A Piano Chord Cures Nightmares

It is raining, and I’m drinking a hot chocolate, and I have very little of significant interest to tell you about my life at the moment. Apologies. Of possible *slight* interest are the following:

  • I’m working on a pitch for a project I’d be seriously happy to get. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
  • I cancelled my gym membership because now the sun is coming up earlier I feel more inclined to get outside for my, albeit brief, two-or-three-times-a-week run.

But that’s it.

So as I continue to bimble about my delightfully quiet and uneventful life as it is at the moment, allow me instead to share some loads more interesting news I came across recently from the world of SCIENCE. I do love a bit of science, you know.

Scientists have used a simple, repeating piano chord to help reduce nightmares


From the New Scientist (17 February, 2024) article:

“36 people spent time envisaging a better end to their bad dreams before sleep, but half were also exposed to the sound of a piano chord every 10 seconds while they did this. At night, each person wore a headband containing electrodes to monitor their brain activity. When it registered that they had entered REM sleep, the same piano chord was played every 10 seconds until the REM period had finished. After two weeks, both groups had fewer nightmares, but the piano chord group had significantly fewer than the other group.”

From the Geneva University Faculty of Medicine website:

” “We asked the patients to imagine positive alternative scenarios to their nightmares. However, one of the two groups of patients did this exercise while a sound – a major piano chord – was played every ten seconds. The aim was for this sound to be associated with the imagined positive scenario. In this way, when the sound was then played again but now during sleep, it was more likely to reactivate a positive memory in dreams,” explains Sophie Schwartz, a full professor in the Department of Basic Neurosciences at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine and the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences.”

I wonder why the choice of a repeating piano chord, and not another sound? It was a major chord; not some diminished 11th chord, so perhaps it was likely to already have a positive association? Generally, in Western musical traditions at least, a major chord signals a positive, happy or content tone. It would make sense to use such an association to diminish the strength of the negative emotions experienced during a nightmare.

With it being only the same chord over and over again, it also probably became quite hypnotic and meditative after a while.

… However, in a DRAMATIC turn of events, I *just* dug into the paper itself

If I’m reading this correctly, it’s not even a major chord.

It’s a ‘C69’ chord. It’s got a Debussy-ish, impressionist, almost dreamy vibe (I see why they chose it!). Technically there’s both a major and minor chord in there mashed up together, making it neither.

To my ear, tonally, it’s kind of… contented with a very slight side of a wry twinkle-in-the-eye…

But see what you think:

If it were me, I’d have let the chord sustain a bit longer than 1 second. That’s possibly just an aesthetic preference, and perhaps the chord release on their piano was less abrupt.

But I digress.

36 people is quite a small sample size too, so I’d like to see this experiment replicated.

Still – it’s great to hear that music, even in such a simple form, can be used to help this condition therapeutically. Yay Science!

Discover more from Heather Fenoughty

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading