Category Archives: Music and Medicine

That’s My (Medicinal) Jam!

As any college-aged student could tell you, music is very important. Why it’s important, however, depends heavily on personal experience. A strong sense of attachment is involved in hearing a song and declaring it as your jam. You can’t take these things lightly. Otherwise, “Party in the USA” would utterly lose its premise and meaning. And we don’t want that, do we?

There are a lot of stock photos like this and I just wanted to share. Look at how healthy this person seems! Lifting two whole guitars like that!

The purpose of music is similar to any other medium of art: either to express and be understood or to observe and find connection. In terms of place, this quality of music augments our memories of certain times or places in our lives. Given the shared nature of consciousness, songs can influence a similar sense of place for many people.  Many of us remember awkwardly standing in the dark corner of our middle school’s gym while the likes of “Cyclone”, “Heartless”, or the classic “Cha Cha Slide” played during school dances. Playing “Tunak Tunak Tun” at my old school’s mixers elicits a unique response. As you can see, we’ve grown up hearing at least some of the same songs. Though as a collective whole, we all know where we were when Beyonce released her most recent album. Or at least I do.

The effect of Beyonce’s music is a subject of an entirely different blog post.

One of my favorite artists wrote liner notes for the first album his band released. It took me a long time to find a copy online (here, should it interest you), so please appreciate the following relevant quotes:

“This leads me to something weird about the power that music has, its transportive ability. Any time I hear a song or record that meant a lot to me at a certain moment or I was listening to at a distinct time, I’m instantly taken back to that place in full detail … It’s a form of recall that I can actually trust. … You can call it escapism if you like, but I see it as connecting to a deeper human feeling than found in the day-to-day world.”

These are strange ideas to talk about in the confines of plastic album covers, but they resonate with me anyway. If you don’t mind the cliche, we can create soundtracks for our lives. For example, hearing “Let’s Get It On” gives me fond memories of strolling down the streets of Durham with my friends after sunrise. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” takes me back to daydreaming in the grocery store while my mother shopped several aisles away. “Unwritten” reminds me of sharing a bedroom with all my sisters and playing storytelling games late at night, barely loud enough to disturb our somnambulant younger brother. Sometimes I listen to “Race You” or Icona Pop’s “Girlfriend” just to relive the memories of silently sitting in my dearest friend’s dorm room as we worked to the sound of her blaring laptop speakers. “Young Lion” was the first song I listened to after a somewhat lengthy hospital stay; I could never retell what it sounded like. Needless to say, I’m certain that all of you experience similar feelings when you hear familiar songs. Music helps us remember places in deeply meaningful ways.

This is the aforementioned album. You can tell I was an interesting adolescent.

Speaking of memories, music can also serve a role in medical settings. As described in this cool video (and also these sources), music has helped patients recall information when suffering from neurological injuries and diseases. Additionally, music can improve outcomes for critical care and cancer patients. While doctors aren’t sure of how music affects hormone and white blood cell levels (x, x), the impact appears to be cognitively based. The benefits of music therapy are well documented (x), so much so that some schools offer majors specifically devoted to the subject. While many of these same sources may suggest music as a treatment for depression and other mental illnesses/disabilities, I would personally recommend it as an adjunct to other methods. Although quite uplifting, rousing renditions of Mozart’s masterpieces are yet to negate anyone’s need for psychotherapy or medication.

While visiting my grandfather in the VA hospital, I noticed signs advertising the availability of MP3 players to patients by request. In light of numerous scientific studies, this made perfect sense. However, music probably can’t heal my grandfather’s literal heart. His hearing loss precludes that, among other factors. But if you should ever talk to him, bless his heart, he will passionately tell you how he thinks “Dixie” should be the national anthem. He’s also intent on planning his 100th birthday party. Music might not be a cure by any means, but it certainly makes life more bearable. This is what art is all about, the art of medicine included.

Music and Medicine

Music plays a huge role in everyones lives. It is related to our culture. Music helps us create our own identity by relating to the words or the rhythm of a song, thus naturally it can significantly effect a place. Music can take you back to a memory, make you think of a loved one, or even alter your mood entirely. There is in some ways a direct correlation to our emotions and music. When you’re upset, you may listen to softer music. When you’re excited, you might choose to have extremely upbeat music that is only played correctly if it is turned all the way up and the windows are rolled all the way down. For instance, the song “Classic” by MTKO reminds me of jamming on late nights with my friends. To me its a symbol of good times and unstoppable laughs. The song “Everything” by Michael Buble reminds me of my sister and dancing around our kitchen. The song “The Good Stuff” by Kenney Chesney reminds me of driving down town in the sunset. So many songs take me back to different places, ignite emotions within me, or remind me of certain people.

Since music has such an emotional affect on us, it has been extensively researched. While advertisers and large companies have used music to increase revenue, doctors and medical professionals have also found benefits by utilizing music in medicinal practices. Research has shown that by using calm and slow tempo music, heart rates and blood pressure can be lowered. There have been studies in regard to what music should be playing in the background during medical appointments, dentist have taken special interest in this topic. The Mozart effect that classical music is though to have on children may not necessarily make and individual smarter, but it most certainly has an intense effect even on the emotions of infants. Music and medicine is an extensively growing topic and has potential to become an important element within medical practices


Music and Medicine

One of the most powerful ways to connect to a place is through the emotions one feels when listening to music. Often times a certain song will make a person go to a place in his or her mind because the song was significant to that person at a certain place in time. For example, the song Yellow by Coldplay makes me think of my dad driving me home from soccer practices when I was younger. Any Kenny Chesney song reminds me of cruising on the boat during the summer. A specific Jack Johnson CD takes my mind back to the week I spent in Disney World when I was seven because that’s the CD that was playing in the car that week. I could list tons of songs or artists that remind me of very specific moments in my life because music is a very powerful way to take someone to a place in his or her mind. Music is also very important to a person’s emotions and can even alter one’s emotions. I listen to more upbeat music before a soccer game or tennis match in order to put myself in the right mindset before the match. I listen to country music while hanging out on the lake with friends or family because the music is relaxing as well as the setting. Music can easily impact a person’s emotions because it often times takes people to a certain place in their mind.
Music therapy is becoming a more common way to help patients cope with pain or stress. Music therapy is more than just listening to music; patients make music, discuss song lyrics, and even write their own music. Research as shown that music can help someone feel less pain and reduce stress levels. Specifically in cancer patients, music can help reduce vomiting and nausea which results from chemotherapy. Research has also shown that music therapy can reduce other health problems such as high blood pressure and depression. Music can help patients both physically and mentally. Music therapy is an effective way of treating patients because patients can learn to cope with their pain without having to solely rely on medicine.


Music’s Medicinal Qualities

Music can be as helpful for identifying with a place as any memory can be. Certain sounds are associated with different places and that is as significant a part of those places as any memory, smell, taste, or other sensory perception. In a more figurative sense, however, music can also take on a descriptive role, and can be paired with a place to portray the state of that place. For instance, a brook can be paired with a slow, mellow song, while a stormy ocean can be paired with violent, loud music.

In medicine, music can be used to relax patients in pain or in distress. Patients can be worried or stressed and music helps to relax them and put them in a more comfortable and agreeable state, making it easier for doctors to treat them.

Music and Medicine

Music can play a very important role in understanding/knowing a place. For me personally, music helps put me in a mindset. I listen to fast beat music to get me focused before baseball games and slow music when I study or try to sleep. It helps dictate my emotions and as a result helps me become more aware/attached to the place I am in.

Music is beginning to play a roll in medicine. It is used in waiting rooms to reduce patients’ stress and some researchers are beginning to believe that the vibrations from the music help healing. I personally believe that music can help heal a person. It is a very interesting subject that hopefully more doctors can begin to utilize.


The two M’s: Music and Medicine

The healing power of music in medicine is undeniable. In 2009, researchers led by Lauren K. King of the Sun Life Financial Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ontario, found that short-term use of vibroacoustic (which basically is music) therapy with Parkinson’s disease patients led to improvements in symptoms, including less rigidity and better walking speed with bigger steps and reduced tremors (NeuroRehabilitation, December, 2009). Also, in a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Levitin and his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013). Music has been found to help during surgery, boost heart health, soothe pain and even help memory!


Evidently, good music has such a magical, fabulously wonderful and postive effect. It has the power to change mood and feelings totally. But "Why?" we may ask ourselves. In a sense, I think the answer lies not only in the sweet, melodious sounds and rhythms we hear and the science behind this effect, but in how the song originated, what was in the mind of the singer, and what influenced the singer to compose the song. Many historians have used song lyrics to understand the culture and consciousness of the people who sang and listened to them. Especially when considering people who left written accounts of their lives, song lyrics can give important clues about what people thought and felt, their life struggles and their dreams about the future.
In supporting this, I would take an example from the songs of a famous Nigerian singer and composer, Fela Kuti. A pioneer of Afrobeat genre, Fela was a human rights activist as well as a political maverick. Many of his songs were direct attacks against Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive dictatorships, specifically the militaristic governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s. A staunch advocate for peace, unity and equality, Fela’s hope was for a better country.

Study these song lyrics for the stories they tell about the past

Today, when I listen to his songs, I feel an immediate connection to what life was like then for people. Even though that was decades ago, his music has created an awareness and has made me understand what happened during that time. Music, therefore is extremely helpful in knowing and better understanding of a place.

Hawaii ’78

Music is essential to our lives in helping us to establish connections to place, especially in regards to Hawaiian culture. While music is often an essential part in tradition and culture, in my life, it is more evident in my Hawaiian culture than anything else. In ancient Hawaii, music and chants, along with hula dancing, told stories of the creation of the islands, of the gods, and of their ancestors. This allowed for culture and history to be passed down all the way to those who dance hula today. In this particular way, learning the music of the ancient Hawaiians allows for people who visit, as well as those who live in Hawaii, to better understand the lives of the ancient Hawaiians. Even with modern Hawaiian music, the ideology of the ancient Hawaiians comes through, especially in the songs by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. In his song Hawaii ’78 he describes how the ancient Hawaiians would be disappointed in how their way of life was lost and how their sacred grounds were destroyed for the modern civilization. This song in particular connects me to the culture of Hawaii because it not only incorporates the ancient views but also the modern struggles that people experience in Hawaii.

On the other hang, music can play a large role in medicine, especially in Music Therapy. The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program." In other words, it is treating patients using music. Music therapy is common in psychology in helping to increase a patients self-esteem and decrease negative feelings. In an article by Rick Nauert PhD, he discusses the importance of music therapy in improving mood ( Over all, it has been found to be beneficial for most patients as well as lasting longer than other therapeutic strategies. I feel that music therapy would be beneficial for a wide range of psych patients as it would allow for easy accessibility and is relatively inexpensive in comparison to other treatments.

How Music Can Heal

The feeling of being truly connected to a place involves all of one’s senses. Of the five senses, hearing can play a particularly important role in connecting to a certain place. When I was little, my father would play his guitar for me as I fell asleep in my room. To this day, when ever I hear the song that he used to play I go back to my old bedroom in my head and I actually start to feel sleepy. Just as the smell of the perfume your mom wears can bring you back to sitting in her lap when you were young, the sound of your "senior song" can bring you back to the arena of your high school graduation. The lyrics and melodies of certain songs are stored in your memory with the images of your specials places.

On the subject of memory, music can actually be used to "renew lives lost to dementia" (Music and Memory). According to the non-profit organization, music & memory’s, website, "favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others" (Music and Memory). I found this organization to be very interesting to research. If I listen to music while I study for tests I can retain the information for the test more easily. Because of this phenomenon, I can easily see how music could also help dementia patients retain and retrieve memories more easily.
Music has also been proved to decrease pain and stress: "university of Alberta researchers found that patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress, compared with patients who did not listen to music" (Novotney). I, personally, have never experienced the power of music to soothe physical pain. But, whenever I am especially stressed out and I just lay down and listen to soothing music, I can definitely feel my tensions relax.

While I don’t fully understand the scientific reason why music works so powerfully in the human brain, I am very interested in the ways that music can change a person’s life. Whether you listen to music to bring back memories of your favorite place, or to try to heal your deep depression, it is clear that music has extreme powers to heal and help people.

Works Cited
"Music and Memory." Music and Memory. Music & Memory, 2014. Web. 19 Aug. 2014.
Novotney, Amy. "Music as Medicine." Http:// American Psychological Association, Nov. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

Music = Life

Music plays a pretty significant role when trying to understand a place. The music a person hears as they are traveling helps reveal the background of a certain area and can take a toll on your emotions as well as noticing other’s emotions . For example, when we took the trip to Nashville, all I heard was strictly country music as I would walk by restaurants and stores. The country music that was playing was very up beat and gave people the desire to dance. By listening and seeing that, I could tell that in Nashville there is never a dull moment and people are proud to live there. It also put me in a very enthusiastic mood just seeing everyone so happy and listening to the dance music.

Medicine and music are linked together by the fact that it has the ability to affect your emotions and your brain. Music is actually used to assist patients in need of medical care. "The review by the Cochrane Collaboration included 1,891 people with cancer, found that people who participated in music somehow not only had decreased anxiety, but also better blood pressure levels and improved moods, HealthDay reported. Cancer patients are not the only ones that receive a positive affect from listening to music. A doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg reveals that listening to music every day lowers stress. The thesis was based on the results of two studies, which showed that people who listened to music also felt positive emotions. Also, researchers from University of Utah Pain Research Center showed that listening to music is effective as a distraction for anxiety-prone people from feeling pain, and as a result, could help people feel less pain. When it comes to your heart, the researchers found that listening to joyful music is linked with dilation of blood vessels’ inner lining, meaning more flow of blood through the blood vessels. Specifically, the diameter of blood vessels grew by 26 percent when a person listened to happy music" (Amanda L. Chan).

Medical Melodies

During one of our previous plenary sessions, it was stated that music is often the first thing to cross borders. Ethnomusicology is defined as the study of the music of different cultures. By analyzing the music of different cultures and time periods, one is able to comprehend the values and beliefs of a place. Today, during the plenary session, an excerpt of a song was played; it was a native folk song which is similar to a childhood lullaby of our culture. Thus proving that music is the first thing that crosses borders and further supporting the many different influences which shape the United States. Music facilitates in understanding a place by allowing us to have an insight on things which influence their music, food, morals, beliefs, art, religion, etc…

Medicine and music has been acknowledged as an effective method for therapy. Music is a conduit for expressing emotion through the use of frequencies and rhythms. Studies by the American Psychological Association has found that music is able to treat physical ailment such as improving the body’s immune system and reducing stress. Research has shown that listening to music escalates the production of an antibody and killer cell which attacks foreign objects such as viruses. As well as music’s physical healing properties, I believe that it assists with psychological therapy. When we’re feeling down from a breakup, death, or sad event, often we turn to music to comfort us. Some turn to upbeat music to make them forget. Some turn to slow, melancholy music to help them cope with the situation.


Novotney, Amy. "Music as Medicine." Http:// N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.