrupted when her master stops playing the drums…

Looks like Andrew’s dogs aren’t the only ones who relax to the drums! Also, it appears that different instruments have different effects because when Andrew plays the harmonica, his dogs go wild! This is probably because the harmonica has a high-pitched sound that dogs' ears are more sensitive to.

It is true that certain music can be used to relax your pets. Janet Marlow, well known for her frequent appearances on Animal Planet, composes and sells her own relaxation CDs designed for cats and dogs. According to Marlow's website,
"The music has been composed and recorded by a specific process for your pets needs. Low and high frequencies can cause stress and anxiety in pets. The frequency range of the music has been modified for your pet's hearing sensitivities."
Pets and Music, and Pet Music are two sites similar to Marlow's. Joy Butler also proposes tips on using music to help your dog relax.

It appears then that music is usually played to animals to calm them, but what about animals that play music? Sure, hummingbirds can tap a beat, and male chimps improvise drumming solos on their chests, but I bet most people have never considered a musical cat! Let me introduce Nora...

She's been dubbed the Piano Cat and is certainly musically inclined! Nora was adopted from an animal shelter by Philadelphia piano teacher, Betsy Alexander, and since has been discovered the piano. Nora plays solo, and often plays duets with Alexander's students.

Further research, not on the effects of playing music to animals, but on cats like Nora who are interested in making music, is sure to uncover some hidden talent! After all, practice makes purr-fect!