The Power Of Music Therapy To Help Ease Depression, Stress, And More

Who doesn’t love music? We’ve all been in a situation where we feel like no one understands us and we can’t relate to anything, and then suddenly a song comes on the radio that describes everything we’re feeling at that moment and we blast it on repeat for hours.

We listen to music while doing chores, driving, studying, and exercising. Almost everyone would agree that music is a great way to boost your mood and is pleasant to listen to.

Beyond that, music can have a great impact on our bodies and brains and is now widely used in the medical profession.

It helps with certain conditions and can be a great reliever of anxiety, a treatment for depression, and can even help those suffering from heart disease.

Music therapy is used by trained professionals who create individualized programs. These programs combine playing, writing, listening, and singing to music, with the aim of improving the physical, psychological, cognitive, and social functioning of a patient.

Therapists create the program after an initial evaluation, so that it can address the individual’s needs. The technique is regularly used in schools, clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. It is used to support people who strive to improve their functioning and overall well-being.

As Gary Talley, an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter, once said:

The healing power of music is vast (…) and if we knew more, we’d be able to do amazing things, and maybe even make permanent changes in the brain’s mysterious workings.

According to Talley, you can do something useful – perhaps even life-changing – with just 4 chords, and you can become a veritable medicine chest for the right person.

Music therapy is thought to have ancient roots, seeing as Greek philosophers Plato and Pythagoras wrote tremendously about music and the effects it has, for which they are often quoted.

Even though music therapy has a long history, it began developing as a profession in 1950s America to help war veterans who were suffering from physical and emotional problems.

When stressed, we can feel our bodies relax when listening to a song we love. Anyone who plays an instrument or sings can tell you that making music is great for the mind, body, and soul, whether you’re a well-known musician or an enthusiast.

The Science Of Music And The Brain

Music’s ability to boost our mood is related to the release of different chemicals in our brains. The music rush that many people get from listening to a song is actually the brain producing endorphins that block pain and create feelings of pleasure.

Research has found that listening to music releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brains associated with pleasure and reward. It is responsible for producing a feel-good state in our brain. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that is produced in response to food, sex, and drugs.

A study published in the Scientific Reports Journal stated that listening to and performing music helped to modulate the levels of serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine, oxytocin, and prolactin.

It also stated that people consistently rank music as among the top ten things in their lives that bring pleasure – even above money, food, and art.

Aside from the connection between the chemicals in our brain and music, there is a strong relationship between music and memory. This can be easily proven by the emotions we get when hearing significant songs, or by the annoying advertisements that get stuck in our heads.

This is used by therapists to help people with memory problems retrieve important information using specifically composed songs. More precisely, in people with dementia, memory for lyrics often remains long after the loss of other memories.

A good example for this is Clive Wearing, a British musician who has a memory span of 30 seconds, but who can play the piano masterfully. Or even seniors in nursing homes who are given renewed strength after being played a song from their youth.  

One of the many reasons why music therapy is effective is that it distracts you from a stressful or uncomfortable situation and concentrates the mind on something relaxing and soothing.

Mindlab International conducted a study where participants were instructed to solve difficult puzzles as quickly as they could while being connected to sensors.

Solving the puzzles caused stress in the participants, and while they were doing that, they listened to different songs.

Their brain activity was measured, along with their blood pressure, heart rate, and rate of breath.

Listening to one song in particular, “Weightless,” reduced participants’ overall anxiety by 65% and led to a 35% reduction in their physiological resting rates. The song was actually created with that intent and is the reason why Marconi Union collaborated with sound therapists.

How do we respond to music that is relaxing or energizing? It all depends on the preference of the individual listener. Research has shown that different parts of the brain are activated when the music is self-selected and when it is chosen by researchers.

Also, different types of music are used for different reasons – classical music is used to induce a state of relaxation and reduce stress, while rock music may help increase one’s tolerance of pain (if the person doesn’t enjoy rock and feels discomfort while listening to it).

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Active Vs Passive Music Therapy

Active music therapy calls for playing music in some way, meaning it doesn’t require you to be a musician, but just to improvise. It might include engaging the patient in singing, instrument playing, and music composition.

Passive music therapy involves listening to music, but no participation in the making of music. Both of these are combined with more standard therapeutic treatment.

Passive music listening is listening to a specific type of music with the goal of bringing about a particular mood or to cause other effects. For instance, listening to white noise can help a person get more restful sleep.

White noise is produced by combining sounds of different frequencies together. It drowns out background noise that might prevent you from falling asleep. Some apps that can provide you with a good night’s sleep are White Noise, SleepFan, and Jinglow.

Active music therapy is a great way to boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence. As children begin to play a musical instrument, they gain confidence when performing to an audience or in front of their parents or teachers.

Playing an instrument can be a way for children to express themselves, and it can give them a sense of autonomy. It also develops a skill set, as well as a disciplined attitude, because they need to practice at regular intervals and attend lessons.

Common Uses For Music Therapy

Music therapy has found its way into the treatment plans of a number of conditions. It is likely to complement other forms of treatment rather than being prescribed by itself.


A rhythmic sound has the power to alter our brainwave patterns and is one of the most effective ways to drive the mind into a relaxed or meditative state.

Instead of having non-stop worrying thoughts, listening to music can help you wash away the stress and create emotional balance.


As mentioned above, music therapy can boost dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical, which helps to treat depression.

Coronary Heart Disease

A meta-analysis suggests that listening to music could decrease blood pressure and heart rate in patients undergoing treatment for coronary heart disease. It may also improve patients’ quality of sleep following a cardiac procedure or surgery.


Many people find it hard to express their thoughts and feelings and this often leads to frustration and social isolation. Music therapy can allow people to overcome their self-expression problems by helping them better understand and display their emotions.

In Pregnancy

In the third trimester, the unborn baby can start to remember word patterns and rhymes. Research showed that exposing a fetus to music had a long-term effect on their brain.

Newborn babies that had Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star played to them in the womb responded differently when alternative versions were played.


If you want to create your own therapeutic music, start with a tailored playlist.

You no doubt already have songs that make you happy, sad, or energized. Once you recognize what those songs are, just add other songs to your playlist that have similar traits and categorize them into moods.

Find music that is relatable and that you connect with. Music can validate the feelings you’re having and change your perspective when you’re feeling stressed.

After you categorize the songs, name the playlist. Think about how you want to feel and what your goal is. Do you want to feel energized, happy, or relaxed after listening to your playlist?

Have a playlist that’s at least forty minutes long in order to give your brain the time to adjust to the shift of emotions. If you think you need help with this process, consult a music therapist.

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