The Healing Power of Your Favorite Song


Throughout history, from ancient Greek philosophical teachings to modern-day music therapy sessions, music has been a powerful tool for healing physical and mental ailments.

As a small business owner, you can be prone to stress, anxiety and depression as you juggle the needs of your business and employees against those of your personal life and loved ones. If you’re overwhelmed with all these demands on your time and energy, consider relaxing to the soothing sounds of your favorite album. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the historical roots of music therapy and how it can help you.

The History of Music Therapy

According to Incadence, a telehealth music therapy provider, the idea of using music for healing and improving health and behavior dates back to the writings of Plato and Aristotle — and potentially even earlier in Arabian, Indian and Chinese cultures.

The Greek philosophers had many theories on why music was so powerful. Plato said, “Music is an art imbued with power to penetrate into the very depths of the soul.” Meanwhile, Aristotle theorized music could relieve negative emotions through catharsis.

The turn of the 19th century is when the concept of music therapy as a medical intervention began to gain traction, with the first recorded music therapy intervention in an institutional setting occurring at Blackwell’s Island in New York, plus the first recorded systematic experiment in music therapy, according to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

Music therapy as a modern profession didn’t start until after World War II. Throughout WWI and WWII, visiting musicians made rounds of hospitals to entertain and uplift wounded soldiers. Doctors and nurses noticed the traumatized soldiers improved physically and emotionally when exposed to music, according to the AMTA. This led to hospitals hiring musicians to entertain the veterans, but demand for training and a college curriculum grew, leading to the development of the first academic music therapy programs in the 1940s.

Since then, music therapy has become an organized clinical profession with practitioners around the globe.

How Can Music Therapy Help Me?

Now that you’re familiar with the history of music therapy, let’s dive into the science behind how it works.

According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health blog, music can help improve your mental health, enhance learning, stimulate cognitive function, improve quality of life and even improve your mood. It accomplishes this by simultaneously stimulating vast segments of your brain pathways and networks. Not only is the auditory cortex in your temporal lobes heavily involved, the part of the brain that helps you understand music, but the regions of your brain that handle your memories, emotions and motor system also play a role. These pathways grow stronger when used and weaker when not used, so it’s essential to ensure they get enough stimulation.

Many studies have shown music can tremendously affect individuals suffering from various health conditions. Studies of Parkinson’s patients who participate in musical interventions, such as guitar or drumming, noted improvements in participants’ mood and anxiety levels as well as their motor and cognitive assessments, improving their quality of life.

Here are a few simple ways you can take advantage of the beneficial effects of music every day:

  • Get a boost of energy – Past studies have shown that people tend to work faster when listening to music. In 1940, the UK government instituted a “Music While You Work” program that played upbeat music in munitions factories twice daily to increase the pace for the war effort. The program was a major success as factories increased their output, according to a report by the BBC.
  • Improve sleep – Listening to classical or relaxing music before bed can help you relax, make you fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality, according to the Sleep Foundation. Music improves sleep by soothing your automatic nervous system, slowing your breathing rate, lowering your heart rate and reducing blood pressure.
  • Reduce anxiety – Worried about an upcoming doctor’s appointment or meeting? Try listening to relaxing music to ease your feelings of anticipatory anxiety or stress. Relaxing music can lower the production of cortisol, which reduces stress, elevated heart rates and blood pressure — it’s why so many doctors’ offices play easy-listening music while you wait.
  • Improve mental clarity – Did you know that playing an instrument can help your brain function better? According to Penn Medicine, playing an instrument is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy. Playing an instrument stimulates both the right and left sides of the brain, giving it a total workout that can help decrease memory loss and improve cognitive function.

Music is a powerful tool anyone can use to help improve their mood, reduce stress and work more productively; however, it should not be used in lieu of professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your wellness routine.