Dynamic interactions between musical, cardiovascular, and cerebral rhythms in humans

Luciano Bernardi, Cesare Porta, Gaia Casucci, Rossella Balsamo, Nicolò F. Bernardi, Roberto Fogari, Peter Sleight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND-: Reactions to music are considered subjective, but previous studies suggested that cardiorespiratory variables increase with faster tempo independent of individual preference. We tested whether compositions characterized by variable emphasis could produce parallel instantaneous cardiovascular/respiratory responses and whether these changes mirrored music profiles. METHODS AND RESULTS-: Twenty-four young healthy subjects, 12 musicians (choristers) and 12 nonmusician control subjects, listened (in random order) to music with vocal (Puccini's "Turandot") or orchestral (Beethoven's 9th Symphony adagio) progressive crescendos, more uniform emphasis (Bach cantata), 10-second period (ie, similar to Mayer waves) rhythmic phrases (Giuseppe Verdi's arias "Va pensiero" and "Libiam nei lieti calici"), or silence while heart rate, respiration, blood pressures, middle cerebral artery flow velocity, and skin vasomotion were recorded. Common responses were recognized by averaging instantaneous cardiorespiratory responses regressed against changes in music profiles and by coherence analysis during rhythmic phrases. Vocal and orchestral crescendos produced significant (P=0.05 or better) correlations between cardiovascular or respiratory signals and music profile, particularly skin vasoconstriction and blood pressures, proportional to crescendo, in contrast to uniform emphasis, which induced skin vasodilation and reduction in blood pressures. Correlations were significant both in individual and group-averaged signals. Phrases at 10-second periods by Verdi entrained the cardiovascular autonomic variables. No qualitative differences in recorded measurements were seen between musicians and nonmusicians. CONCLUSIONS-: Music emphasis and rhythmic phrases are tracked consistently by physiological variables. Autonomic responses are synchronized with music, which might therefore convey emotions through autonomic arousal during crescendos or rhythmic phrases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3171-3180
Number of pages10
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - Jun 30 2009


  • Arousal
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Therapy, music
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, transcranial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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