The Effect of Musical Tempo on Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Courtney Fleming and Arianna Green

CU Boulder, Fall 2008

            We tested the effect of musical tempo on heart rate and blood pressure of individuals at rest. We wanted to test if fast music increased heart rate/blood pressure and slow music decreased heart rate/blood pressure. Understanding that slow music is often used for meditation and relaxation, and fast music is used for cardiovascular exercise we hypothesized that there is a direct link between musical tempo and heart rate/blood pressure.      

To test our hypothesis first we selected 2 fast hip-hop songs and 2 slow classical songs. We had 3 subjects listen to each song for 2.5 minutes with a 2 minute break between the hip-hop and the classical trial for recalibration. We measured heart rate and blood pressure before, during and after (0min, 2min, 5min) each trial for the 3 subjects making sure to keep all 3 sitting in the same position for the same amount of time. We did this to avoid outside factors that might affect heart rate/blood pressure. Since the hip-hop had a faster tempo we predicted that the subjects would show an increase in heart rate/blood pressure while listening to hip-hop and a decrease in heart rate/blood pressure while listening to classical music.

Our results indicated that heart rate increased measurably over time during the hip-hop trial, and decreased during the classical trial. However our p value for heart rate was 0.14 for classical and 0.33 for hip hop, and for blood pressure was 0.58 for classical and 0.34 for hip-hop. Therefore our results were not significant.

Our results were consistent with our predictions, but because our p value was greater than 0.05, we cannot draw any significant conclusions from this. One potential problem with our experiment was that we only had 3 subjects to work with. Also we only had time for 5 minutes per trail. If we had had more time and more subjects, small inconsistencies in our data could have been more adequately accounted for. Our hypothesis was consistent with the results of a Reuters 2005 study published in the journal Heart, which found that listening to music produces varying levels of arousal - accelerated breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate - that are directly proportional to the tempo of the music and perhaps the complexity of the rhythm. Another similar study (Reinhardt 1999) found on the “pubmed” webpage found that “Lullaby-like” music can induce a trainable synchronization of heart rate. Based on these studies and the general trends in our data, I would say that our hypothesis does have some legitimacy. We would be interested in further testing of our same hypothesis because it makes sense given the vast number of neurons affected by listening to, and in particular playing music that there would be a connection between musical tempo and heart rate/blood pressure.