The role music can play in health and wellness

Whether we're listening to it on the radio, on headphones during a workout, or simply absorbing as it plays in the background of our favorite television shows or movies, music plays an integral role in our lives.

A music instructor with Blues in the Schools, gets in tune with a patient in a neurologic music therapy session at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. Neurologic music therapy helps Wounded Warriors recover. (DoD photo, public domain, via Wikipedia entry on music therapy)

WASHINGTON, September 20, 2016 — Music is a part of daily life for many of us. Whether we’re listening to it on the radio, on headphones during a workout, or simply absorbing as it plays in the background of our favorite television shows or movies, music plays an integral role in our lives. We’ve all listened to music that forced us to close our eyes and contemplate, we’ve all listened to music that gets us excited for our night, and we’ve all listened to a song we feel compelled to sing along with.

While music is important to our lives simply in terms of entertainment, however, it also can plays a key role in our health and well-being. Music has the ability to calm us down when employed in various therapy settings. It also can help with memory and with reducing pain.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Calming music is used in numerous settings due to its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Pregnant women can listen to a calming soundtrack in the delivery room, and many medical clinics play calming music to help their patients reduce stress and relax. Music is even employed at many animal adoption centers that use it to calm their fuzzy residents.

From a medical standpoint, frequently noted biological stress markers in patients inclued increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and decreased cortisol levels. Music has the ability to prevent all of them. While it can be difficult to study the effect of music on people while excluding other factors, many studies have demonstrated the positive effect that music can have on the human body. It’s no wonder certain songs or melodies can establish a calm and contemplative atmosphere given music’s generally accepted stress relieving properties.

Musical Therapy

Music is employed in many different types of therapy. Music is a flexible tool in therapy not only due to its calming properties, but also because of its versatility in communicating to nearly everyone. Every culture, language, and age understands music in one capacity or another. Music can help people communicate, relax, and rehabilitate.

Substance abuse rehabilitation centers have employed music therapy in order to promote emotional communication that may otherwise prove difficult. Music has also been used in treating and communicating with autistic patients, helping them with nonverbal communication; as well as those afflicted with neurological and other mood disorders, memory and communications issues to help improve their mood and quality of life. Because of its ability to reduce stress, promote communication, and involve so many of the senses music has proven to be a popular tool in therapy sessions.

Helps with Memory

The music service Pandora offers stations aimed at those who are busily studying for class or exams, primarily offering calming instrumentals that allow students to focus without auditory distractions. Music has also been tied to better recall. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who can remember more song lyrics than anything else or can tell you the name of a song based on the first few notes. For this reason music has been used for its ability to help with memory.

Music education is very popular with children because of its positive effects on awareness, memory, vocabulary and additional social skills. With regard to memory issues, music has also proved to be helpful in treating patients with dementia, amnesia, and aphasia. In one case, a man suffering from severe amnesia, including the inability to recall past memories or create new ones, was still able to play, conduct, and sing along with music he’d learned prior to his amnesia.

Reduces Pain

Music has been employed in studies of people experiencing significant pain, patients having surgery, and women giving birth. It is regarded as being helpful with pain management, though many studies have shown it could be similar to the well-known placebo effect.

Whether it really does make a difference with pain management, however, its impact on dopamine release cannot be denied. Dopamine is the “reward chemical” in the brain that aids functions in memory, behavior, sleep, mood, and learning. Given that stress plays a role in pain management, it follows that if music helps reduce stress, it can also have a positive role in reducing pain. While music may not be the best replacement for pain management medication, in certain situations it can also aid in the implementation of medication in certain situations.


Music is a universal and versatile part of our lives. It can make us cry, laugh, dance, and relax. We may also use music to motivate a workout, sing our children to sleep, or keep us focused on a project, as it helps to sharpen our minds and reduce stress.

But one of the increasingly appreciated qualities of music is its ability to help improve the health of those who are listening to it. Granted, music may not be able to heal wounds or fix breaks. But it has been shown to reduce stress, assist in certain therapy situations and environments, help with memory, issues and assist in the reduction of pain.

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