Gill Stannard

Monday, October 13, 2008

Research update – music as medicine

Music's the medicine of the mind.

John A. Logan

While the quest is on for a pill to cure all ills, a simple remedy has been often over looked. It is inexpensive, easy to administer, has no worrying side effects and treats a wide variety of ailments. I’d say everyone reading this has some at home or with them right now.

So what is this elixir?

It is music.

There is now a substantial body of work showing that music can influence our brain, motivate us, even help us breath or deal better with pain.

While music therapy is a specialized field that involves highly trained therapists working with different techniques, the studies I am looking at simply involve music, as distinct from “music therapy”. (To find out more about music therapy contact the Australian Music Therapy Association)

Research has shown that a 20 week old foetus can hear fully and they may recognize music they were exposed to in the womb, even one year after they were born.

Once babies are born, there experience of music can continue to be therapeutic. Parents singing lullabies, or just playing them, have been shown to reduce pain levels and increase oxygen saturation especially in research into premature babies who have a high risk of potentially fatal complications.

While some of the research needs to be reproduced using greater numbers, there is enough evidence to encourage the use of lullabies as therapy at home and in the hospital.

Does listening to music make us smarter?

If you trawl the net on the subject of music and IQ pretty soon you will come across ”the Mozart effect. This is a much hyped and misquoted reference to a 1993 paper published in “Nature” showing increased spatial reasoning in children performing the study tasks while listening to Mozart.

While listening to classical music is not proven to make us smarter the beat and rhythm of music can affect us in many different ways.

One of the latest studies shows that playing the right kind of music while exercising can increase endurance, meaning you can run or work out longer and harder.

The researcher, Dr Costas Karageorghis, has nailed down the musical formula to get us moving more – ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, or if you prefer any other music with 120-140 beats per minute. His research found this could improve exercise endurance by 15% or more. But only with this particular beat rate.

Music for Pain Relief

There have been over 50 studies that look at listening to music for pain relief. The responses have varied. Some suggested up to a 50% reduction in pain and a flow on need for less analgesia (such as morphine).

The Cochrane Review of these studies found the results to be mixed and concluded, “Listening to music reduces pain intensity levels and opioid requirements, but the magnitude of these benefits is small and, therefore, its clinical importance unclear”.

It also noted that music is a low-cost, safe and easy to use therapy. Personally I’ve had a good response to lowered perception of pain from listening to music and would recommend giving it a go.


Max Headroom, RRR 18th September 2008
Playlist - Labour Not In Vain, presented by Hermione Gilchrist. Hermione’s fantastic labour ‘mixed tape’.

A Journal of the American Medical Association article on ”Brain Music”

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