Stress

How music can help you heal

Music therapy can calm anxiety, ease pain, and provide a pleasant diversion during chemotherapy or a hospital stay.

It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a burgeoning field. People who become certified music therapists are usually accomplished musicians who have deep knowledge of how music can evoke emotional responses to relax or stimulate people or help them heal. They combine this knowledge with their familiarity with a wide variety of musical styles to find the specific kind that can get you through a challenging physical rehab session or guide you into meditation. And they can find that music in your favorite genre, be it electropop or grand opera.

Holly Chartrand, a music therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, first trained as a vocalist. She decided to become a music therapist when she realized that she could use music to support others just as it had supported her throughout her life. “The favorite part of my job is seeing how big an impact music can have on someone who isn’t feeling well,” she says.

Music therapists know few boundaries. They may play music for you or with you, or even teach you how to play an instrument. On a given day, Chartrand may be toting a tank drum, a ukulele, or an iPad and speakers into a patient’s room. “Technology gives us so much access to all kinds of music that I can find and play almost any kind of music you like,” she says.

The evidence for music therapy’s benefits

A growing body of research attests that music therapy is more than a nice perk. It can improve medical outcomes and quality of life in a variety of ways. Here’s a sampling:

Easing anxiety and discomfort during procedures. In controlled clinical trials of people having colonoscopies, cardiac angiography, or knee surgery, those who listened to music before their procedure had less anxiety and less need for sedatives. People who listened to music in the operating room reported less discomfort during their procedure. And those who heard music in the recovery room used less opioid medication for pain.

Restoring lost speech. Music therapy can help people who are recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury that has damaged the left-brain region responsible for speech. Because singing ability originates in the right side of the brain, people can work around the injury to the left side of their brain by first singing their thoughts and then gradually dropping the melody. Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords used this technique to enable her to testify before a Congressional committee two years after a gunshot wound to her brain destroyed her ability to speak.

Reducing side effects of cancer therapy. Listening to music reduces anxiety associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It can also quell nausea and vomiting for patients receiving chemotherapy.

Helping with physical therapy and rehabilitation. If you exercise to a playlist, you’ve probably noticed that music helps you stick to your routine. In fact, a 2011 analysis of several studies suggests that music therapy enhances people’s physical, psychological, cognitive, and emotional functioning during physical rehabilitation programs.

Aiding pain relief. Music therapy has been tested in a variety of patients, ranging from those with intense short-term pain to those with chronic pain from arthritis. Over all, music therapy decreases pain perception, reduces the amount of pain medication needed, helps relieve depression in pain patients, and gives them a sense of better control over their pain.

Improving quality of life for people with dementia. Because the ability to engage with music remains intact late into the disease process, music therapy can help to evoke memories, reduce agitation, assist communication, and improve physical coordination.

 

How playing piano makes you more successful in life

Happy man standing on a mountain

Did you know that when you’re learning to play the piano you are actually improving several skills that will help you be more successful in other areas such as university or work? In fact, multiple studies link the study of music to increased success in other fields, as this article from the New York Times points out.

So what is it that makes musicians more successful in life? Here is a list of six essential skills that you will master by practicing the piano:

1. Playing the piano sharpens your concentration

Student

When you’re playing the piano, you have to focus on the rhythm, pitch, tempo, note duration, and several other things. Even though your’re doing something you acutally enjoy, this is really a multi-level concentration exercise.

In fact, studies have shown that every time a musicians picks up his or her instrument, there are fireworks going on in his or her brain (for more information, see this Ted Lesson). Playing an musical instrument is perhaps the only activity during which almost all brain areas are simultaneously activated.

2. Playing the piano teaches you perseverance

keep going

Learning new songs on the piano takes time and effort. Until you can actually play a song fluently by heart, you’ll probably spend several weeks practicing it. As you look forward to being able to play the song, you stay motivated, learn patience, and increase your perseverance. These skills will always help you when you are confronted with difficult tasks at school, university, or at work.

3. Playing the piano teaches you discipline

Playing the piano can be quite challenging. However, practicing frequently and working hard will not only teach you perseverance, but also discipline. Consider the parts of the song you will have to practice over and over again. There is one “magic key” to successfully playing the piano (and yes, I will share it with you, just like that): practice, practice, practice.

Practicing regularly requires discipline. Maybe at the beginning it will be harder for you. Maybe you have to come up with some little treats to get yourself there. However, slowly but surely, you’ll get used to it and being disciplined about your practice time won’t be hard at all

4. Playing piano improves your time management skills

full schedule

Many of us have quite busy schedules. Unfortunately, scientists haven’t found a way to make one day last more than 24 hours yet. So to get all your activities and duties done, you need to organize them. When you get used to practicing regularly, you also learn how to use your time efficiently and how you can use a 20-minute time slot for a quick piano lesson.

5. Playing the piano improves your emotional intelligence

Playing the piano enhances your listening skills. These are also very important when you interact with other people. Emotions are not only expressed by facial expressions and body language, but also by the tone of voice, the speed of speech, and the melody of speech. People who play an instrument are better listeners, and it is not surprising that studies have actually revealed that musicians are more perceptive in interpreting the emotions of others.

6. Playing the piano increases your memory capacity

voller Stundenplan

Playing the piano stimulates your brain. While you learn and play songs, the stimulated areas of your brain become larger and therefore more active. The areas that are responsible for the storage of audio information, particularly, are more developed in musicians then in non-musicians.

So when you play the piano, your ability to memorize audio information increases. The chance of saying something like: “I’m sorry! Maybe you told me, but I really don’t remember…” most likely will occur less often.

Isn’t it amazing what playing the piano can do for you? If you’ve always been looking for an excuse to pick up that tricky piano, well, here — now you’ve got more than one. 🙂

The power of music: how it can benefit health

“I think music in itself is healing,” American musician Billy Joel once said. “It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” Most of us would wholeheartedly agree with this statement, and it is this universal bond with music that has led researchers across the globe to investigate its therapeutic potential.

musicWe can all think of at least one song that, when we hear it, triggers an emotional response. It might be a song that accompanied the first dance at your wedding, for example, or a song that reminds you of a difficult break-up or the loss of a loved one.

“We have a such a deep connection to music because it is ‘hardwired’ in our brains and bodies,” Barbara Else, senior advisor of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association told Medical News Today. “The elements of music – rhythm, melody, etc. – are echoed in our physiology, functioning and being.”

Given the deep connection we have with music, it is perhaps unsurprising that numerous studies have shown it can benefit our mental health. A 2011 study by researchers from McGill University in Canada found that listening to music increases the amount of dopamine produced in the brain – a mood-enhancing chemical, making it a feasible treatment for depression.

And earlier this year, MNT reported on a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry that suggested listening to hip-hop music – particularly that from Kendrick Lamar – may help individuals to understand mental health disorders.

But increasingly, researchers are finding that the health benefits of music may go beyond mental health, and as a result, some health experts are calling for music therapy to be more widely incorporated into health care settings.

In this Spotlight, we take a closer look at some of the potential health benefits of music and look at whether, for some conditions, music could be used to improve – or even replace – current treatment strategies.

Reducing pain and anxiety

Bob Marley once sang: “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” According to some studies, this statement may ring true.

Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study led by Brunel University in the UK that suggested music may reduce pain and anxiety for patients who have undergone surgery.

By analyzing 72 randomized controlled trials involving more than 7,000 patients who received surgery, researchers found those who were played music after their procedure reported feeling less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music, and they were also less likely to need pain medication.

This effect was even stronger for patients who got to choose the music they listened to. Talking to MNT, study leader Dr. Catharine Meads said:

If music was a drug, it would be marketable. […] Music is a noninvasive, safe, cheap intervention that should be available to everyone undergoing surgery.”

This study is just one of many hailing music for its effects against pain. In March 2014, researchers from Denmark found music may be beneficial for patients with fibromyalgia – a disorder that causes muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

Listening to calm, relaxing, self-chosen music “reduced pain and increased functional mobility significantly” among 22 patients with fibromyalgia, according to the investigators.

But why does music appear to ease pain? While the exact mechanisms remain unclear, many researchers believe one reason is because listening to music triggers the release of opioids in the brain, the body’s natural pain relievers.

Dr. Daniel Levitin, of McGill University in Canada, and colleagues talk about this theory in a 2013 review, citing research that found people experienced less pleasure from listening to their favorite song when given Naltrexone – a drug that blocks opioid signals – suggesting music induces the release of opioids to ease pain.

An effective stress reliever

When feeling stressed, you may find listening to your favorite music makes you feel better – and there are numerous studies that support this effect.

A study reported by MNT last month, for example, found that infants remained calmer for longer when they were played music rather than spoken to – even when speech involved baby talk.

The study researchers, including Prof. Isabelle Peretz of the Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language at the University of Montreal in Canada, suggested the repetitive pattern of the music the infants listened to reduced distress, possibly by promoting “entertainment” – the ability of the body’s internal rhythms to synchronize with external rhythms, pulses or beats.

musicAnother study conducted in 2013 found that not only did listening to music help reduce pain and anxiety for children at the UK’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, it helped reduce stress – independent of social factors.

According to some researchers, music may help alleviate stress by lowering the body’s cortisol levels – the hormone released in response to stress.

The review by Dr. Levitin and colleagues, however, suggests this stress-relieving effect is dependent on what type of music one listens to, with relaxing music found most likely to lower cortisol levels.

Another mechanism by which music may alleviate stress is the effect it has on brainstem-mediated measures, according to Dr. Levitin and colleagues, such as pulse, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature; again, the effect is dependent on the type of music listened to.

“Stimulating music produces increases in cardiovascular measures, whereas relaxing music produces decreases,” they explain. “[…] These effects are largely mediated by tempo: slow music and musical pauses are associated with a decrease in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, and faster music with increases in these parameters.”

Music’s effect on heart rate and its potential as a stress reliever has led a number of researchers to believe music may also be effective for treating heart conditions.

Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study presented at the British Cardiology Society Conference in Manchester, UK, in which researchers from the UK’s University of Oxford found repeated musical phrases may help control heart rate and reduce blood pressure – though they noted more research is required in this area.

Music and memory

Certain songs have the ability to remind us of certain periods or events in our lives – some that make us smile, and some we would rather forget.

With this in mind, researchers are increasingly investigating whether music may aid memory recall.

 

music heals

n 2013, a study published in the journal Memory & Cognition enrolled 60 adults who were learning Hungarian. The adults were randomized to one of three learning tasks: speaking unfamiliar Hungarian phrases, speaking the same phrases in a rhythmic fashion or singing the phrases.

When asked to recall the phrases, the researchers found participants who sang the phrases had much higher recall accuracy than the other two groups. “These results suggest that a ‘listen-and-sing’ learning method can facilitate verbatim memory for spoken foreign language phrases,” say the authors.

Evidence from such studies has led researchers to suggest music may help memory recall for people with cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published in the journal Gerontologist last year assessed the effect of music on memory recall in individuals with early-stage dementia.

For the research, 89 people with dementia and their caregivers were randomly assigned to either a 10-week singing coaching group, a 10-week music listening coaching group or usual care.

The results revealed that both the singing and music listening groups not only had better mood and overall well-being that the usual care group, but they demonstrated better episodic memory on cognitive assessments. The singing group also showed better working memory than the usual care group.

“Regular musical leisure activities can have long-term cognitive, emotional, and social benefits in mild/moderate dementia and could therefore be utilized in dementia care and rehabilitation,” the authors concluded.

Music therapy should be utilized more in health care settings

Based on the substantial evidence that music offers numerous health benefits, many experts are calling for greater utilization of music therapy within health care settings.

“Music therapists are poised and ready to assess, deliver and document music therapy treatment but also to consult with our colleagues (physicians, nurses, physiotherapists physical, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, etc.) to support the patient as part of the interdisciplinary team and care of the patient,” Else told MNT.

In addition, Else believes that music therapy could offer an alternative treatment option for some conditions – such as tension headaches.

“A more complicated case example I can think of, although more rare, is for certain persons who experience seizure activity associated with music and auditory exposures – often high-frequency sounds and rhythmic intensity,” she said.

“Customized music therapy interventions to cope with the offending acoustic exposures can support stabilization of the patient’s symptoms and may, in turn, result in a medication reduction or taper,” she continued.

Based on the research to date, there is certainly evidence that we have much more than just an emotional connection with music. So the next time you put on your favorite track, have a little dance around safe in the knowledge that you are likely to be reaping some health benefits.