What is 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
- 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 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.
ResearchTrusted Source has found that meditation offers a number of health benefits, including:
- stress reduction
- decreased anxiety and depression
- improved memory
- reduced blood pressure
- pain reduction
- lower cholesterol
- decreased risk of heart disease and stroke
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 injuriesTrusted Source.
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.
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.
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 rested Source 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:
- anxiety disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- autism spectrum disorder and learning difficulties
- behavioral and psychiatric disorders
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
Along with voice, the following are some of the different instruments used in music therapy:
- singing bowls
- tuning forks
- pan flute
Some methods use a variety of instruments in one session, which can include a guitar, piano, or other instrument.
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.
Last medically reviewed on January 27, 2020