All forms of music may have therapeutic effects, although music from one's own culture may be most effective. In Chinese medical theory, the five internal organ and meridian systems are believed to have corresponding musical tones, which are used to encourage healing.
Types of music differ in the types of neurological stimulation they evoke. For example, classical music has been found to cause comfort and relaxation while rock music may lead to discomfort. Music may achieve its therapeutic effects in part by elevating the pain threshold.
Music may be used with guided imagery to produce altered states of consciousness that help uncover hidden emotional responses and stimulate creative insights. Music may also be used in the classroom to aid children in the development of reading and language skills.
Receptive methods involve listening to and responding to live or recorded music. Discussion of their responses is believed to help people express themselves in socially accepted ways and to examine personal issues.
Improvisation involves spontaneous creation of music with voice, instruments, or body sounds. This allows for creative expression, energy release, development of personal insights, and redirection of negative emotions.
Recreative experiences involve singing and playing pre-composed music. This is believed to help develop a sense of mastery and increased self-confidence.
Composition methods involve creating vocal and instrumental pieces as a means of self-expression.
Structured music therapy programs have been found to improve mood in institutional long-term care workers facing burnout and autologous stem cell transplant patients. There is also evidence that combining music with guided imagery may lead to reduced fatigue, mood disturbance, and blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone).
The relaxation response is a physiological state that speeds up many of the body's healing responses. Relaxation leads to reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and tension, as well as many other beneficial changes. Music therapy has been shown to cause relaxation.
Music therapy that includes either chorus or karaoke may improve interpersonal functioning in people with schizophrenia. Music therapy may also help reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, including psychosis. Non-classical music was found to be more effective than classical music. Also, it does not seem to make a difference if the music is live or recorded or if therapy is structured or not structured.
Many forms of music intervention have been used to reduce anxiety in a variety of medical conditions and medical procedures. Overall, the evidence favors the use of music interventions for anxiety, although more studies are needed to determine what forms work best.
People with autism spectrum disorders often show a heightened interest and response to music. This may aid in the teaching of verbal and nonverbal communication skills and in establishing normal developmental processes.
Routine chest physiotherapy (CPT) is a component of prophylactic therapy in children with cystic fibrosis (CF) and requires significant time and energy. There is some evidence that children's tolerance and enjoyment of physiotherapy may benefit from music therapy.
In older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, and other mental disorders, music therapy has been found to reduce aggressive or agitated behavior, reduce symptoms of dementia, improve mood, and improve cooperation with daily tasks, such as bathing. Music therapy may also decrease the risk of heart or brain diseases in elderly dementia patients.
There is evidence that music therapy may increase responsiveness to antidepressant medications. In elderly adults with depression, a home-based program of music therapy may have long-lasting effects. In depressed adult women, music therapy may lead to reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and depressed mood. Music therapy may also be beneficial in depression following total knee replacement surgery or in patients undergoing hemodialysis.
Grieving children may benefit from a group music therapy program in terms of both improved mood and reduced problematic behavior in school.
Infant development / neonatal care:
There is evidence that music played to the womb during late pregnancy may lead to children being more responsive to music after birth. Soothing music may help newborns be more relaxed and less agitated. Pre-term newborns exposed to music may have increased feeding rates, reduced days to discharge, increased weight gain, and increased tolerance of stimulation. They may also have reduced heart rates and a deeper sleep after therapy.
Music therapy may help maintain mental functioning in elderly adults undergoing surgical procedures, reduce postoperative confusion and delirium, and increase energy levels.
Music therapy may reduce levels of nausea and episodes of vomiting in bone marrow transplant patients during the preparatory period when they are receiving high-dose cyclophosphamide.
Music therapy helps in a wide range of pain conditions, primarily by its ability to improve mood, encourage relaxation, and increase pain threshold. Most research has shown positive results. However, studies, especially those that involved severe pain, have not found benefits.
Parkinson's patients have shown modest improvement in symptoms including in some aspects of motor coordination, speech intelligibility and vocal intensity, bradykinesia (slow movement), emotional functions, activities of daily living, and quality of life.
Quality of life:
Quality of life is a broad concept comprising morale, mood, self-esteem, daily functioning, pain, general well-being, life satisfaction, and related issues. Music therapy has been associated with improved quality of life in a variety of populations, usually based on regular group sessions over several weeks. Benefits to quality of life from such an approach have been seen in cancer patients, seniors with emphysema, elders in long-term care, terminal/hospice patients, and multiple sclerosis.
Music can have a calming or sedating effect. There is evidence of this in studies of patients undergoing gastrointestinal endoscopic procedures, including evidence that colonoscopy patients who used music intervention may have a higher rate of completed colonoscopies and shorter examination time. Other work suggests that patients undergoing spinal anesthesia may have less need for sedative medication during and after surgery.
In older adults, music may result in significantly better sleep quality as well as longer sleep duration, greater sleep efficiency, shorter time needed to fall asleep, less sleep disturbance, and less daytime dysfunction. There is also evidence of benefit in elementary-age children or stable preterm infants. Music therapy may also be as effective as chloral hydrate in inducing sleep or sedation in children undergoing EEG testing.
The stress response is a physiological state opposite to that of the relaxation response, with increased blood pressure, heart rate, tension, stress hormones (cortisol), and other potentially adverse changes. In cardiac patients, music has been found to reduce blood pressure, respiratory rate, and psychological distress and reduce cardiac complications. Music therapy may reduce levels of stress hormones in the blood including in response to invasive medical procedures. Children receiving immunization may have reduced levels of physiological and behavioral distress with the help of lullabies. Finally, there is evidence that music may reduce the stress response when performing stressful mental tasks.
Music therapy may reduce feelings of agitation and anxiety in patients with moderately severe and severe Alzheimer's disease. More research is needed to confirm these results.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
More study is needed in this area before a strong recommendation can be made.
Cardiac conditions (surgery):
Music therapy may reduce pain and anxiety in adults undergoing heart surgery, although it does not appear to improve heart rate or blood pressure. In children, music therapy may improve heart rate and breathing rate, as well as reduce pain.
Based on early research, music therapy may help children learning English as a second language, although more studies are needed to confirm this finding. Music therapy has also been studied as a possible way to improve learning and communication skills in patients with Rett syndrome or pseudo-Parkinsonian vascular disease.
Ringing in the ears:
A specially designed music therapy may help improve symptoms of ringing in the ears. More research is needed.