“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” –Plato
When my husband was in good health, he enjoyed listening to the 24/7 news cycle. He wanted to keep informed about world events.
After he became ill and was bedridden, I continued this practice for him and kept the TV on all day.
However, as his illness advanced to the point I had to place him in hospice at home, I began to notice that he would become agitated by what he heard on TV, and would mutter about war and violence and the dangers of world war.
I mentioned this to the hospice nurse, and she suggested I not play the news channel, but instead soft music.
My husband, himself a musician, responded wonderfully. The soft melodies relaxed him.
Music and the Brain
Music evokes spontaneous reactions from listeners because, as some suggest, language and logic are predominately functions of the left side of the brain, while music is on the right side of the brain, which deals mainly with feelings and emotions.
It all started in the womb, listening to our mother’s heartbeat. Just think of our heart rate.
So perhaps it’s no coincidence that most people appear to prefer musical tempo ranges between 70 and 100 beats per minute—the same range as the average heart rate of a healthy adult.
There’s great musical variety, a wide range of instruments, and the sounds and melodies they produce that evoke deep emotions and feelings. According to Clive E. Robbins of the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Center in New York, “music speaks to the entire human being.”
What Is Music Therapy?
According to the American Music Therapy Association, Music Therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” (American Music Therapy Association definition, 2005)
However, music therapy is as old as our written knowledge of music. Pythagoras (a Greek philosopher; born 570BC), is known as the Father of Mathematics, Geometry, and Music; he created the musical intervals and taught that one could heal using sound.
Pythagoras applied the principles of Harmonics to everything from music, to art, to architecture, to healing.
Healing Benefits of Music
But you don’t need a licensed therapist to benefit from listening to, discussing, and moving to music to help you feel better.
The use of music can be quite diverse. Music can elicit and maintain human health and well-being. Music can help patients during surgery. Some hospitals pipe music into intensive care units. Music is used to soothe premature babies.
Music reduces anxiety.
As I mentioned earlier, my husband, when well, was in the habit of watching the political news, but at a certain point became disturbed emotionally.
Even though he couldn’t communicate in words what he liked, I could tell by his facial expression, no frowns in his forehead, and so forth, that the music caused him to feel calm and less tense.
Music can also produce reductions in stress hormone levels and is thus one of the biggest stress relievers.
According to WebMD, music has many benefits for Alzheimer’s patients by:
- soothing an agitated person
- sparking memories
- engaging the mind even in the diseases later stages
- improving eating in some cases
Why Should You Use Music Therapy?
Consider this experience from a hospital in Port Townsend, Washington:
“The effects of music in the operating room on 25 different patients were studied by music therapist Helen Lindquist Bonny and nurse anesthetist Noreen McCarron. Music instead of sedation was used to quash the sounds within the operating room that often create anxiety before an operation. Melodious music reduced blood pressure and heart rates and also cut by half the sedatives needed to calm patients.”
Further, according to nurse McCarron, “The soothing effect of music is equivalent to 2.5 mg of Valium. Patients listening to music generally feel better after their operation and could go home sooner.”
A comparable study in the Federal Republic of Germany showed a similar reduction. “Classical music, as well as popular music from the 40’s and 50’s, with even tempos and rhythms were used. We shunned wild, raucous sounds.”
Based on these experiences and others, music therapy does work. Music can reduce muscle tension, help in promoting relaxation, promote the release of the all-important endorphins—a natural painkiller.
And as I have learned from personal experience, once I turned off the national news and turned on soothing music for my husband, the anxious frowns in his forehead turned to pleasant smiles on his face.
If you are interested in finding a music therapist, check with local schools or hospitals.
For my husband, hospice offered music therapy as part of his care. Or, as discussed in this article, you can play soothing music in your loved one’s room to significant effect.
Yes, music can be good medicine!