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)

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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

16 Comments & Updates to “Music Therapy”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Morning again πŸ˜‰

    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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ˜‰ )

    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 πŸ˜‰

    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! πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ˜‰

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Anne! πŸ™‚

    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?! πŸ˜‰

    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. πŸ™‚

    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 πŸ™‚ :-)!! If you say you make people laugh you haven’t seen my hubby!

    Nina K.

  8. JP Says:

    Good day, Nina! πŸ™‚

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

    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!


  10. JP Says:

    Update 06/13/15:

    J Affect Disord. 2015 Apr 11;184:13-17.

    Music therapy as an adjunct to standard treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder and co-morbid anxiety and depression: A randomized clinical trial.

    BACKGROUND: Previous studies have highlighted the potential therapeutic benefits of music therapy as an adjunct to standard care, in a variety of psychiatric ailments including mood and anxiety disorders. However, the role of music in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have not been investigated to date.

    METHODS: In a single-center, parallel-group, randomized clinical trial (NCT02314195) 30 patients with OCD were randomly assigned to standard treatment (pharmacotherapy and cognitive-behavior therapy) plus 12 sessions of individual music therapy (n=15) or standard treatment only (n=15) for one month. Maudsley Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Depression Inventory-Short Form were administered baseline and after one month.

    RESULTS: Thirty patients completed the study. Music therapy resulted in a greater decrease in total obsessive score (post-intervention score: music therapy+standard treatment: 12.4Β±1.9 vs standard treatment only: 15.1Β±1.7, p<0.001, effect size=56.7%). For subtypes, significant between-group differences were identified for checking (p=0.004), and slowness (p=0.019), but not for washing or responsibility. Music therapy was significantly more effective in reducing anxiety (post-intervention score: music therapy+standard treatment: 16.9Β±7.4 vs standard treatment only: 22.9Β±4.6, p<0.001, effect size=47.0%), and depressive symptoms (post-intervention score: music therapy+standard treatment: 10.8Β±3.8 vs standard treatment: 17.1Β±3.7, p<0.001, effect size=47.0%).

    LIMITATIONS: Inclusion of a small sample size, lack of blinding due to the nature of the intervention, short duration of follow-up.

    CONCLUSION: In patients with OCD, music therapy, as an adjunct to standard care, seems to be effective in reducing obsessions, as well as co-morbid anxiety and depressive symptoms.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 08/08/15:

    Clin Rheumatol. 2015 Aug 6.

    Effects of music on pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

    Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a chronic syndrome characterized by diffuse musculoskeletal system pain and painful tender points in certain areas of the body. The aim of the investigation was to determine the effects of music on pain in fibromyalgia patients. This randomized clinical trial was carried out with 37 fibromyalgia outpatients as an experimental group (n = 21) and control group (n = 16) at a University Hospital Internal Medicine and Rheumatology Clinic between 1 June and 1 December 2014. The research instruments used were descriptive characteristics questionnaire, Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), music CD which includes water and wave sounds recommended by the Turkish Psychological Association for psychological relaxation, and pain evaluation form. According to the findings, the average age of patients was 43.59 years ± 10.30, 94.6 % were women and 81.1 % were married. The fibromyalgia patients had the disease ranged from 1 month to 20 years, the average of disease duration was 23.6 ± 45.5 months, and the average of pain intensity was 6.89 ± 1.64 on the VAS. Average pain was reported in the experimental group in VAS on day 1 (5.45 ± 2.73), day 7 (4.57 ± 2.71), and day 14 (4.14 ± 2.45), and significant reduction in pain in the listening music group was seen (p = 0.026). A repeated measure analysis of variance controlling for differences between days demonstrated a significant decrease in pain between day 1 and day 14 (p = 0.022). There was no significant decrease in pain among control group participants. The effect of music has been found to control pain in fibromyalgia patients. Music therapy should be suggested in pain management for fibromyalgia patients as an non-pharmacologic nursing intervention.

    Be well!


  12. JP Says:

    Updated 12/17/15:

    J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Dec 15.

    Effects of Music Therapy on the Cardiovascular and Autonomic Nervous System in Stress-Induced University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

    OBJECTIVE: Stress is caused when a particular relationship between the individual and the environment emerges. Specifically, stress occurs when an individual’s abilities are challenged or when one’s well-being is threatened by excessive environmental demands. The aim of this study was to measure the effects of music therapy on stress in university students.

    DESIGN: Randomized controlled trial.

    PARTICIPANTS: Sixty-four students were randomly assigned to the experimental group (n = 33) or the control group (n = 31).

    INTERVENTION: Music therapy.

    OUTCOME MEASURES: Initial measurement included cardiovascular indicators (blood pressure and pulse), autonomic nervous activity (standard deviation of the normal-to-normal intervals [SDNN], normalized low frequency, normalized high frequency, low/high frequency), and subjective stress. After the first measurement, participants in both groups were exposed to a series of stressful tasks, and then a second measurement was conducted. The experimental group then listened to music for 20 minutes and the control group rested for 20 minutes. A third and final measurement was then taken.

    RESULTS: There were no significant differences between the two groups in the first or second measurement. However, after music therapy, the experimental group and the control group showed significant differences in all variables, including systolic blood pressure (p = .026), diastolic blood pressure (p = .037), pulse (p < .001), SDNN (p = .003), normalized low frequency (p < .001), normalized high frequency (p = .010), and subjective stress (p = .026). CONCLUSION: Classical music tends to relax the body and may stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. These results suggest music therapy as an intervention for stress reduction. Be well! JP

  13. JP Says:

    Updated 1/1/16:

    J Eat Disord. 2015 Dec 30;3:50.

    The role of music therapy in reducing post meal related anxiety for patients with anorexia nervosa.

    BACKGROUND: It is well known that mealtime is anxiety provoking for patients with Anorexia Nervosa. However, there is little research into effective interventions for reducing meal related anxiety in an inpatient setting.

    METHODS: This study compared the levels of distress and anxiety of patients with Anorexia Nervosa pre and post music therapy, in comparison to standard post meal support therapy. Data was collected using the Subjective Units of Distress (SUDS) scale which was administered pre and post each condition.

    RESULTS: A total of 89 intervention and 84 control sessions were recorded. Results from an unpaired t-test analysis indicated statistically significant differences between the music therapy and supported meal conditions.

    CONCLUSIONS: Results indicated that participation in music therapy significantly decreases post meal related anxiety and distress in comparison to standard post meal support therapy. This research provides support for the use of music therapy in this setting as an effective clinical intervention in reducing meal related anxiety.

    Be well!


  14. JP Says:

    Update 06/01/16:

    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine

    The Effects of Music Intervention on Sleep Quality in Community-Dwelling Elderly

    Objectives: To examine the effects of music intervention on sleep quality in community-dwelling elderly people.

    Design: Two-armed randomized controlled trial.

    Settings: Four urban communities in Xi`an, China.

    Participants: People aged 60 years or older with poor sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index [PSQI] score >7).

    Interventions: All participants received one sleep hygiene education session and biweekly telephone calls. Each participant in the intervention group received an MP3 player with a music database. The participants selected the preferred music and listened for 30–45 minutes per night for 3 months.

    Outcome measures: Sleep quality, the main study outcome, was measured by PSQI at baseline, 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months.

    Results: Sixty-four elderly people with a mean age of 69.38 ± 5.46 years were randomly assigned to the control group (n = 32) or the intervention group (n  = 32). All participants completed the study, and none reported discomfort related to the music intervention. The intervention group demonstrated continuous improvements in sleep quality, with a global PSQI score of 13.53 at baseline, 9.28 at 1 month, 8.28 at 2 months, and 7.28 at 3 months. Although the global PSQI score in the control group also decreased from 12.26 at baseline to 8.72 at 3 months, the intervention group achieved greater improvements at each measurement (all p < 0.05). Repeated-measures analysis of variance revealed significant group-by-time interaction effects in global PSQI score and three component scores: sleep latency, sleep efficiency, and daytime dysfunction (all p < 0.05). Conclusion: Music is a safe and effective nonpharmacological intervention for improving the sleep quality of community-dwelling elderly people, especially in improving sleep latency, sleep efficiency, and daytime dysfunction. Be well! JP

  15. JP Says:

    Updated 02/01/17:

    Neurol Sci. 2017 Jan 30.

    Active music therapy approach for stroke patients in the post-acute rehabilitation.

    Guidelines in stroke rehabilitation recommend the use of a multidisciplinary approach. Different approaches and techniques with music are used in the stroke rehabilitation to improve motor and cognitive functions but also psychological outcomes. In this randomized controlled pilot trial, relational active music therapy approaches were tested in the post-acute phase of disease. Thirty-eight hospitalized patients with ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke were recruited and allocated in two groups. The experimental group underwent the standard of care (physiotherapy and occupational therapy daily sessions) and relational active music therapy treatments. The control group underwent the standard of care only. Motor functions and psychological aspects were assessed before and after treatments. Music therapy process was also evaluated using a specific rating scale. All groups showed a positive trend in quality of life, functional and disability levels, and gross mobility. The experimental group showed a decrease of anxiety and, in particular, of depression (p = 0.016). In addition, the strength of non-dominant hand (grip) significantly increased in the experimental group (p = 0.041). Music therapy assessment showed a significant improvement over time of non-verbal and sonorous-music relationships. Future studies, including a greater number of patients and follow-up evaluations, are needed to confirm promising results of this study.

    Be well!


  16. JP Says:

    Updated 08/05/17:

    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. July 2017

    Does Music Therapy Improve Anxiety and Depression in Alzheimer’s Patients?

    Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of a short protocol of music therapy as a tool to reduce stress and improve the emotional state in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

    Methods: A sample of 25 patients with mild Alzheimer’s received therapy based on the application of a music therapy session lasting 60 min. Before and after the therapy, patient saliva was collected to quantify the level of salivary cortisol using the Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay (ELISA) immunoassay technique and a questionnaire was completed to measure anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale).

    Results: The results show that the application of this therapy lowers the level of stress and decreases significantly depression and anxiety, establishing a linear correlation between the variation of these variables and the variation of cortisol.

    Conclusions: A short protocol of music therapy can be an alternative medicine to improve emotional variables in Alzheimer patients.

    Be well!


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