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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 103-107

Immediate effect of listening to Indian raga on attention and concentration in healthy college students: A comparative study

Division of Yoga and Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusansadha Samsthana University, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication27-Oct-2015

Correspondence Address:
Karuna Nagarajan
Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusansadha Samsthana (S-VYASA) University, # Ekanth Bhavan, Gvipuram Circle, Kempe Gowda Nagar, Bangalore - 560 019, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2394-2010.168367

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Background: Many studies with western music have shown enhancement in the cognitive performance task. The factors influencing the performance are a selection of dependent measures, choice of the piece of music, presentation order of the conditions. Research has shown that the specific choice of musical composition may help in the improvement of the particular cognitive task. Objectives: We chose to study the impact of Indian Raga on a memory task. Methods: In twenty-six volunteers both male and female (group average age ± S.D., 18.84±3.53 years) the immediate effect of two musical conditions and No music condition was studied on memory. All participants were assessed before and after (i) Indian Raga Bhupali(R) for 10 minutes on day one; (ii) an equal duration of Pop music (P); and (iii) an equal duration of Silence or no music (S) on next two different days respectively. A Section of the Wechsler memory scale (WMS) was used to assess; (i) attention and concentration (digit span forward and backward) before and immediately after the intervention. Results: There was a significant improvement in digit forward (P<0.05, increase of 3.17%) and backward span score after (p<0.05, an increase of 5.26%) immediately after the exposure to Indian Raga Bhupali. Conclusions: The combination of notes in Indian Raga Bhupali is said to instill Shringara rasa or the aesthetic mood of Love. The improvement is significant compared to the Pop music that is much preferred by the college students and Silence or No music conditions. It was concluded that Memory scores improved immediately after listening to Indian Raga Bhupali.

Keywords: Aesthetic mood, Indian Raga Bhupali, memory

How to cite this article:
Nagarajan K, Srinivasan TM, Ramarao NH. Immediate effect of listening to Indian raga on attention and concentration in healthy college students: A comparative study. J Health Res Rev 2015;2:103-7

How to cite this URL:
Nagarajan K, Srinivasan TM, Ramarao NH. Immediate effect of listening to Indian raga on attention and concentration in healthy college students: A comparative study. J Health Res Rev [serial online] 2015 [cited 2022 Sep 26];2:103-7. Available from: https://www.jhrr.org/text.asp?2015/2/3/103/168367

  Introduction Top

Music is unanimously appreciated for its psychological and physiological effects on humans. Music is both science and art of regulating tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in sequential relationships to create a composition with harmony and continuity.[1]

Music generates psychological responses within a person when it passes through the auditory cortex of the brain, which processes the music. This processing occurs in the limbic system, which is known as the center of emotions, sensations, and thought patterns. Human reaction to music occurs predominantly in the right hemisphere of the brain, which is involved in intuitive and creative methods of processing information. Through effective response and cognitive recognition, music can alter mood. Thus, a person's frame of mind, reaction to the given music, and musical preference play an important part in mood shift leading to various health outcomes.[1]

Hence, music has been a medium of therapy for centuries, and there are numerous examples of the curative or healing powers of music in the historical records of different traditions.

Music therapy is the use of music and musical elements (sound, rhythm, melody, harmony, and pitch) by a music therapist with a client or group, in a process designed to facilitate and promote communication, relationships, learning, mobilization, and expression. It also aims at other relevant therapeutic objectives, in order to meet physical, emotional, mental, social, and cognitive needs.[2]

  Indian Music Top

In Indian classical music, music therapy depends on the correct intonation and right use of the basic elements such as nada (sound), shruti (musical interval), swara (note), raga (melody), tala (beat), and laya (rhythm).[3]

The four elements most significant in this context are swara or note, Indian raga or melody, rasa or aesthetic mood, and thaat or mode.

Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni are the seven notes or swaras of the saptak or scale. Each of the notes or swara lowered or raised in pitch are known as komal (flat note) or teevra (sharp note), respectively. Shadja (Sa)and Panchama (Pa)are two steady or natural notes having no distortion or displacement. Rishabha (Re), Gandhara (Ga), Madhyama (Ma), Dhaivata (Dha), and Nishada (Ni) are accepted as having two forms as stated above, namely, one high and one low. We have a total of 12 notes.[4]

Rasa or aesthetic mood is realized when an emotion is awakened in such a manner that it has none of its cognitive tendencies, and it is experienced in an impersonal contemplative mood.[5]Raga is the sequence of selected notes (swaras) that lend an appropriate rasa or aesthetic mood in a selective combination. Depending upon its tonal quality, a raga could induce or intensify joy or sorrow, exuberance or peace, and it is this quality that forms the basis for therapeutic application.[5]Thaat or mode

is a certain arrangement of the seven notes with a change in shuddha (pure), komal (flat), and teevra (sharp). Every raga has a fixed number of komal (flat/soft) or teevra (sharp) notes, from which the thaat can be recognized.[6] The Shringara rasa or aesthetic mood of love is able to bring out the beauty and harmony that is present in everything. This is the mood in which we concentrate on creating a lovely atmosphere within us and with friends and family.[7]

The ragas are classified according to the shuddha (natural), komal (flat), and teevra (sharp) notes or swaras used and consequently the particular rasas or moods they are able to create. Ragas with shuddha or pure notes (Ri, Ga, Dha) depicts the aesthetic mood or rasa of love; komal or flat Ri and Dha create the aesthetic mood or rasa of compassion and calmness; komal or flat Ga and Ni create the mood of courage in the listener.[6] Listening to Indian ragas, which depict the mood of love, compassion, peace, and courage may be used for dissolving negative thoughts thereby bringing balance in mental and emotional states.[5]

  Music and Memory Top

Many college students listen to music to ease the emotional effects of stress and anxiety when engaged in cognitive performance, such as studying for exams, writing the assignments, etc. Many research have shown a positive impact of music showing improvement in the cognitive performance.

In the last two decades, several studies on western music have pointed out that both musical training and music exposure experience lead to an improvement in short-term and long-term verbal memories in both healthy and clinical population.[8] Recovery in the field of verbal memory and focused attention enhanced more significantly in the music group than in the language group (listening to the audio book) and control groups. The music groups were elevated with positive mood than the control group. Music during the early poststroke stage can improve cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood.[9] Music acts as a tool for episodic memory rehabilitation on special populations with memory deficits due to frontal lobe damage such as Alzheimer's patients.[10] Listening to music stimulates cognitive performance such as language and memory. Thus, music could represent a rich and helpful source during verbal encoding and, therefore, help in subsequent retrieval. Music helps the older adults in memory performances by decreasing their prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity.[10] Active music therapy with 3 months follow-up brought significant improvement in changing inattention, visuomotor coordination, and verbal and spatial memory.[11]

Music also acts as a mood enhancer. Background music in the classroom, for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties showed significant improvement in behavior and mathematics performance.[12] The effects of music on task performance are interceded by the mood or internal environment created rather than affecting cognition directly. Relaxing music led to better performance on arithmetic and memory tasks when compared with a no-music condition.[13]

However, with a variety of music genres available to music listeners, it is also essential to appreciate how different types of music impact performance. The present study aims to understand the effect of listening to a particular Indian raga, which is known to create a particular aesthetic mood and instill calmness in the internal environment. There are no previous studies reporting attention, concentration, and primary working memory in healthy college students after listening to any Indian raga. Therefore, the study was designed to assess the immediate effect of Indian raga Bhupali.

The study uses two control conditions: No-music and instrumental pop music. We sought to determine how no-music session or pop music session affects the same individual and to investigate the effect of the Indian raga on the cognitive performance using the digit span test that requires selective attention and concentration.

  Hypothesis Top

We hypothesized that participants who listened to Indian raga Bhupali would be influenced by the aesthetic mood of the song that depicts Shringara rasa or love. This state of mind would bring in relaxation. Further, that it would bring in the selective attention and concentration that is required for performance of the task. We also predicted that listening to Pop music generally liked by the teenagers may be exciting and distracting, may not have positive effect on working memory. The study also had another control condition of no-music or silence that we predicted would not help to silence the mind.

  Materials and Methods Top


Twenty-six undergraduate college students both male and female, age ranged 18-24 years (18.84 ± 3.53 years) were recruited for the study. They were all students of Residential Yoga University. All of them were of normal health based on a routine case history and clinical examination. All participants expressed their willingness to participate in the experiment, and the project was approved by the Ethics Committee of the institution. The study protocol was explained to the subjects, and their signed consents were obtained.


Assessments were made on three different days, which were not necessarily on consecutive days, but at a time in the evening suitable for listening the Indian raga Bhupali. The allocation of participants to the three sessions was random using a standard random number table. The sessions were raga (R), pop (P), and no-music or silence (S). The duration of the sessions was 10 minutes each. The piece of music in MP3 format set for 10 min was administered to the subject through headphones via laptop in a sound-proof room.

Participants were tested on the memory task immediately before and after the session.


Throughout all the sessions' participants sat comfortably on a reclining chair and kept their eyes closed. The MP3 format of the music both Indian raga and pop was set to 10 min.

The music played the instrumental melody in both the cases, without the interference of the lyrics. Music song titles and artists for two conditions were:

Indian raga

We used two pieces of melody in raga Bhupali. The raga is sung in the late evening. Listening to the right raga at the right time is said to smooth the natural transitions and attune the body and mind to the circadian cycle.[14] The songs are popular classical based film music - a. "Jyoti Kalash jhalake" played in confluence of three instruments sitar (Sunil Das), flute (Rakesh Chaurasia), and santoor (Ulhas Bapat) and b. "pankh hote to ud aati re" with flute rendition by Praveen Gorkhindi. Raga Bhupali is from Kalyan Thaat (Lydian mode).[15] This raga uses Ri and Dha teevra or sharp notes, known to instill the aesthetic mood of Shringara or love within the listener.[6] The aesthetic mood of calmness is the culmination of other aesthetic moods or rasas like love, Compassion and Courage and is of transcendental quality.[5]

Pop music

The term "pop" is originally derived from an abbreviation of "popular." It borrows elements from other preexisting musical styles that include urban, dance, Latin, rock, and country.[16] In general, college students prefer them since they invoke the feeling of excitement.

We used two pieces of melody in pop - a. Electro Pop Beat, "Can't Keep Me Away" by Chinchilla Music Production and b. K-391 - "Sky City 2013" by K-391. Both the pieces of music used synthesizers and various electronic musical instruments.


Memory tasks were selected from the Wechsler memory scale (WMS), which has been standardized for use in an Indian population. The following sections were selected digit span forward and digit span backward with 10 items each. The digit span tests assess attention, concentration, and primary working memory.[17] Each correct answer was scored as "1" (for digit span forward or backward). This was based on the conventional scoring for WMS.[18] Parallel worksheets were prepared, changing the digits to eliminate serial testing artifacts when retesting.[19]

Data analysis

Data were analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) (version 16.0, SPSS, Chicago, IL). There were separate repeated measures of analyses of variance (ANOVA) for each of the assessments, with two within subject factors [i.e., time (before, after) and sessions (raga, pop, silence)]. Posthoc analysis was with Bonferroni adjustment, comparing after with before values.

  Results Top

Digit span forward scores differed significantly between sessions (F = 1.98, P < 0.05).

The increase in scores for the digit span forward tasks following listening to raga was significantly greater (3.17%) than pop music (1.02%) and silence or no-music condition (0.17%). [Table 1] denotes the pre- and postresults of group's mean and standard deviation (SD) for the three sessions of Indian raga, pop music, and silence or no-music conditions.
Table 1: Values of group Mean±SD score of time assessments for sessions (digit forward task) N =26

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Digit span backward scores also differed between sessions (F = 2.51, P < 0.05).

The increase in scores for the digit span backward tasks following listening to raga was significantly greater (5.26 %), than pop music (1.4 %) and silence or no-music condition (1.87 %). [Table 2] denotes the pre- and postresults of group's mean and standard deviation (SD) for the three sessions of Indian raga, pop music and silence or no-music conditions.
Table 2: Values of mean±SD score of time assessments for sessions (digit backward task) N = 26

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[Table 3] denotes mean difference before the sessions of Indian raga, pop music and silence, a pair wise comparison, for digit forward task. There were no significant changes between the sessions.
Table 3: Values of mean difference before the sessions for digit forward task-pair wise comparison

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[Table 4] denotes mean difference between the baseline and postresults of digit forward task across the three sessions. There were no significant changes between the sessions.
Table 4: Values of mean difference after the sessions for digit forward task-pair wise comparison

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[Table 5] denotes mean difference before the sessions of Indian raga, pop music, and silence, a pair-wise comparison, for digit backward task. There were no significant changes between the sessions.
Table 5: Values of mean difference before the sessions for digit backward task-pair wise comparison

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[Table 6] denotes mean differences between the baseline and postresults of digit backward task across three sessions. There were significant changes between the different sessions - Indian raga and pop music; pop music and Indian raga.
Table 6: Values of mean difference after the sessions for digit backward task-pair wise comparison

Click here to view

  Discussions Top

This study showed that the performance of a cognitive task, such as digit span, can be affected by the type of music played prior to the test. In this study, Indian raga Bhupali had a significant effect on the performance of the attention and concentration tasks when compared to the scores of the attention and concentration tasks with pop music. Perhaps, it was because of the emotion and mood created by the Indian raga that instills calmness in the internal environment. The concept of rasa is the most important and significant contribution of the Indians to aesthetics and evocation of rasa is the function of music.[20]Rasa is a bioenergy that is partly physical and partly mental. It is an important link between body and mind that affects our thoughts and emotions.[5] Many studies have suggested that the most common purpose of musical experiences is to persuade emotions. People use music to modify emotions, to let go emotions, to match their current emotion, to rejoice or pacify themselves, and to relieve stress and rejuvenate.[21] By culturing the emotions and controlling brain wave patterns, ragas could be used as a powerful tool for alleviating the most common ailments of the modern society.[5]

The results of our study were in accordance with our original hypothesis.

Studies have shown that the choice of the musical genre may influence cognitive performance. Rauscher has provided the neurophysiological basis for the improvement in performance considering theoretical and experimental factors. The factors influencing the performance are the choice of dependent measures, the selection of musical composition, presentation order of the conditions, and the inclusion of distracter task. Digit span scores of subjects who listened to the Pachelbel Canon versus a Bartok piece did not improve.[22]

Listening to a piece of melody, of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" had a positive effect on older adults' cognitive performance in two working memory tasks compared with the no-music condition. In addition, this effect did not occur with white noise.[23] Rauscher et al. showed that exposure to Mozart's Piano Sonata enhanced performance on an abstract/spatial reasoning task from the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale when compared with silence, a relaxation tape.[24] In 1995, they found that Mozart's Piano Sonata had a positive influence on the performance when compared to a short story, minimalist music, or dance music.[25]

Rideout et al. have reported that a present-day composition by the Greek-American musician Yanni is also effective and is similar to the Mozart's sonata in its physical characteristics. Two Bachs also have shown a similar effect like Mozart's sonata.[26]

Studies utilizing paper-folding tasks and maze tasks showed enhancement following exposure to Mozart music. Whereas as studies utilizing paper form board task, digit span test, Raven progress matrices test did not show any enhancement following exposure to Mozart music. Research put forward that these tests measure general analytic intelligence rather than spatial ability.[22]

The advantage of our study design takes into consideration the immediate effect of music through self-control case series in which the inference is within individuals. Hence, fixed covariates such as location, diet, and state of health are automatically controlled for within a proportional incidence framework.[27]

The possible mechanism is that the effect of listening to music helps to calm down the nervous system. One of the studies showed, music prior to a standardized stressor predominantly affected the autonomic nervous system in terms of a faster recovery.[28] Music influences how a listener feels, and feelings influence a wide range of stimulus including cognitive performance like that of thinking, logical analysis, problem-solving, originality, and mental flexibility.[29] Listening to classical relaxing music after exposure to a stressor resulted in considerable reductions in anxiety, anger, and sympathetic nervous system arousal, and increased relaxation compared to no-music condition or listening to heavy metal music.[30]

  Conclusion Top

The selected Indian classical raga in our study is said to create pleasing effect on the internal environment due to the combination of notes. The improvement in memory scores could be due to the rasa or aesthetic mood induced by the raga. The consolidation and evocation of rasa represent the function of all fine arts.

In general, prior knowledge of musical elements will help the participants to appreciate and willfully submit to the musical composition. In our study, the participants were the students of Residential Yoga University. As a part of their curriculam they were all exposed to evening bhajans set to different ragas. This may have caused improvement in the memory scores. This is the downside of our study.

In the future, the study of Indian music may be extended to various Indian ragas and other dependent measures or cognitive tasks.


The authors gratefully acknowledge Dr. Hariprasad V R and Dr. Subramanya Pailoor for their guidance and Dr. Balram Pradhan for his help in Statistical Analysis.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]

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