Sound Bites

Jackhammers. Rock concerts. Car alarms. What kind of effect does the background noise of everyday life have on us? A significant and lasting one, says Joshua Leeds, author of The Power of Sound: How to Manage Your Personal Soundscape for a Vital, Productive and Healthy Life (Healing Arts Press, 2001). While soothing sounds may be beneficial to our health, says Leeds, noise that grates on our nerves may be damaging to more than just our ears.

In The Power of Sound, Leeds investigates the link between noise and well-being. For example, listening to Mozart may make you smarter, while stress can cause hearing loss in much the same way as exposure to high-decibel levels.

A former music producer and composer, Leeds argues that people, like musical instruments, have resonant frequencies, and the vibrations that agree with each of us may actually keep us healthier, smarter and more alert. Sound therapy, he notes, has been used to treat everything from depression to cancer, and some scientists believe that exposing children to classical music may help develop language centers in the brain. "Think of music and sound as self-help for the nervous system," explains Leeds.

After examining the physics of sound and the mechanics of hearing, Leeds delves into the effects of music on specific age groups, including babies, teenagers and seniors.

So the next time you find yourself stopped in traffic next to a jackhammering construction crew, opt not to lay on the horn. Instead, breathe deeply, and slip your favorite, soothing sounds into the CD player. It may make all the difference.

—Jordana Gerson