Music and Health

The use of music listening as a self-care modality can offer a wide variety of benefits for health. It is our belief that the use of music as an inexpensive non-pharmacological form of therapy for healing and pain relief has been underutilized by practitioners and patients. While there are many anecdotal accounts on the benefits of music, this page is dedicated to providing citations for recently published literature that reports or reviews evidence or techniques for the effectiveness of music listening in health and wellness.

For the benefit of the average person, the casual listener, our primary focus will be on listening and not on specialized programs of music therapy. Certainly, music therapists can add an important dimension to complementary therapy, but music can also provide benefits for a very broad audience of individuals who use music listening as a personal therapeutic tool. Studies support the benefits of music listening to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and tension, enhance relaxation, improve metabolism, reduce respiratory rates, and improve blood pressure and heart rates.

In the future, we will provide a tip sheet for listening to help readers get the most out of the experience. Initially, it is important to know that music listening is a unique experience for each individual. The benefits of music are experienced best by the selection of music that is enjoyed by each listener and is appropriate for the type of outcome desired. Music that may provide stress relief for one person will differ for another, and melodies that can help provide pain relief may be different from those that aid in tension reduction. There is no single type of music that provides benefits for each person in every situation.

Read a brief summary of recent studies or reviews below; new literature will be posted as it is published.

Increased Functional Connectivity After Listening to Favored Music in Adults With Alzheimer Dementia
King JB, Jones KG, Goldberg E, Rollins M, MacNamee K, Moffit C, et al.
J Prev Alzheimers Dis. 2019;6(1):56-62.
The abstract and options for full-text access can be found at:

Previous studies of personalized music programs as adjunct therapy for patients with Alzheimer disease related dementia have demonstrated improvements in agitation, anxiety, and behavioral symptoms. However, there has been little clarification of the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms for these beneficial effects. Investigators at the University of Utah School of Medicine examined 17 individuals with a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer disease related dementia using functional MRI after they completed a training period in a personalized music listening program. The fMRI results showed that participants listening to their preferred music showed activation of the supplementary motor area, a region that has been associated with memory for familiar music that is typically spared in early Alzheimer disease. In addition, widespread increases in functional connectivity in corticocortical and corticocerebellar networks were evident following the preferred musical stimuli, suggesting a transient effect on brain function. The researchers concluded that their findings support a potential mechanism through which attentional network activation in the brain's salience network may lead to improvements in brain network synchronization.

Music From the Very Beginning - A Neuroscience-Based Framework for Music as Therapy for Preterm Infants and Their Parents
Haslbeck FB, Bassler D.
Front Behav Neurosci. 2018 Jun 5;12:112.

Full-text access to the article is available at:

In light of the concerns about preterm infant brain development and the stress of life-saving medical care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), these investigators from Switzerland evaluate the therapeutic use of music in this setting. Because brain maturation in preterm infants is very dependent on the quality of auditory stimulation, there are questions about the effect of type and quality of sounds in the NICU environment. This article reviews the evidence for music therapy in neonatal care as one approach to improving brain development. These experts look at studies that have shown beneficial effects on physiologic parameters, sleep quality, and weight gain in the preterm infant. In cases where the family can be integrated into therapy by encouraging them to sing or speak to their newborn during the music intervention, music may also induce sensory stimulation that aids the bonding process and improves neurodevelopment. The authors conclude that, while further studies are needed, music therapy may have the potential to become a low-cost, family-integrated intervention that supports neurobehavioral development and well-being in this vulnerable infant population.

The Duration of Self-Selected Music Needed to Reduce Preoperative Anxiety
McClurkin SL, Smith CD.
J Perianesth Nurs. 2016 Jun;31(3):196-208.
The abstract and options for full-text access can be found at:

It is well known that patients awaiting surgery can demonstrate psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety. With the goal of improving the quality of the patient's perioperative experiences, two investigators at St. Luke's Medical Center in Houston attempted to identify a duration of music-listening that showed a reduction in anxiety. They designed a randomized controlled trial that included two intervention groups (15- and 30-minute music listening sessions) as well as a control group that received standard care but did not listen to any music. Patients in both music groups chose their own music selections. Two anxiety rating tools were used and results showed that participants (n=133) in both intervention groups demonstrated less anxiety than those who did not listen to music (control group). While the 30-minute classical music intervention had the greatest impact on patient anxiety, the investigators concluded that listening to music for a minimum of 15 minutes can reduce anxiety in the patient's preoperative period. The investigators recommend the use of slow-tempo non-lyrical music as an aid to anxiety reduction in the preoperative setting.

Music-Based Cognitive Remediation Therapy for Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury
Hegde S.
Front Neurol. 2014 Mar 24;5:34. eCollection 2014.
Full-text access to the article is available at:

A researcher from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science in India provides a review of the use of music therapy in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). In addition to its effect on sensory, motor, language, and emotional processing, TBI can impair a person's cognitive functions. This review provides a summary of the research findings on the role of music in cognitive rehabilitation. Neurologic music therapy (NMT) has been developed as a treatment method to improve sensorimotor, language, and cognitive functional domains through the use of music. One preliminary study of patients with TBI examined the effect of NMT in cognitive rehabilitation and showed promising results in the improvement of executive functions and emotional adjustment, as well as a decrease in depression and anxiety. The author stresses the need for additional quality systematic research studies to identify the potential of music-based cognitive rehabilitation therapy in conditions like traumatic brain injury.