Music Therapy

January 13, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Just because something seems simple doesn’t necessarily make it so. This is a stumbling block that I often see conventional scientists run into when discussing alternative or complementary therapies. How can everyday food possibly be as effective as a medication that’s taken millions of dollars and countless MDs and PhDs to create? Laughter is an enjoyable activity, but it can’t possibly improve cardiovascular health or survival in cancer patients. The very notion that supposedly un-serious activities such as artistic expression, listening to music or practicing generosity and kindness can alter one’s physiology is a difficult pill to swallow for many allopathically minded researchers.

Fortunately, some researchers are taking the study of mind-body medicine very seriously. One of the most intriguing examples is in the field of music therapy. A current report from the Department of Psychology at the University of Sussex methodically elucidates how sounds can literally alter the makeup of the body and mind. According to the review, the extent to which music touches human beings is quite broad and profound. The paper describes it thusly: “music engages sensory processes, attention, memory-related processes, perception-action mediation, multi-sensory integration, activity changes in core areas of emotional processing, processing of musical syntax and musical meaning, and social cognition”. In order to illustrate how some of these concepts apply in the real world, I’ve compiled several relevant studies that have been published recently in the scientific literature. (1)

  • Music Therapy for Mother and Child - A group of women suffering from labor pains and who were considered “high risk pregnancies” were provided with 30 minutes of music therapy for 3 consecutive days. A separate group of women was asked to simply rest for the same period of time. This latter group served as a comparison model. The women receiving the music therapy were documented as having lower anxiety levels and fewer physiological responses associated with labor pains. Music therapy has also recently been shown to console premature infants who suffer from “inconsolable crying” during periods when their parents or therapists aren’t present. Finally, exposing preemies to sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart appears to help them burn fewer calories and, thereby, gain weight and become stronger. Researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine theorized that Mozart’s highly repetitive melodies “may be affecting the organizational centers of the brain’s cortex” which makes the babies feel less agitated. (2,3,4)
  • Music Therapy in Nursing Home Related Depression - An insightful study conducted at the National University of Singapore explains that “Many people over the age of 65 do not regard depression as a treatable mental disorder and find it difficult to express themselves verbally”. Therefore, a group of researchers postulated that listening to music might “facilitate the non-verbal expression of emotion and allow people’s inner feelings to be expressed without being threatened”. In order to test this hypothesis, a study involving 47 elderly residents was conducted. 23 of the participants were provided with music therapy and 24 were used as a control/comparison model. The men and women who took part in the music therapy exhibited significant reductions in blood pressure, depression scores, heart rate and respiratory rate after only 1 month of “treatment”. (5)
  • Music Therapy as an Anti-Histamine - Listening to “feel-good music” may be an effective way to moderate histamine release in the body. This finding was established by having a group of young volunteers eat adverse/allergenic foods while listening to 5 minutes of happy music. Before and after salivary samples were used to quantify histamine secretion induced by the food challenges. Based on this preliminary experiment, it seems that the presence of feel-good music may have moderated the participants’ stress response, thereby decreasing histamine release. (6)
  • Music Therapy Before and After Surgery - A Swedish study from July 2009 determined that relaxing music may be more effective at reducing pre-surgical anxiety than the prescription medication Midazolam. A total of 177 patients tried the music therapy and experienced a 4 point drop in State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) scores. Those receiving the medication (150 patients) only found a 2 point drop in their STAI scores. The authors of the study concluded that “higher effectiveness and absence of apparent adverse effects makes pre-operative relaxing music a useful alternative to Midazolam for pre-medication”. The addition of soothing music after open heart surgery was also recently shown to increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of contentment, peace and safety. This is most likely the reason why many of the post-surgical patients reported feeling more relaxed than their music-less counterparts. The conclusion of this trial suggests that “Music intervention should be offered as an integral part of the multimodal regime administered to patients that have undergone cardiovascular surgery”. (7,8)
Source: Brain 2008 131(3):866-876 (link)
  • Music Therapy and Stroke Recovery - A German study published in the July 2009 edition of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences examined the effects of “music-supported therapy” in a group of 32 stroke patients. 15 music therapy sessions were provided over a 3 week period along with standard care. The patients involved all suffered from moderate impairment of motor function and had not previously received music treatment. 30 other patients received a similar therapeutic program minus the music and were used as a comparison group. The stroke patients who received the standard care + music intervention demonstrated statistically greater improvements in “fine as well as gross motor skills” involving precision, smoothness and speed of movement. While the control group reported virtually no improvement, the music group further illustrated “electrophysiological changes indicative of better cortical connectivity and improved activation of the motor cortex”. The music, in conjunction with rehabilitation therapy, was literally allowing the brain to reorganize and compensate for the damage caused by the stroke. (9)

There’s still a lot to learn about how exactly to best utilize music in the healing arts. A recent Chinese study set out to prove that happy melodies would reduce pain more efficiently than sad music. The only problem is that the results of the trial didn’t support the original hypothesis! What the researchers determined instead is that the valence or perceived attractiveness of the music was the determining factor in pain relieving potential. This could conceivably open the door for doctors and psychiatrists to prescribe music much like they would medications – based on an individual’s personal needs and preferences. (10)

I’m certain that there’s going to be a multitude of new research on music therapy in the years to come. But what’s equally important to consider is how music is perceived by those who are being exposed to it. One of the finest things about music therapy is that it is generally welcomed by those who need it most. A recent report in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine asked “17 wheelchair bound elderly residents” about their impression of group music therapy. The men and women collectively stated that music provided them with added strength and enhanced their quality of life. They went on to remark that the inclusion of music inspired them to exercise and learn more and, perhaps as importantly, added variety and greater satisfaction to their lives. These are the type of statements that are rarely uttered with regard to conventional medical care. My hope is that the modern medical paradigm will soon incorporate more music into its institutes of healing. When they do, I believe that more actual healing of the body and mind will occur. (11)

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health, Women's Health

9 Comments to “Music Therapy”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Morning again ;-)

    the first thought i had as i read the headline was: ah mozart heals! that was the whole last week every day in diverse daily newspapers especially that premature babys grow faster with mozart – only with mozart not with bach or chopin :-) they instinctively know whats good ;-) . the faster recovery of stroke patients do i know for years before the study was published because i worked on a stroke unit and there where always new things which should ease recovery (there where also light therapy with changing light colors worked good too or different natural smells – with attention to allergic reactions of course).

    last but not least: a metaanalysis showed that hearing music helps recovery from heart diseases, enhances mood and reduce hypertension(i think which type of music is good for that differs between people – heavy metal for example pushes my blood pressure ;-) )

    Other diseases also benefit from hearing music:

    M. Parkinson :


    …and much more… so let the music play!

    i hope in the near future there will be studies they support my personal believe that music in combination with dancing is much better than music alone ;-)

    Greetings from “Sauerkrautland”

    Nina K.

  2. anne h Says:

    When I went through a recent hard time, I loved to listen to sad music.
    Not sad per se, but not happy, bouncy music, either.
    King David played music for Saul – I guess it works!
    By the way, alot of hospitals here have a music channel, with pretty, soothing pictures…
    It’s very good for late nights.

  3. JP Says:

    Thank you for adding your valuable perspective and the links, Nina! :) It’s always great to read about your take on these issues!

    I’m not much of a dancer but I agree that it’s good for you. When I dance, it usually provokes laughter in others – which I suppose is also healthy. I guess there’s no reason for me not to dance! ;)

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Anne! :)

    I’m happy to hear about the hospital music channel and your own use of music therapy. These are great examples of how music can easily be incorporated into one’s life in a productive way. Besides, who wants going to argue with King David?! ;)

    Be well!


  5. anne h Says:

    Saul tried to argue with King David, and it didn’t work out too well for him!
    Insert yellow smiley face …here…!

  6. JP Says:

    Rule #238 in the Healthy Fellow handbook: Never argue with Kings featured in the Bible.

    Rule #239: If you find yourself arguing with Biblical figures, refer to rule number 238. :)

    Be well!


  7. Nina K. Says:

    Morning JP,

    so if we ever fly to USA then i’m going to visit you and we are going out for dancing :-) :-) !! If you say you make people laugh you haven’t seen my hubby!

    Nina K.

  8. JP Says:

    Good day, Nina! :)

    That sounds like a plan. We can see who’s the funniest dancer between us! The funny man’s dance off! ;)

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Update: Classical music my promote healthier surgical recovery …

    Pediatr Rep. 2014 Sep 29;6(3):5534.

    Music benefits on postoperative distress and pain in pediatric day care surgery.

    Postoperative effect of music listening has not been established in pediatric age. Response on postoperative distress and pain in pediatric day care surgery has been evaluated. Forty-two children were enrolled. Patients were randomly assigned to the music-group (music intervention during awakening period) or the non-music group (standard postoperative care). Slow and fast classical music and pauses were recorded and played via ambient speakers. Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, glucose and cortisol levels, faces pain scale and Face, Legs, Activity, Cry, Consolability (FLACC) Pain Scale were considered as indicators of response to stress and pain experience. Music during awakening induced lower increase of systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. The non-music group showed progressive increasing values of glycemia; in music-group the curve of glycemia presented a plateau pattern (P<0.001). Positive impact on reactions to pain was noted using the FLACC scale. Music improves cardiovascular parameters, stress-induced hyperglycemia. Amelioration on pain perception is more evident in older children. Positive effects seems to be achieved by the alternation of fast, slow rhythms and pauses even in pediatric age.

    Be well!


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