Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Health

Music Of The Human Heart May Hold Clues To Healing

Milford Graves says a healthy heart — like a good jazz drummer — emphasizes the triplets.
Milford Graves says a healthy heart — like a good jazz drummer — emphasizes the triplets.

In the 1960s and '70s, jazz drummer Milford Graves played with Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and others in the New York avant-garde. These days he's still a musician, but he also spends a great deal of time exploring how music can help heal the human heart. Some doctors say the research Graves is doing in his basement in Queens is just as significant as work being done in medical laboratories.

Graves listens to the heart rhythms of volunteers using a host of diagnostic tools, including a custom-built stethoscope and sensors that pick up the electrical impulses that cause the human heart to beat. Software then parses the data, allowing Graves to focus on the micro-rhythms within a single heartbeat.

Graves says a healthy heart — like a good jazz drummer — emphasizes the triplets (1-2-3, 1-2-3), not the eighth notes (1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4).

"If you've got a stiff heartbeat, that means your blood is like 'squirt, squirt.' Not a nice flow," Graves says. "I want to look at that and see what's happening."

If Graves thinks something is wrong, he'll manipulate the sound, perhaps by speeding it up or slowing it down on his computer. He'll then use this counter-rhythm to try to nudge the heart back toward a more normal pattern. The manipulated sounds are put back into the volunteer's body, either through acupuncture needles or through their ears.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.