Music therapy is an adjuvant therapy where a music therapist uses music with all physical, mental, emotional facets to help a patient improve physical as well as mental health1. Music therapy helps patients in several complaints like behavioural disorders, depressive moods and helps enhance motor skills, cognitive functions, social skills and emotional development. It has been prevalent and widely used for therapy since ancient times. Currently, music therapy is used in multiple areas of health care and a lot of research is going on to validate its efficacy.

Music therapists plan out goals of treatment for individuals, both children and adults. They assess the patient’s physical health, mental, social skills and  cognitive functioning through their response to music. Then one is subjected to either listening to music or making musical tunes, writing songs and talking out lyrics or giving a musical performance. The patient does not need to have any musical knowledge to benefit from this therapy. Music therapists tailor their music to suit the therapeutic needs of a particular client. Music therapy has been used successfully in health care for faster recovery for e.g.- post surgical recovery, nausea due to chemotherapy, cancer pains etc.

Music therapy is found to relieve the nausea along with medicines in cases of patients on chemotherapy. It is known to reduce all kinds of pains e.g. nerve pains, cancer pains when used with pain killers2 etc. It is also used to improve brain functioning and heal brain injury in patients who have suffered from a stroke3 or other neurological complaints like Parkinson’s etc. Music shares similar pathways with motor skills and some research indicates that music therapy helps in improving movement in people affected due to CNS problems. It also helps in improvement of language skills and cognitive functioning, memory etc which can be used in rehabilitation of patients.

Music therapy when given during surgical procedures, showed to reduce the need for pain killers and helped in faster recovery, patients became mobile much sooner and were less fatigued at the time of discharge. Music is also used for treating patients with heart illnesses. Music soothes one’s mind and helps in blood pressure reduction and stress reduction. Music therapy is used in patients before a coronary artery bypass operation. This causes the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin which ensures better surgical results and faster recovery. Given after the operation, it reduces the slowness of intellect due to anaesthesia. Music increases alertness by its effects on the right hemisphere of brain and regular listening to music increases endorphin secretion which helps in faster recovery of surgical sutures4.

Probable reasons as to how and why music as a therapy works are as follows:

1-Music and brain function

Our brain is capable of responding to music as early as at one day age. Music preceded language. Our brains are programmed to respond to music from birth and that explains mothers singing lullabies for their babies across all cultures.

2- Body responds to music

We have in built physiological responses to music like increases in heart beat, increased respiratory rate etc. These physiological responses of our body to music can help music release stress from the body and mind.

3-Neuronal circuits

Music shares similar nerve circuits used by a person in expressing speech. This can be used by music therapists to improve language skills esp. in children with autism spectrum disorders etc.

Music therapy has a promising role to play in faster recovery  in surgical as well as non surgical cases. It improves general well being, reduces anxiety and improves the quality of life. In the future, may be all one will have to do is tune in to the right music for recovery from a particular set of health problems!

Contributed by Dr Rachita Narsaria, MD


  2. American Cancer Society.

  1. The DANA foundation.