At a time when people increasingly turn to holistic methods of healing, music therapy has developed into a powerful and nonthreatening medium that can be used successfully with individuals of all ages and disabilities. Music has been used in healing practices throughout history, with many examples of the healing powers of music in the historical records of different cultures.

Music therapy is an established health profession that has demonstrated effectiveness in addressing the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the needs, strengths, and personal preferences of a client, the qualified music therapist provides the appropriate treatment modality.

Music therapy uses the following modalities:

  • Singing (the making of sounds with the voice, especially words with a set tune) helps individuals with speech impairments improve their articulation, rhythm, and breath control. Songs help elderly adults remember significant events in their lives, and singing has produced some remarkable health effects. Singing is also being used therapeutically for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that group singing may have benefits for caregiver-client communication.
  • Playing instruments is a modality that improves gross- and fine-motor coordination in individuals with motor impairments. Playing in an instrumental ensemble may help an individual with behavioral problems learn how to control disruptive impulses by working in a structured group situation. Drumming has been shown to be effective for stress reduction. For example, individuals with cancer who play drums in group settings have reported feeling more relaxed and show improved immune function and higher white blood cell counts.
  • Rhythmic movement facilitates and improves an individual’s range of motion, joint mobility, agility, strength, balance, coordination, gait consistency, respiration patterns, and muscular relaxation. For example, the rhythmic component of music helps to increase motivation, interest, and enjoyment, and it acts as a nonverbal persuasion to involve individuals socially.
  • Improvising offers a creative, nonverbal means of expressing feelings. It involves the creation and performance of music spontaneously or without preparation. Improvising provides clients with an opportunity to make choices and deal with structure creatively and improves brain function and the development of new neural pathways.
  • Composing (the creation of music) develops cooperative learning skills and facilitates the sharing of feelings, ideas, and experiences through music. For hospitalized children, writing songs is a very effective means of expressing and understanding fears that they are unable to express in other ways.
  • Listening to music is used for many therapeutic goals, including the development of cognitive skills such as attention and memory. When done in a relaxed and receptive state, actively listening to music can stimulate thoughts, images, and feelings, which can then be further examined and discussed in the safe therapeutic environment.

Music therapy provides the following health benefits:

  • Reduces anxiety and stress
  • Promotes wellness
  • Improves communication
  • Supports the nonpharmacological management of pain
  • Supports positive changes in mood and emotional states
  • Allows the active and positive participation of the client in treatment
  • Enhances awareness of self and environment
  • Enhances the development of coping and relaxation skills
  • Improves emotional intimacy with families and caregivers
  • Increases relaxation for the entire family
  • Enhances memory
  • Promotes physical rehabilitation and movement