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Playing Music to Help Plants Grow: The Ideas of Dorothy Retallack

Updated on May 30, 2017
Many people believe that playing music to plants can help them to thrive.  The idea is rooted in the work and experiments of Dorothy Retallack, who covered the subject in the 1970's.  She concluded that only some types of music are good for plants.
Many people believe that playing music to plants can help them to thrive. The idea is rooted in the work and experiments of Dorothy Retallack, who covered the subject in the 1970's. She concluded that only some types of music are good for plants. | Source

Playing plants music to help them grow is an idea that first gained popularity in the 1970's after the publication of the book: The Sound of Music and Plants, by Dorothy Retallack in 1973.

Retallack did various experiments in order to find out the effect of what happens if you play plants music.

She experimented with the length of time that music was played and also attempted to discover the style of music plants like most.

Dorothy Retallack’s experiments took place at the Colorado Women's College in Denver and involved three Biotronic Control Chambers.

She placed plants in each chamber and played the plants music and sounds through speakers.

In one series of early experiments she played the note F for extended periods of time, but most of her later focus was on the effects of different styles of music.

"Why do people write books? Many reasons, of course. In my case it is to put down chronologically the story of the phenomenon of the effect of music on plants and to clear up some misconceptions and misquotes which cannot help but happen when the various news media and publications excerpt from a long article about the report of my experiments."

— Dorothy Retallack, from the foreword to The Sound of Music and Plants
The cover of Retallack's book, written in 1973, detailing her ideas, experiments, and conclusions.  The book remains popular with many gardeners, despite some criticism of Retallack's adherence to scientific method.
The cover of Retallack's book, written in 1973, detailing her ideas, experiments, and conclusions. The book remains popular with many gardeners, despite some criticism of Retallack's adherence to scientific method.

The Main Findings of Dorothy Retallack

According to Retallack, the best music for plant growth is soothing, positive music. Plants don't like harsh, heavy, angry or discordant sounds.

Three or four hours of music is the optimum amount, according to Retallack. Play plants music for longer than this and the effects tend to always be negative, whatever style of music is played.

The music of classical composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach was thought by Retallack as soothing and positive, and so had a beneficial effect on plant growth.  The picture shows Bach aged 61, and was painted in 1746, by Elias Gottlob Haussmann.
The music of classical composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach was thought by Retallack as soothing and positive, and so had a beneficial effect on plant growth. The picture shows Bach aged 61, and was painted in 1746, by Elias Gottlob Haussmann. | Source

Examples of Positive Soothing Music

Older classical music such as works by the composer, J S Bach is recommended if you want to help plants grow.

Smooth and melodic jazz music, such as material by the instrumentalist and singer, Louis Armstrong, is also good to play them.

Certain styles of World Music, such as Indian sitar music was also found to have a positive effect.

Melodic jazz music, such as that played by the musician and singer, Louis Armstrong was also seen by Retallack as positive for plant growth.    More discordant sounds had a negative effect, however, on the the well being of plant
Melodic jazz music, such as that played by the musician and singer, Louis Armstrong was also seen by Retallack as positive for plant growth. More discordant sounds had a negative effect, however, on the the well being of plant | Source

Examples of Negative Harsh Music

Heavy rock music had a detrimental effect on plant development, according to Dorothy Retallack, who played her plants Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.

Discordant modern classical music, such as Arnold Schoenberg also seemed to be bad for plants and should be avoided.

Retallack believed that heavy rock groups such as Led Zeppelin had a detrimental effect on plant development.  She also found, through experimentation, that modernist classical music, which was discordant to have a negative impact.
Retallack believed that heavy rock groups such as Led Zeppelin had a detrimental effect on plant development. She also found, through experimentation, that modernist classical music, which was discordant to have a negative impact. | Source
The music of American rock legend, Jimi Hendrix, was also thought to have a negative effect on plant growth, according to Retallack.  His sound she speculated was too abrasive for the plants, who preferred a more soothing musical tone.
The music of American rock legend, Jimi Hendrix, was also thought to have a negative effect on plant growth, according to Retallack. His sound she speculated was too abrasive for the plants, who preferred a more soothing musical tone. | Source
Photo of the Austrian classical composer, Arnold Schoenberg, taken in Los Angeles, 1948.  Retallack believed that discordant modern classical movement was bad for the growth of plants.  The soothing sounds of earlier music was better, she thought.
Photo of the Austrian classical composer, Arnold Schoenberg, taken in Los Angeles, 1948. Retallack believed that discordant modern classical movement was bad for the growth of plants. The soothing sounds of earlier music was better, she thought. | Source

Neutral Music

Certain music was recorded by Retallack as not having either a positive or negative effect when used to help plants grow. Country and Western music was one such style that fitted into this category.

The Country and Western singer, Dolly Parton.  Certain styles of music were thought to have a neutral effect on plants, according to Retallack, that's to say, neither good or bad.  Country music was one of them.
The Country and Western singer, Dolly Parton. Certain styles of music were thought to have a neutral effect on plants, according to Retallack, that's to say, neither good or bad. Country music was one of them. | Source

Criticisms of Dorothy Retallack's Work

Although Dorothy Retallack went to great lengths to make her experiments scientific, the experimental conditions that Retallack used were not thorough and consistent enough to be fully scientific, according to some critics.

She was also a rather eccentric lady with strong personal biases. She thought that plants were capable of ESP, for instance, and speculated that the reason why plants didn’t like heavy rock music was because of the lyrics.

Critics have also pointed out that the styles of music that Reallack said that plants liked and disliked conformed to her own musical tastes.

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      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 4 months ago from Massachusetts

      Wow this is an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if Retallack's research has since been recreated in a more scientific way.