Does Music Hold a Place in Medicine?

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

Music is omnipresent in modern life, from film scores to hit singles it is something that is consumed daily, both passively and actively. Whether it be orchestral, cinematic, or solo all music is created to be emotionally evocative; thus, it has a profound and undeniable effect on our mental states. Music in Medicine, however, is not limited to the emotive in its curative abilities but is instead increasingly shown to evoke positive responses in patients’ physical rehabilitation.


With a simple search of any streaming platform, it is obvious that playlists are cultivated to suit and influence people’s current moods, aid relaxation or encourage concentration among other things. Music is often a space on which we impose our own memories, both negative and positive, allowing for deep routed nostalgia and emotion to be reignited through music. Cinematic composers aim to arouse reactions as opposing as fear and love through their scoring, subsequently, there is no reason to suggest that a private playlist cannot have a similar effect.

The British Academy of Sound Therapy conducted its own studies into the emotional impact of music and concluded that it could be utilised to directly influence mood. Not only can music aid in processing sadness, but the study also indicated that nine minutes of ‘fast tempo and happy lyrical content’ can improve energy levels and encourage laughter, whilst thirteen minutes of adagio instrumental music can improve sleep quality and aid in reducing muscle tension.

Evidence of music’s ability to reduce muscle tension shows that music can not only be used to establish an emotional response but also to gain a physical reaction and therefore could aid in physical rehabilitation. Studies conducted with acute stroke patients showed that music had a positive impact on neurorehabilitation; those whose programme included musical intervention improved significantly more in domains of verbal memory and focused attention than other focus groups. The concept that familiarity breeds recovery also suggests that exposing the stroke patient to songs that hold memories can also stimulate rehabilitation through an active listening experience. For patients able to involve themselves in the playing of instruments a more physical level of engagement is presented, the playing of instruments stimulates both cognitive and dexterous progression.

Music and arts are actively used in hospital settings, Liverpool’s children’s hospital Alder Hey has utilised music to support children and young people’s recovery for the past fifteen years. The arts programme at the hospital holds music at its centre and is accessible for all patients even those in the neonatal wards and those who are utilising services such as CAHMS. Observations of music in paediatric care suggest that there are four main music-focused activities that bring music to patients. These focuses are bedside music, regular concerts, special music events, and artists in residence programmes, Alder Hey includes all these examples as do many hospitals globally. Of primary importance is bedside music, this allows music to be brought to inpatients in many varied conditions whether this is listening to a played piece, playing along on an instrument, or activities such as songwriting. Bringing music to this space encourages engagement and creates a relaxed and enjoyable environment in a place that might otherwise induce anxieties. Meanwhile, regular concerts and special music are also held in common spaces, therefore, enabling a community experience for both inpatients and outpatients. Artist in residence programmes also allow patients an opportunity to actively participate in music-making through learning chords and playing instruments, this can be used to soothe stimulate and actively challenge children and young people as they progress towards some form of rehabilitation.

Although music does not provide medicinal treatment its ability to relax and stimulate patients makes it a useful tool in medicine. Current experiences with music in Hospitals suggest only positive outcomes, the hospital experience is improved, and patients feel happier and less stressed as music has the ability to change the environment on hospital wards. New studies showing that music stimulates progression in patient rehabilitation are repeatedly suggesting that music should hold a permanent place in rehabilitation alongside medicine and other therapies to improve the patient experience as the arts hold great potential to improve health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically.

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