The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Music therapy

Music Therapy

What is it?

Music therapy is the use of music to treat a condition, reduce symptoms, or prevent the onset of a disease or injury. Music is practiced throughout all human cultures around the globe. It has been used to influence physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being to improve quality of life. Music therapy can involve either performing or listening to music, with or without a therapist.

People use music therapy for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, autism, cancer, heart disease, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, memory loss, depression, mental well-being, infant development, pain, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease, recovery after surgery, quality of life, schizophrenia, insomnia, cystic fibrosis, mental performance, nausea, vomiting, sedation, and ringing in the ears.

People also use music therapy for addiction, aggression, alcoholism, antisocial behavior, asthma, bipolar disorder, childbirth, a lung condition called chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), diabetes, shortness of breath, anorexia, bulimia, seizures, headaches, high blood pressure, migraine, motion sickness, muscle cramps, recovery after surgery, prevention of pregnancy complications, spinal cord injury, muscle strength, and stroke.

Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The Effectiveness ratings for Music therapy are as follows:

Possibly Effective for…

  • Anxiety. Music therapy and listening to music seems to reduce anxiety in many different types of people. Music might reduce the need for anti-anxiety drugs and reduce anxiety symptoms such as increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
  • Autism. Some research shows that music therapy improves social skills and communication in people with autism .
  • Depression. Music therapy seems to improve depression in older people.
  • Additional early research shows that music might reduce depression symptoms and increase calmness in depressed women.
  • High blood pressure. Music therapy seems to reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia). Listening to music seems to improve sleep in people with difficulty sleeping. Music seems to improve sleep both in older people and in children.
  • Parkinson’s disease. Some research shows that movement training with music improves balance and symptoms when compared to the same movement training without music. Music therapy might also improve coordination. But, it doesn’t seem to help with speech problems.
  • Pain after surgery. Most research shows that music therapy reduces pain and anxiety after surgery and during recovery after surgery. But music therapy doesn’t seem to help reduce pain immediately after waking up from surgery.
  • Anxiety before surgery. Most evidence shows that music therapy reduces anxiety before surgery and medical procedures. But not all research agrees.
  • Quality of life. Some research shows that music therapy improves quality of life and physical comfort in people who are terminally ill.
  • Schizophrenia. Some research shows that music therapy improves symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as social functioning and general state of mind. Music therapy might also help people with both schizophrenia and psychosis.
  • Stroke. Some research shows that specific types of music therapy improves walking, quality of life, and communication in people who have had a stroke.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…

  • Mental problems due to aging. Early research shows that music therapy does not improve mental function in healthy older adults.
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Early research shows that music therapy does not reduce impulsive feelings in children with ADHD.
  • Burns. Some early research shows that music therapy might help to reduce pain in children and adults with severe burns. But not all research agrees.
  • Cancer-related pain. Early research shows that music therapy does not reduce cancer-related pain.
  • Heart disease. Early research shows that music therapy might reduce stress markers and health complications in people who are in the hospital for a heart attack or heart procedure.
  • Nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. Early research shows that music therapy along with anti-nausea medications might work better than anti-nausea medications alone to reduce nausea and vomiting in people receiving chemotherapy .
  • Memory loss (dementia). Most research shows that music therapy does not improve quality of life or emotional wellbeing in people with dementia. Music therapy also does not seem to improve agitation or aggression. However, music therapy might improve mental function and depression in people with dementia.
  • Infant development. Early research suggests that singing a lullaby to a baby improves weight gain in premature infants.
  • Labor pain. Early research shows that playing soft music during labor reduces pain.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). Some early research suggests that music therapy might not improve quality of life or depression in people with MS.
  • Osteoarthritis. Early research shows that listening to relaxation music might reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis.
  • Pain. Research on the effects of music therapy on pain is mixed. Music therapy seems to help reduce chronic pain due to chronic diseases. Some early research also shows that music therapy might reduce pain in people with leg fractures . However, other research shows that singing does not help to reduce pain in stroke patients. Also, music therapy is not better than ibuprofen for treating pain in people with minor injuries.
  • Recovery after surgery. Early research shows that listening to music might reduce confusion in the elderly after surgery.
  • Mental well-being. Some early research shows that music therapy reduces grief in children with behavior problems when compared to meeting with a social worker. But not all research agrees.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Mental performance.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Asthma.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • A lung condition called chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD).
  • Diabetes.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Seizures.
  • Headaches.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Migraines.
  • Motion sickness.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Itchy skin (neurodermatitis).
  • Prevention of pregnancy complications.
  • Scaly and itchy skin (psoriasis).
  • Spinal cord injury.
  • Muscle strength.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of music therapy for these uses.

Music therapy can work by distracting people from unpleasant feelings and stimuli, which helps to reduce anxiety and pain. It can also work as a form of communication in place of spoken therapy in some people with certain psychological illnesses. 

Music therapy is LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately and when music therapy does not take the place of proven treatments. Music therapy has been used without any reports of side effects.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of music therapy during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, there’s no reason to suspect safety concerns when used correctly.

Infants and children: Music therapy is POSSIBLY SAFE in infants and children. High levels of noise or music might stunt the growth of newborn infants. Infants should also not be overstimulated with music. Music interventions in infants should usually not last any longer than 30 minutes.


It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines.

Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

There are no known interactions with foods.

The appropriate or safe use of music therapy depends on several factors such as the condition being treated or the person administering the treatment. Be sure to seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.

Active Music Therapy, Calming Music Therapy, Contingent Music, Dinner Music Intervention, Evocative Music, Expressive Therapy, Group Chanting and Singing, Group Drumming, Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), Improvisational Music Therapy, Individualized Music-Focused Auditory Therapy (IMAT), Instructional Music Therapy, Interactive Music Therapy, Karaoke Therapy, Live Music Therapy, Lullaby Therapy, Lyric Analysis, Mandalas, Medical Resonance Therapy Music (MRT-Music), MT, Music And Movement, Music-Assisted Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Music-Assisted Reframing, Music-Based Imagery, Music-Based Intervention, Music Exposure Therapy, Music In Therapy, Music Intervention, Music Listening Intervention, Music Stimulation, Music Therapy, Music-Reinforced Therapy, Music-Video Therapy, Musical Games, Musical Motor Feedback (MMF), Musicokinetic Therapy, Orff-Based Music Therapy, Ragas.


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For the latest comprehensive data on this and every other natural medicine, health professionals should consult the Professional Version of the Natural Medicines. It is fully referenced and updated daily.

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