Research supports therapeutic music


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One of the reasons I chose to learn how to provide live harp music for patients is that beneficial results can be seen in the monitors instantly. At the bedside and the nurse’s station, we can witness the change in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and pulse oximetry as I'm playing, and there can be no doubt that the music is having a soothing effect.

What can music do?

The studies cited below show that providing patients with soothing music can:

  1. Reduce anxiety in general and before surgery

  2. Influence heart rate and respiratory rate

  3. Increase heart rate variability

  4. Reduce blood pressure

  5. Lessen the perception and increase the tolerance of pain

  6. Boost the immune system

  7. Decrease stress hormone levels

  8. Distract from negative situations

  9. Aid sleep

Selected research

Some studies use the term "music therapy" to refer to a patient passively listening to music. I have only cited studies that use “music therapy” in this passive sense. Studies about real music therapy do not reflect what I do as a therapeutic musician. Read more about the difference between music therapy and therapeutic music.

Where noted, some links go to the full article. The rest of are to the abstract. All links open in a new window.

Studies with live music
A controlled study showing the benefits of live music over recorded music. It describes the effect of music on reducing heart rate and enhancing sleep.

Arnon S, Shapsa A, Forman L, Regev R, Bauer S, Litmanovitz I, and Dolfin T. Live music is beneficial to preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit environment (link to full study PDF). Birth. 2006;33(2):131-136.

An exploratory study about the effect of live music on helping with pain, reducing anxiety, and decreasing muscle tension.
The overall therapeutic effects of music
A review of studies on the wide-ranging benefits of therapeutic music. It describes the effect of music on reducing anxiety, distracting from negative situations and procedures, and helping with pain. They discuss the importance of patient preference in choice of music.

Kemper KJ, Danhauer SC. Music as therapy (link to full study➚). South Med J. 2005;98(3):282-8.

A systematic review of the effect of music on reducing postoperative pain.

Engwall M, Duppils GS. Music as a nursing intervention for postoperative pain: a systematic review➚. J Perianesth Nurs. 2009;24(6):370-383.

A report on the beneficial effects of music, such as reducing stress, increasing relaxation, controlling pain, reducing anxiety, and increasing heart rate variability.

Trappe HJ. [Music and health--what kind of music is helpful for whom? What music not?]➚. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2009;134(51-52):2601-2606.

A meta-analysis about the effect of music on increasing sleep quality.

de Niet G, Tiemens B, Lendemeijer B, Hutschemaekers G. Music-assisted relaxation to improve sleep quality: meta-analysis➚. J Adv Nurs. 2009;65(7):1356-64.

How music affects relaxation and pain tolerance, emphasizing the patient’s music preference
A randomized clinical trial showing the effect of music on oxytocin levels (increased relaxation).
A randomized clinical trial showing the effect of music to change the neuro-hormonal and immune stress response, especially when the patient's music preference is taken into account.

Leardi S, Pietroletti R, Angeloni G, Necozione S, Ranalletta G, Del Gusto B. Randomized clinical trial examining the effect of music therapy in stress response to day surgery➚. Br J Surg. 2007;94(8):943-947.

A quasi-experimental pre/post-test study showing the effect of music on controlling pain. It discusses the importance of patient preference in choice of music.

Good M, Ahn S. Korean and American music reduces pain in Korean women after gynecologic surgery➚. Pain Manag Nurs. 2008;9(3):96-103. Erratum in: Pain Manag Nurs. 2008;9(4):142.

A study on how different types of music cause different reactions, enforcing the need to respect the patient's music preference.

McCraty R, Barrios-Choplin B, Atkinson M, Tomasino D. The effects of different types of music on mood, tension, and mental clarity (link to full study PDF➚). Altern Ther Health Med. 1998;4(1):75-84.

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