The Healing Power of Music.


Music is not just about pleasure and having fun. The health benefits of music have been recognised since Aristotle and Plato. Throughout the history of medicine doctors have prescribed music as a treatment for those with illness or problems. The benefits of music as an intervention that can treat people and help in the development of those with special needs has become increasingly recognised since the World War. Music was shown to be very effective in treating seriously wounded soldiers (Sachs, 2008).

Neuroscience which is the study of the brain and mental processes has shown to have real benefits for children and adults, especially those with special needs and health problems. Music can give people pleasure and also help them to overcome physical, mental and emotional problems. Music is so helpful because it has a unique impact upon the human mind and the body.  When we hear music, almost every part of our brain is activated and stimulated. Oliver Sacks the renowned neuroscientist stated that “Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music’[i] (Sachs, 2008). Usually, only certain sections of the brain are stimulated during our everyday activities, but this is not the case with music. However, when an adult or child hears a piece of music then their mind is more alert and this can have real implications for their mental and emotional health in particular.  Researchers also suggest that music helps in motivating and creating positive thinking among patients. There are other benefits to music for those who have special needs and mental and physical health problems, of all ages. Those who study and play music often gain in confidence and self-belief and this can have a positive impact upon their mental and physical health. Music can be very social. The social aspects of music means that people have an appropriate social outlet and this can really help people in numerous ways and lead to improvements in their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. The following sections will demonstrate the various ways that music can help people, of all ages and transform lives (Sachs, 2008).

[i] Oliver Sachs  Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition (Vintage, London, 2008)

Music Therapy

Music Therapy employs music to help those with a series of problems and challenges.  Today music therapist is a recognized profession in the health sector. Music is used to help people, of all ages with their physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of children and adults. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) licenses 5000 accredited music therapists. Music interventions for health can involve playing an instrument or simply listening to music. Music therapists around the world are helping people around the world with their particular health and emotional needs. A considerable body of research has been conducted on Music Therapy and it has been shown to have a wide range of applications and can have the following benefits for people, of all ages and with a broad range of life challenges and .problems. It has been proven to have the following benefits.

  • Reduces stress and anxiety levels
  • Pain management and control
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • A positive self-image
  • Promotes positive thoughts
  • A social outlet
  • Lower heart rate and blood pressure
  • Positive mood boost.

Because of this music can be very helpful in a whole range of problems. A survey of those who participated in music therapy in America, show that participants believed that it had a really positive impact upon their wellbeing.

Music Therapy Techniques

There are countless techniques in music therapy. There are usually different techniques used for adults and children.  Children can often be encouraged to play or improvise with a variety of instruments from something as difficult as the piano or guitar to something as simple as a whistle or rattle. Listening to music is believed to be beneficial to people of all ages. There is no one type of music recommended for musical interventions. However, Classical Music has been traditionally favoured by many music therapists and there is some evidence to support its use in therapy. Research shows that all forms of music have some therapeutic value.

Music Therapy

Music Therapy utilises song, rhythm and melody’s profound impact upon the brain in order to secure positive health and developmental goals for patients of all ages. According to Lutze Janckes ‘learning to play a musical instrument has definite benefits and can increase IQ by seven points among children and adults’. However, listening to music though beneficial is not sufficient in itself. For music to have the required impact. Children and adults in order to benefit from music need to actively participate in music that is they should be learning or playing an instrument.

Music therapy to be effective needs active participation. Nina Kraus has shown that playing instruments in a class room setting results in ‘improved neural processing’. Learning and performing music was demonstrated by Kraus to improve the neural activity of 26 children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Los Angeles.

Physical Problems

Music and Heart Conditions

Coronary Heart Disease is a major problem in Ireland. Music, especially slow music, has been proven to reduce the blood pressure, normalize heart rate and reduce stress levels. These can in turn help those who suffer from some form of heart problem. An American study was conducted on people over sixty five to study the relationship between music and blood pressure levels. The sample size of the study was twenty five and it was conducted over two years. Those people who regularly attended Music Therapy had lower blood pressures (see the dotted line below).

Music and Neurological Disorders

Songs, melodies and harmonies are increasingly popular in treating people with neurological disorders. A neurological disorder is some problems with the nervous system and the brain. Examples of a neurological disorders are Parkinson’s disease, Stroke and dementia. Neurological disorders often involve the impairment of the brain’s functions. For example confusion, disorientation and memory loss. Music has been shown to stimulate areas of the brain that have been impaired by a neurological disorder. This can result in improved mental functioning. Studies have shown that stork victims, who often suffer from poor memory, that their ability to remember have been enhanced by listening to any form of music, from Classical to popular music.

Dementia is a particularly sad illness. It leads to a loss of memory and greatly impairs the mental faculties of individuals. However, music can help to stimulate the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Playing melodies to Alzheimer patients has been shown to result in increased level of release certain chemicals that greatly help dementia sufferers and their ability to remember and interact.

Music and Pain Relief 

Music has been shown to be particularly beneficial in helping people manage and control pain. Those who have suffered from regular or chronic pain, caused by injury or illness. Pain is partially subjective. Our mood and attitude can determine the extent of pain we feel in response to an illness or trauma. Music by enhancing a person’s mood can in turn lead to a reduction in the level of pain experienced by a person. Listening to music while in pain, improves one’s mood and reduces the sensations of pain. Furthermore, music has been shown to particularly helpful in distracting people who are painful. Music is relaxing and the brain when relaxed release chemicals and this makes the experience of pain less stressful. Research has also shown that music stimulates the brain’s opiod system. This system helps to alleviate pain naturally. Music by relaxing, distracting and its effect upon the brain can be very helpful to those in persistent pain. One study carried out on some 143 people in Salt Lake City, U.S.A. They were administered slight electoral shocks while they were listening to music. Another control sample was given the electrical shocks without music. The research revealed that those who were listening to music reported less pain than those who were not listening to music.

Music and Mental Health Issues

In the modern world, according the World Health Organisation there is an epidemic of mental illness. Adults and increasingly even children are suffering mental health illness symptoms, these include characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others Music has been shown to be very helpful in alleviating mental disorders and even helping sufferers in their recovery. Various studies have shown that people with mental health issues were more likely to have a better emotional state after listening to music. Almost 85% of the respondents believed that despite their challenges feel better after listening to music.

Music for De-Stressing and Anxiety Reduction.

Stress is a major health problem in the modern. It has a negative impact on the lives of children and adults. Stress can lead to many health problems and it can have serious emotional, physical and mental problems. Music can change our mood and this can help us relax and when we relax chemical in our brains help to reduce stress. Stress and anxiety is often caused by some negative ideas, feelings and thoughts. Often we are not aware of these as they are affecting our subconscious mind. These negative feelings and thoughts drive anxiety and stress. Music calms our subconscious mind and the negative thoughts and feelings and then this reduce our stress and anxiety levels.  One study has shown that it has reduced restless behaviour associated with anxiety and stress is reduced when people are listening to music. The researchers used the FLAC Scale which measures pain based upon the self-reporting of the participants. The level of restless behaviour measured in the study was less than half of those who were monitored and were not listening to music.

Music for Depression 

Depression is a common mental disorder and one of the main causes of disability worldwide. Globally, an estimated 350 million people are affected by depression. More women are affected than men. (Who Health organisation). It is regarded as a mood disorder. The symptoms of depression include a feeling of sadness and weariness.  This results in adults and children being unable to engage in daily activities and results in them having a poor quality of life.

Music helps those who suffer from depression as it relaxes them and this in turn allows people to open up and discuss their feelings and problems. This helps to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Songs and melodies have been shown in brain imaging to stimulate a part of the brain that controls our moods. This is turn helps to improve the mood those with depression. The terrible feeling of sadness and despair associated with depression is changed. Music can help people to cope with depression and improve their quality of life.

Music and Developmental Problems

According to the WHO developmental problems, involve adults and children only have limited capacities in certain areas and this means that they require extra support to fulfill their potential and to have a good quality of life. Individuals with developmental disorders can have problems with speech, thought processes and motor skills. There are two very common developmental disorders in Ireland they are Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder.

Autism and Music

Autism is a disability that impairs an individuals’ ability to communicate and interact with other people, leading to poor social skills and learning problems. Many people with autism are non-verbal and have poor motor skills.

Adults and children on the autism spectrum are often very interested in music. It can help to reinforce acceptable and positive behaviours for those with autism.

Music therapy can also help those with sensory aversions and those who become agitated. Many forms of music can calm people with autism when they become agitated and provide them with periods of calm.

Music can help to improve the communication and social skills of people with autism. It can encourage them to engage with others, something which they are often reluctant to do. A significant numbers of people with autism are unable to speak. Music, especially, singing helps children to associate sound with actions and this can encourage them to engage in more communications. Many autistic persons suffer from anxiety in groups and playing music and listening to music helps to reduce their anxiety levels and this can improve their social interaction. Given their poor social skills, many autistic children and adults can act in a socially inappropriate manner. For example taking things without asking or failing to greet another person. Performing certain actions, to a musical accompaniment, can encourage social appropriate behaviours.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Poor concentration, hyperactivity and reckless behaviour are the main traits of  ADHD.  People with this condition can develop obsessive behaviours, they can ‘hyperfocus’ on some things. Some people with ADHD are very talented musicians.

Music can help to improve the concentration levels of people with ADHD. It can fires parts of the brain that helps a person to concentrate upon things other than their own obsessions. People with ADHD tend to be unstructured in their thing and actions, this is often because of their impulsivity. Music can help an adult or child with ADHD to act in less impulsive and reckless’ ways.

One study researched the resltelss behaviour of asolescents with ADD during and after listening to music. The htperactivity of people with ADD often leads to restless behaviour.

Music and speech therapy

Music is a form of language. There is research that show that music can be very helpful for those who have some communication disorder. Music therapists in collaboration with other therapists can help children with difficulty in their speech.  Music can help develop the communication skills of children. Music is motivating and it is engaging. It is an easier way to learn communication skills than normal methods of speech and therapy. Children through song can be Music therapy can be used to link words to meanings and to demonstrate linguistic practices.

Many people because of illness or a trauma are unable to communicate effectively. This is very common with those who have suffered a stroke. Speech therapy is usually required to help stroke survivors. Increasingly, post-stroke, music therapy is used to help people with communication difficulties. If stroke patients have problems communicating they can express their mood and needs through music, such as a drum. Music because it stimulated portions of the brain associated with language can help a stroke patient improve their speech and communications skills. One study has shown that speech and therapy combined with music can improve functional communications that is they were more receptive to and able to express language.


Music has a powerful effect upon the human body and the mind. It has been proven empirically in research. Music has a variety of benefits for adults and children. This is increasingly recognised by health professionals around the world and in America health insurers are willing to pay for music therapy. To maximise the benefits from music it is advised that a child or adult can need to participate actively in music. Musical training and simply playing an instrument can change lives. Music can improve the mental and physical health of adults and children. In particular it can enhance the development of children and adolescents.


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Oliver Sachs  Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition (Vintage, London, 2008).

Brownell, Mike. Musically Adapted Social Stories to Modify Behaviours in Students with Autism: Four Case Studies., Journal of Music Therapy. Silver Spring, MD: American Music Therapy Association, 2002. Volume 39, Number 2, pp. 117-144

Bernatzky, G., Presch, M., Anderson, M., & Panksepp, J., 2011. Emotional foundations of music as a non-pharmacological pain management tool in modern medicine. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 35, 1989-1999.

Bodner, E.; J. Iancu; A. Gilboa; A. Sarel; A. Mazor; D. Amir (2007). “Finding words for emotions: The reactions of patients with major depressive disorder towards various musical excerpts”. Arts in Psychotherapy 34 (2): 142–150.

Davis, Gfeller, Thaut, (2008). An Introduction to Music Therapy Theory and Practice-Third Edition: The Music Therapy Treatment Process. Silver Spring, Maryland

Kraus, Hornickel, Strait, Slater, Thompson (2014) Engagement in community music classes sparks neuroplasticity and language development in children from disadvantaged backgrounds . Frontiers in Psychology, Cognitive Science

 Tierney, Kraus. Musical training for the development of language skills. In: Changing Brains – Applying Brain Plasticity to Advance and Recover Human Ability.

World Health Organisation (2015). Available at [accessed 21 October, 2015].








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