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Fine Tuning Melodies into Medicine

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

“…clinical researchers have begun using music as a form of therapy, notably named “music therapy”, to improve the health outcomes and well-being of a wide range of individuals…”

Author: Juliane Feliciano

Music is arguably one of the most significant and powerful uses of sound, shown to stimulate and enhance activity in major areas of the brain, and impact human behaviour [1]. Whether you like country, rock, hip hop, classical, etc, listening to music has been proven to reduce symptoms of stress, pain, and depression, improve cognitive and motor skills, boost the immune system, and even induce neurogenesis; the brain’s ability to produce new neurons [1].

With these findings, clinical researchers have begun using music as a form of therapy, notably named “music therapy”, to improve the health outcomes and well-being of a wide range of individuals [2]. This includes those with brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease, autism and other developmental disabilities, emotional traumas and other mental health difficulties, and speech and language impairments [3].

How exactly does music therapy work? There are several different types of music therapy techniques that can be used depending on what mental and/or physical ailments are being treated, and preferences for each individual person. These include listening to music while talking, rhythmic based activities, playing an instrument, and songwriting. Music therapists run client assessments, develop treatment plans, and use therapy processes to address and cater to the needs of a client, whether it be cognitive, emotional, musical, physical, social, communicative, and/or spiritual [3]. Ultimately, the goal of a music therapist is to use music to attempt to form a therapeutic bond with their patient, and to support the development of the patient’s well-being, communication skills, self-awareness, and confidence [1,3].

The Music Therapy Program in UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco is an example of the many clinical environments and living conditions that use music therapy to help patients heal and cope [6].

While music has long been recognized as a therapeutic emotional outlet, the use of song, frequencies, and rhythms to treat physical health is relatively new with current study trials finding benefits to music therapy, but with an unclear construct of how it truly works [1]. University of Toronto music professor Lee Bartel and his team of researchers have been exploring the use of vibration to ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, and depression [4]. Coined “vibroacoustic therapy”, it involves the use of low frequency sounds to produce vibrations that are applied and absorbed through the body [4]. In collaboration with the findings of Lauren K. King from Wilfrid Laurier University, they concluded that patients with Parkinson’s that underwent short-term vibroacoustic therapy showed improved walking speeds, less rigidity, and reduced tumors [4].

Since it is now clear that music therapy has positive benefits, how can we incorporate it into our daily lives? The good news: you may not necessarily have to go to a music therapist to experience the results! All it requires are some headphones, a radio, a phone, an instrument, or your own voice. For example, listening to music while meditating — the practice of mindfulness, defined as engaging in the present moment [5]. Find a comfortable space, relax, and just listen to music! This small self-care practice will help to reduce stress and tension [5]. If you choose to do this exercise, it is recommended to listen to instrumental music as opposed to music with lyrics, as it allows for more focus and productivity [5].

With music therapy becoming an increasingly known method for improving health outcomes for patients of various physical and mental ailments, the hope for the future is to explore the full potential of sound and its benefits, and see how music can truly be medicine.


  1. “Beautiful Relaxing Music for Stress Relief; Meditation Music, Sleep Music, Ambient Study Music” by Soothing Relaxation:

  2. “lofi hiphop radio – beats to relax/study to” by ChilledCow:

  3. “Disney Relaxing Piano Collection – Sleep Music, Study Music, Calm Music” by kno Piano Music:


Grace Gillis, Mouayad Masalkhi, & Rhea Verma


Majd Al-Aarg

Additional Credits

Header Image by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash


  1. Sharkey L [Internet] Brighton (UK): Medical News Today; 2020. How does music therapy work? brain study sheds light; 2019. Available:

  2. Sugaya K, Yonetani A [Internet]. Pensacola (FL): University of Western Florida; How the brain responds to music. Available:

  3. [Internet]. London (ON): Canadian Association for Music Therapy; 2020. About Music Therapy;2016 Jun [cited 2020 Aug 20].Available:

  4. Novotney A [Internet]. Washington (DC): American Psychological Association; 2020. Music as medicine; 2013 Nov [cited 2020 Aug 20]. Available:

  5. Benattar M [Internet]. New York (NY): Good Therapy; 2020. Tuning in: mindful music listening to reduce stress; 2016 Oct 11 [cited 2020 Aug 20]. Available:

  6. Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program [Internet image]. 2019 [cited 2020 Aug 21]. Available from:

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