Music and health – really?

(Courtesy of flickr user Labanex)

Cancer patients were provided with 30 minutes of culturally appropriate music to relieve pain. This provided a level of 50% pain relief in 42% of the music group compared to 8% in the control group.

This from a 2010 randomized controlled trial¹ conducted at the Fooyin University School of Nursing in Taiwan.

The therapeutic benefits of music have been in the news in recent months, credited for helping with remarkable brain injury recovery in the case of Rep. Gabby Giffords. According to ABC News, Giffords’ music therapist, Meaghan Morrow, said, “When I first saw Gabby and I first sang the song with her, I knew that things were going to get better.”

Music is now being used to help patients with a wide variety of illnesses, not just brain trauma.” according to Spencer Michels on a PBS NewsHour program entitled, “The Healing Power of Music“.

Can music really make us better? While it is not the end-all of therapy, it actually can contribute to our well-being. Music brings comfort to those with physical ills and to those with emotional ills.

Clinical studies² have found that music has a beneficial effect for insomnia and depression, and in reducing pain in cancer patients and intensive care patients. Music has also been studied for its beneficial effects in speech and behavioral problems, Parkinson’s disease, and end-of-life care.

Music can also help reduce stress. A 2010 Mayo Clinic article says that spirituality can help relieve stress and points out that spirituality takes on different forms, including a belief in a higher power and also in the form of music.

(Photo courtesy of flickr user Axel Buhrmann)Music has helped for millennia. The Bible tells of a time when Saul, King of Israel, was a bit out of sorts and “David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well…” (1 Samuel 16:23). According to The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible (page 164), “Saul was apparently a psychiatric case… His servants suggest the therapeutic value of music… David’s musical therapy is successful.

David went on to write numerous songs, the comforting messages of which can be found in the book of Psalms in the Bible.

Melodies fill thought and music can help us feel a connection to the divine.

The human sigh  for peace and love is answered and compensated by divine love. Music is more than sound in unison. The deaf Beethoven besieges you with tones intricate, profound, commanding. Mozart rests you. To me his composition is the triumph of art, for he measures himself against deeper grief. I want not only quality, quantity, and variation in tone, but the unction of Love. “³  writes Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.

Perhaps this describes what King Saul experienced – a sigh for peace compensated by divine love.

Many years ago I once found myself on the receiving end of a fair amount of criticism, all coming from a number of people I knew and respected. To make matters worse, shortly before that I had been short with someone and I was being critical of myself for this. I found myself near tears, sighing for peace.

And then, I found myself humming a familiar tune. It was a hymn that is occasionally sung in my church. The first verse of the hymn includes these lines:

God is known in loving-kindness, God, the true, eternal good;  … 
Though all earthly friends betray thee,  Lo, His arm enfolds thee yet.
(Christian Science Hymnal, Hymn 76).

In that moment I felt a great sense of comfort. I felt like God gave me a hug! And all of the critical thoughts and the hurt just fell away. Like Saul, I felt refreshed and well.

Music’s impact: less pain, less stress, better sleep, peace, comfort, better well-being.

¹ Int. J Nurs Stud. 2010 Nov;47(11):1354-62. Epub 2010 Apr 18. The effectiveness of music in relieving pain in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. Huange ST, Good M, Zauszniewski JA. School of Nursing, Fooyin University, Lin-Yuan Township, Kaoshiung County, Taiwan. See abstract at
² 3,462 music therapy study results. Some examples: insomnia, depressionpain relief in cancer patients, pain and anxiety in intensive care patients, speech, behavioral problems, Parkinson’s disease, end-of-life care.
³  Message to The Mother Church, Boston, Massachusetts June 1900 by Mary Baker Eddy, pg. 11.
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