Can music improve our health and quality of life?

Music boosts our mood and well-being, and music therapy can help during treatments for certain health conditions.

Times are hard. The current political climate, war, the impact of global warming, persistent inequalities due to systemic racism, and persistent physical and mental health issues due to COVID are weighing on our sense of security in the world and on our quality of life. Hopefully, each of us can find moments of relaxation and temporarily take our thoughts away from the difficult news of everyday life. For many people, music can play a part in this change, even gradually.

How can music impact our quality of life?

Recently, researchers have examined the impact of musical interventions on health-related quality of life and attempted to answer the question of how best to help make this shift toward release, relaxation, and rehabilitation. This recent systematic review and meta-analysis (a review of studies) showed that the use of music interventions (listening to music, singing, and music therapy) can create significant improvements in mental health and smaller improvements in physical health-related quality of life. life. While the researchers found a positive impact on psychological quality of life, they found no single best intervention or “dose” of music that works best for everyone.

Music complexities

As complex human beings from a wide variety of cultures, with a variety of life experiences and mental and physical health needs, our connection to music is very personal. Our relationship with music can be a very beautiful, vulnerable and often complicated dance that changes from moment to moment depending on our mood, preferences, social situation and previous experiences. There are times when music can have a clear and immediate impact on our well-being:

  • ease the transition to sleep with a soothing playlist
  • find motivation to exercise by listening to upbeat dance music
  • help to express their emotions by singing
  • connect with others by attending a live musical performance.

There are other times when a certified music therapist can help you make that connection to music and find the best intervention and “dose” that could positively impact your health and provide some form of healing.

How can music be used as a therapeutic tool?

Music therapy is an established health profession that uses evidence-based music interventions to achieve therapeutic health care goals. Music therapy takes place between a patient (and possibly their caregivers and/or family) and a certified music therapist who has completed an accredited undergraduate or graduate music therapy program.

Music therapists use both active (singing, exploring instruments, songwriting, movement, creating digital music, etc.) and receptive (music listening, guided imagery with music, creating playlists or music conversation) interventions. and reminiscence), and create goals to improve health and well-being.

Some of these goals could include decreasing anxiety, changing mood, decreasing perception of pain during cancer or other medical treatments, increasing self-expression, seeking motivation and many others. The approach to using music to achieve these types of goals — and to improve your quality of life in general — can change from moment to moment, and a music therapist can help you find what works. best for a particular situation.

My Best Music Therapy Tools

Listen

This intervention has been the most studied, in almost all scenarios. It can be done alone or in music therapy. Music can be live or recorded. Listening can be done with intentional focus or in the background. You can amplify emotions for release. You can use music to calm the mind. Or you can use the “iso principle” and match the music to your current energy or mood, then slowly alter the feel, tempo and complexity to help you change. Listening to music can be combined with relaxation prompts or to motivate you to exercise, move more, or complete a task you’ve been putting off.

Learn or play an instrument

Making active music really engages your whole brain. This creates the greatest potential for distraction, pain reduction, cognition, fine and gross motor development and expression. Some instruments are designed to facilitate access to freedom of expression or learning.

A steel tongue drum, for example, set up in a pentatonic scale, has a beautiful resonant sound, has no “bad notes” and, by design, allows you to just play! If you want to engage your cognitive brain a bit, try learning the ukulele. The strings are easy to push, chords for beginners only need a finger or two, and there are plenty of ukulele resources online. Making music with an instrument can be fun and easy.

A certified music therapist can help you find the most direct and successful route to musical expression. Learning to really master an instrument and to read music takes time, patience and practice.

Singing

It can be an amazing intervention if you have a good connection to your voice and/or have a good music therapy relationship where the therapist can help you establish your connection to your instrument. There are physical benefits to singing about lung function and emotional benefits to singing lyrics that speak your truth. Finally, there is the community bond and the power of being surrounded by strong and tight harmonies.

The bottom line

While there’s no one best intervention, magic song, or perfect genre to make all the hard things in life easier, music can be a powerful agent of change.

Need more help finding the best music tools for you? Here are some resources for exploring music therapy and finding certified therapists.

American Association for Music Therapy

Board of Certified Music Therapists

American Psychological Association: Music as Medicine

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