“Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast,” according to the 18th century playwright William Congreve, but what about its ability to charm a mild-mannered plant? Anecdotally, this phenomenon had been postulated for many years. Over the past five decades, however, numerous research studies have been undertaken to find the answer.
What was found is that, yes, sound affects plants. In fact, plants that are exposed to different types of noise react or grow differently than those that are not. Plants, of course, do not have ears, but they can feel the sound vibrations. Also, they react to different types of music in both positive and negative ways. So, though their taste in music might differ from yours, you might want to find a radio station that they agree with if you are looking to get the most out of your plants.
Types of Music and Their Effect
Different types of music produce a wide range of different results in plants. A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Development looked at the effects five different types of music had on the growth of 30 different pots of a singular rose species. The music genres for this study were Indian classical music, Vedic chants, Western classical music, and rock music. (The researchers were Indian, so they chose some types of music indigenous to that region and included others that were not.) The fifth group was the control group and was not exposed to any music.
The researchers observed and measured several aspects of plant growth over a 60-day period. They looked at shoot elongation (length of branches), internode elongation (distance between branching on the main stem), and the abundance and size of the flowers. Their observations were as follows:
The plants exposed to Vedic chants experienced the most amount of growth at 3.08 inches, though those exposed to Indian classical music were close behind at 2.89 inches. Western classical music, silence, and rock music trailed behind with the average growth measured at 2.07 inches, 1.9 inches, and 1.44 inches, respectively.
The average length of internodal elongation was highest with the Indian classical and Vedic chants, with lengths of 1.57 inches and 1.5 inches, respectively. Interestingly, the plants exposed to silence were next longest at 1.06 inches, while Western classical and rock came in at 0.86 inches and 0.53 inches.
The roses that were exposed to the Vedic chants were also the most floriferous, with an average number of 0.68 blooms per plant (not all plants in the groups produced flowers). The plants exposed to Indian classical music averaged 0.6 flowers per plant. The ones exposed to Western classical produced 0.53 per plant, the ones with no music produced 0.48, and the ones exposed to rock produced an average of 0.38 flowers.
As measured on their second day after fully opening, the average blossom size was 5.4 cm 2.13 inches) for those exposed to Vedic chants, 2.12 inches for those exposed to Indian classical music, 1.92 inches for those exposed to silence, 1.85 inches for those exposed to Western classical music, and 1.46 inches for those exposed to rock music.
Additionally, the researchers in this study noted that the plants that were exposed to the chants grew toward the music, while the ones exposed to rock tended to grow away from the music source. The ones that were exposed to rock music also developed thorns first and had the highest average amount of thorns compared to the other groups.
A separate two-year Egyptian study, published in 2017 in the Life Science Journal, looked at growth rates, oil production, and pigment variations on salvia plants that were exposed to Western classical, jazz, and silence. The researchers also found that the type of music a plant is exposed to makes a big difference in the data. They looked at total plant height, number of branches per plant, fresh and dry herb weights, percentage of oil and oil yields per plant, and the amounts of total chlorophyll and carotenoids in each plant. With very little exception, the plants exposed to the classical music outgrew and out yielded those exposed to jazz or those that grew in silence. Here are their observations:
The plants exposed to classical music had the most amount of vegetative growth in both years of the study. Year one averages were 14.96 inches compared to 14.17 inches for those in silence and 13.39 inches for those exposed to jazz. Year two followed suit, with the ones listening to classical music reaching an average of 15.31 inches, while the ones exposed to silence and jazz music reached only 14.57 inches and 13.9 inches, respectively.
The plants exposed to classical music also had the highest average number of branches per plant over both years of the study. They averaged 33 branches per plant in year one and 34 in year two. Plants exposed to silence averaged 30.6 and 31 branches per plant over years one and two, respectively. Plants exposed to jazz music averaged 27 branches in year one and 28 branches during year two.
Oil yield from the plants exposed to the classical music was higher than that of both the ones exposed to silence and the ones exposed to jazz. Yields in the first year of the study were 0.07 ounces for the plants with classical music, 0.037 ounces for plants with silence, and 0.036 ounces for the ones exposed to jazz. In year two, the yields were 1.037 ounces, 0.036 ounces, and 0.035 ounces, respectively.
In regards to pigment, year one data slightly skewed towards the plants in silence over the plants with classical music, but that trend reversed in year two. Total chlorophyll in year one for plants raised in silence was 2.08 mg, 2.02 mg for classical, and 1.95 mg for those exposed to jazz music. In year two, it was recorded as 2.17 mg for classical music, 2.07 mg for no music, and 1.95 mg again for plants exposed to jazz.
There were other benefits for the plants exposed to classical music in this study. They had higher yield weights in both fresh and dry herbs, as well as higher carotenoid levels. This held true for both years of the study.
Another 2017 study, published in the Romanian Journal of the Young Scientist, looked at growth rates of wheat when exposed to either classical, no music, or rock (in this case, Led Zeppelin). The wheat in this study grew at an average weekly rate of 1.3 inches when exposed to classical music and 0.92 inches when exposed to no music. When the plants were “getting the Led out,” they only grew an average of 0.52 inches per week (apologies to Robert Plant).
One more example is from a Chinese study published in 2017 in Transactions of the Chinese Society of Agricultural Engineering. Researchers looked at the yield of soybean sprouts when exposed to five different types of music: piano solos, Chinese classical, rock, pop, and a single frequency for the control. The highest yields were obtained from the soybeans exposed to the piano music at three pounds compared to 2.38 pounds of yield from the control group.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at the affects various noises, including music, have on the germination of okra and zucchini seeds. After five iterations of this experiment, music played in the proximity of the seeds had a statistically significant effect on their germination rate. This was regardless of the seed type, the temperature, and the personnel making observations and taking measurements. Overall, the results of this study found that the seeds exposed to music germinated almost 20 per cent faster than the control group that was not exposed to music. As an aside, they also found that plants that were exposed to “healing energies” also expressed higher and faster germination rates that the control seed populations.
Even if heavier or harder forms of music are your own personal preference, it looks like the preponderance of evidence suggests that plants seem to have a lighter taste and would prefer Bach to the Beatles. With potential benefits of up to 20 per cent more growth and yield, it may be time to garner an appreciation for the music that your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents used to dance to.