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What Is Therapeutic Music?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Therapeutic music is the use of the healing elements of music and sound to create an environment conducive to healing in healthcare settings. A large number of studies have confirmed the significant benefits that music provides premature babies, cancer patients, patients both before and after surgery and Alzheimer sufferers. Live music has been found to be more beneficial in music therapy than recorded music. An increasing number of health administrators are recognizing and investing in the benefits of therapeutic music.

The type of therapeutic music played will depend on the needs and the circumstances of the patient. Therapeutic musicians are trained to assess the behavior and condition of the patient and what type of communication the patient is able to receive. Well-documented studies have demonstrated the efficacy of therapeutic music in regulating heart rhythms and decreasing pain and anxiety levels.

When live music was played to preterm infants, they responded with a reduced heart rate and a deeper sleep. Cardiac surgery patients on the first postoperative day also responded with a decreased heart rate and a lower blood pressure. In another study, the playing of harp music at the bedside of dying patients was found to decrease the levels of agitation and wakefulness and assist them by easing the struggle to gain breath.

Healing for therapeutic musicians is not just a physical movement towards wholeness but also a mental, emotional and spiritual one. The music is performed live and may be played or sung depending on the immediate need of the patient. The therapy is said to particularly benefit those in the process of birthing or dying, which are life's transitions, but it also has a positive affect on other conditions including terminal or chronic illness, injury and disease. Therapeutic musicians usually work at the patient's bedside in hospices, hospitals, treatment centers, nursing homes and nursing facilities.

In order to qualify as a therapeutic musician, an approved curricula and independent study in an accredited training program must be completed. As well as being a good musician, candidates must demonstrate a sensitivity to a patient's needs and show they possess appropriate interpersonal skills. The governing body in the US, The National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians, aims to develop and advance the profession as well as certify the training programs. Only those who have received the appropriate high-quality training can call themselves therapeutic musicians and be qualified to play therapeutic music in healthcare settings.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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