Healing Then and Now With Music

Therapeutic uses of music date back to antiquity. Healing shrines in Ancient Greece housed both hymn specialists and physicians.[2] Native American tribes chanted, danced, and played drums to heal illness. And early Christian priests used hymns to ease pain in the sick. Today, scientific studies confirm what the ancients seemed to know inherently: that music can be medicinal.[3]

The Ancient Greeks: Musical Wisdom

Hippocrates advocated a “healthy mind in a healthy body,” which included mental health care and art therapy. Music and drama were used to treat illness and improve behavior in his time. The notion was that healing the soul through music would also heal the body, with specific applications. The sounds of the flute and harp, for instance, were a treatment for gout.[5]

What Is Music Therapy? A Contemporary Definition

Today, music therapy aims to influence both emotion and physiology. Music therapy is an established allied healthcare profession that entails a therapeutic relationship between a patient and a board-certified music therapist. Treatment techniques are designed to achieve functional changes in mood, brain, and behavior.[6]

Imaging Studies: The Brain Dances to Music

Music modifies brainwaves, a phenomenon that can be seen through functional MRI (fMRI). Patterns of activity in the nucleus accumbens and auditory cortices indicate whether a person enjoys a particular piece of music or not. Another area of the brain, the superior temporal gyrus, serves as a music-recommendation system that helps people make choices about music they want to listen to and purchase.[8]

Reducing Blood Pressure

Music can influence blood pressure in both directions, based on speed and personal perceptions.[9] One study exposed patients with essential hypertension to 30 minutes of Beethoven’s violin concerto Op. 61, second movement (Larghetto). The results showed that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were lowered significantly.[10]

Music and Dementia Patients

Recent studies have documented the positive effect that music has on dementia patients. Some scientists hypothesize that music regenerates or stimulates several areas of the brain while slowing down neurodegeneration. Patient choice of music yields the best results, and selections that include vocals tend to show the most promise in dementia treatment.[12,13]

Music and Learning

Companies like Brain.fm are creating music and sounds that condition the brain (brainwave entrainment) to reach specific cognitive states. Brainwave oscillations can be synchronized with music to achieve a desired state, such as relaxation, reduced pain, sleep, contentment, and others.

Music and Autism

Research suggests that music can improve communication, behavior, cognition, social interactions, and emotional regulation in those on the autism spectrum. It appears to do so by stimulating both hemispheres of the brain, organizing the sensory system, and increasing perceptual motor skills.[16]

Music as Sleep Medicine

Music has proven to be highly effective in improving sleep hygiene. One study showed improved sleep in elderly participants over 3 months from listening to slow, sedative music every night. Areas of improvement included sleep latency and efficiency as well as daytime function. Similar studies have shown fewer interruptions in sleep patterns and prolonged REM sleep in adults with insomnia.[18,19]

Depression and Anxiety

Music releases mood-enhancing chemicals into the body, including dopamine and endorphins. Mozart’s music in particular has been shown to promote dopaminergic neurotransmission. Music is consistently successful in treating anhedonia.[20]

 Music in Pain Management
Music can be an important tool in chronic pain management. One meta-analysis found that soothing, slow, patient-selected music alleviated a wide variety of pain, including ophthalmologic, urologic, gynecologic, cardiac, and surgical, as measured by significantly reduced pain scores, decreased use of analgesics, and improved vital signs, such as lower cortisol or blood glucose levels.[21]
Music and Social Health

Active engagement with music raises IQ and can influence other processing systems, including motor skills, language, intellectual development, and perceptual cognition. Learning and playing an instrument creates a sense of achievement and builds self-esteem, self-discipline, and social and teamwork skills.[23]

Music’s Influence on Mental State and Mood

Music as a mood modulator is familiar to most people, but it also influences each person in very different ways, based on personal history of listening to and playing music, as well as individual sensitivity, receptivity, and age. Overall, music has a powerful and expedient impact on mood, outlook, motivational levels, and disposition.[24]

A New Frontier

Since the dawn of time, human beings have had an impulse to make music and have used music to heal and to achieve specific states. Today, science has caught up with what we have instinctively known all along, and the data fascinate many researchers. The type of music selected in therapy is crucial to success, as specific intensities and frequencies trigger different emotions and brainwaves in patients. As researchers continue their work to perfect the use of music as medicine, patients and their clinicians can safely experiment with their own music and use existing platforms, such as brainwave entrainment and EEG feedback, to help improve various aspects of health.

[Read the Original Slideshow Here]