“Music is therapy. Music moves people. It connects people in ways that no other medium can. It pulls heart strings. It acts as medicine.” — Macklemore
Much research over the years has centered on the potential, perceived and realized benefits of music. In fact, the area of study has blossomed, growing from the preliminary findings of earlier studies to recent ones that built upon them. What’s exciting is the widespread and diverse benefits that music offers to everyone, young, old and in-between.
Musical training gives babies’ brains a boost.
Even before babies can walk or talk, they can benefit from receiving musical training. That’s the finding from a 2012 study. In the first study of its kind, researchers from McMaster University found that one-year-old babies who engaged in interactive music lessons with their parents were better able to communicate: they smiled more, were easier to soothe, displayed less distress when things didn’t go their way. Babies in the music lessons study group were also able to point at things out of reach and wave goodbye.
Children who regularly attend and participate in music classes benefit from improvements in speech and reading.
A 2014 study found that attendance and participation by children in music classes – especially music classes involving instrument playing – exhibited improvements in neural processing of sound after two years of classes. The researchers at Northwestern University said that the active music class participants had greater improvements in speech and reading scores than their peers who didn’t attend music classes.
Structured music lessons improve kids’ academic performance and cognitive skills.
Researchers in a 2018 study found that structured music lessons added to regular school curriculum significantly enhanced students’ cognitive abilities, leading to improved school performance. The cognitive skills’ improvement was in the areas of short-term memory, planning and inhibition, and language-based reasoning. The first large-scale longitudinal study adapted to regular curriculum at school also found that visual arts helped significantly improve children’s visual and spatial memory.
Early musical training benefits the brain in later life.
Researchers in a 2013 study found that early musical training has a lasting and positive effect on how the brain processes sound, with benefits to aging adults years later. Neural timing, researchers said, is one of the first age-related declines, resulting in compromised hearing, such as a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is vital in interpreting speech. The researchers looked at musical training adults had in childhood and found that the more years those adults had training in music, the quicker their brains responded to a speech sound. Even though the response was just a millisecond quicker, researchers said that the millisecond, compounded with millions of neurons, corresponds to making a real difference in the lives of older adults.
Surgical music therapy program helps reduce pre-operative anxiety in women undergoing breast biopsy procedures.
Anxiety before surgical procedures is a common concern for patients about to undergo necessary interventions. Results reported in 2016 from a two-year clinical trial on live- and recorded-music therapy during breast biopsy procedures found that women undergoing those procedures self-reported a significant reduction in their pre-operative anxiety levels. Researchers said that adding a music therapist to the surgical setting may help patients achieve goals of reducing anxiety, managing pain, learning more about their procedure and gaining satisfaction from the experience.
Seniors’ mental health gets a boost from religious music.
Research published from a 2014 study discovered that, among older Christians, listening to religious music – especially gospel music – is associated with less anxiety over death, and increases in feelings of satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and sense of control over their lives. Study authors wrote that even among those seniors with health problems or physical limitations might find listening to religious music might offer a valuable resource to better mental health.
Making music may help children improve pro-social behavior and problem-solving skills.
In a 2013 study, researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of West London found that young children, both boys and girls, who engaged in making music – singing or playing a musical instrument – improved in the pro-social behaviors of helpfulness, cooperation, and social bonding, and with problem-solving skills. Study authors said that making music in class, particularly singing, may encourage students with emotional difficulties and learning differences to feel less alienated at school.
Music listening may offer multiple benefits to older adults with early memory loss.
A 2017 trial found that the mind-body practice of music listening, as well as meditation, may offer several benefits to older adults with preclinical memory loss. After three months, said researchers, both groups showed “marked and significant” improvement in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance. These improvements were around attention, processing speed, executive function, and subjective memory function – domains generally affected in preclinical and early-stage dementia. The cognitive improvements were not only sustained at six months, they increased. The two groups also showed improvements in mood, sleep, stress, well-being, and quality of life, gains that were either sustained or further enhanced three months after intervention.
Parkinson’s patients may build strength through singing.
Other promising 2017 research finds that patients with Parkinson’s disease might be able to build strength in their muscles used for swallowing and respiratory control through singing. These two functions are complicated by the disease. Study participants were trained in proper breath support, posture, how to best use muscles involved in the vocal cords. Singing significantly improves this muscle activity. Researchers noted that participants also reported other benefits from the singing therapy: improvements in mood, depression and stress.
Music therapy offers comfort to palliative care patients.
In a three-year study of male and female palliative-care patients with a terminal illness, researchers in a 2011 study found that music intervention therapy proved effective in enhancing their pain relief, comfort, mood, confidence, relaxation, resilience, well-being, and life quality. The music therapy team consisted of music therapy students from a university and musicians from a professional symphony orchestra.
Cancer patients find symptom relief from music.
A systematic 2016 review of literature finds that there is a significant body of evidence that music therapy and music interventions help alleviate cancer patients’ symptoms, including pain, anxiety, and fatigue, while also improving their quality of life and overall well-being. Among the findings: music interventions had a moderate-to-strong effect in anxiety reduction, a large pain reduction benefit, and a small-to-moderate effect of music treatment on fatigue.