Music Therapy

Sound healing therapy uses aspects of music to improve physical and emotional health and well-being. The person being treated partakes in the experience with a trained practitioner. Music therapy may involve:

  • listening to music
  • singing along to music
  • moving to the beat of the music
  • meditating
  • playing an instrument

Healing with sound is believed to date back to ancient Greece, when music was used in an attempt to cure mental disorders. Throughout history, music has been used to boost morale in military troops, help people work faster and more productively, and even ward off evil spirits by chanting.

More recently, research has linked music to a number of health benefits, from boosting immune function and lowering stress levels to improving the health of premature babies.

Types of sound or music therapy

There are a few different types of sound therapy, each with different benefits, though not all have been supported through research.

Guided meditation

Guided meditation is a form of sound healing in which you meditate to voiced instruction, either in a session or class, or using a video or app. Meditation can involve chanting or repeating mantras or prayers.

Research has found that meditation offers a number of health benefits, including:

Neurologic music therapy

Music therapy can reduce stress and promote relaxation. It’s been shown to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety levels before surgery. A study published in 2017 found that a 30-minute music therapy session combined with traditional care after spinal surgery reduced pain.

Music therapy is administered by a credentialed provider who assesses the individual’s needs. Treatment involves creating, listening, singing, or moving to music. It’s used for physical rehab, pain management, and brain injuries.

Bonny Method

Named after Helen L. Bonny, PhD, the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) classical music and imagery to help explore personal growth, consciousness, and transformation.

A 2017 study showed promising evidence that a series of GIM sessions could improve psychological and physiological health in adults with medical and mental health needs.

Nordoff-Robbins

This sound healing method is delivered by skilled musicians who complete the Nordoff-Robbins 2-year master’s program. They use music familiar to those being treated, create new music together, or work toward a performance.

The Nordoff-Robbins approach is used to treat children with developmental delays (as well as their parents), mental health issues, learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, dementia, and other conditions.

Tuning fork therapy

Tuning fork therapy uses calibrated metal tuning forks to apply specific vibrations to different parts of the body. This can help release tension and energy, and promote emotional balance. It supposedly works similarly to acupuncture, using sound frequencies for point stimulation instead of needles.

There is some research suggesting that tuning fork therapy may help relieve muscle and bone pain.

Brainwave entrainment

Also known as binaural beats, this method stimulates the brain into a specific state using pulsing sound to encourage your brain waves to align to the frequency of the beat. It’s supposed to help induce enhanced focus, entranced state, relaxation, and sleep. Though more research is needed, there’s some evidence that audible brainwave entrainment reduces anxiety, pain, and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, as well as improves behavioral problems in children.

What music therapy treats

Music therapy is used to treat symptoms of a number of conditions, including:

Some of the supposed benefits of music therapy include:

  • lowers stress
  • decreases mood swings
  • lowers blood pressure
  • lowers cholesterol levels
  • teaches pain management
  • lowers risk for coronary artery disease and stroke
  • improves sleep
How it works

Music therapy uses different aspects of sound to improve your emotional and physical well-being. How it works depends on the method being used. Most music therapy sessions are experienced one-on-one with a specially trained practitioner.

A session may involve sitting or lying down while listening to music or sounds from a speaker or instruments, or having vibrations applied using a special tool, such as a tuning fork. Depending on the method, you may be encouraged to participate by singing, moving, or even using a musical instrument, or you may need to remain still and quiet to let the sounds take effect.

Healing instruments

Along with voice, the following are some of the different instruments used in music therapy:

  • singing bowls
  • tuning forks
  • pan flute
  • harp
  • drums

Some methods use a variety of instruments in one session, which can include a guitar, piano, or other instrument.

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Bottom Line:

Though evidence may be limited on some methods, music therapy has been found to be effective for stress reduction and relaxation and has been shown to offer many health benefits.

There is little risk to listening to music. Find the sounds that work for you.

References:
Boyd-Brewer C, et al. (2004). Vibroacoustic sound therapy improves pain management and more.
semanticscholar.org/daf2/4e3dd7e7ae0cf5aaeeb88777153a6e012190.pdf?_ga=2.239295302.433170786.1531507816-1035607979.1530139962
Chanda ML, et al. (2013). The neurochemistry of music. DOI:
1016/j.tics.2013.02.007
Goldsby TL, et al. (2016). Effects of singing bowl sound meditation on mood, tension, and well-being: An observational study. DOI:
1177/2156587216668109
Huang TL, et al. (2008). A comprehensive review of the psychological effects of brainwave entrainment. Database of abstracts of reviews of effects (DARE): Quality-assessed reviews.
nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0027030/
Loewy J, et al. (2013). The effects of music therapy on vital signs, feeding, and sleep in premature infants. DOI:
1542/peds.2012-1367
Masala D, et al. (2017). The tuning fork and the “soundtherapy.” DOI:
14616/sands-2017-2-365370
McKinney CH, et al. (2016). Health outcomes of a series of Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music Sessions: A systematic review. DOI:
1093/jmt/thw016
https://www.healthline.com/reviewers/carissa-stephens-rn-ccrn-cpn
https://www.healthline.com/authors/adrienne-santos-longhurst
https://www.healthline.com/health/sound-healing
Mondanaro JF, et al. (2017). Music therapy increases comfort and reduces pain in patients recovering from spine surgery.
nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28235116
Quach J, et al. (2017). Do music therapies reduce depressive symptoms and improve QOL in older adults with chronic disease? DOI:
1097/01.NURSE.0000513604.41152.0c
Ritholz MS. (2014). The primacy of music and musical resources in Nordoff-Robbins music therapy. DOI:
1093/mtp/miu017
Sharma H. (2015). Meditation: Process and effects. DOI:
4103/0974-8520.182756
Thaut MH, et al. (2009). Neurologic music therapy improves executive function and emotional adjustment in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation. DOI:
1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04585.x
What is music therapy? (n.d.).
nordoff-robbins.org.uk/what-is-music-therapy
Who was Helen Bonny? (n.d.).
ami-bonnymethod.org/about/faq
Photo Credit: Mohammad Metri

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