Music Therapy for Your Brain – Can It Make You Smarter?

Without waiting for the whole article, yes, music makes you smart. But more than that, it makes you healthier and happier.

does music therapy work

Music Therapy

In Lay terms, music therapy is the use of music to help overcome mental and physical problems.

music therapy definition

What Music Therapy Is and Isn’t:

Music therapy is very focused and directed use of music in order to accomplish a certain goal. Some examples of recent noteworthy music therapy are the work with Congresswoman Giffords to regain her speech after surviving a bullet wound to her brain and research into Parkinson’s disease to help regain motor skills.

Music therapy has been listed in various historical documents back to ancient Chinese and Egyptian medical documents. It played extensive roles in Middle Eastern and Persian medical sciences. The earliest known reference to music therapy in modern times appeared in the 1889 article in Columbian Magazine titled “Music Physically Considered”.

There are three noteworthy names in early music therapy. Dr. Benjamin Rush, physician and psychiatrist who believed in using music to treat medical diseases, and his students Edwin Atlee and Samuel Matthews. They used music therapy in Blackwell’s Island New York’s Institution in the 1800s.

Since then, there been various associations and therapists who have used music. In the 1950s comma, the National Association for Musical Therapy was founded in New York City and became the standard upon which all other music therapy educational standards have been based on.

Who Can Benefit from Music Therapy?

Anyone can benefit from musical therapy. This even includes people who are deaf. In fact, some of the research that’s being done into progressive deafness includes musical therapy, because it can help stimulate nerves.

The people most helped by music therapy tend to be the ones who enjoy music the most. They can truly feel a connection to the music and understand how their emotions and their physical being relate to the music they are producing.

stimulating activities for whole brain and bodies

Music is one of the two activities people can do that simulate the whole portion of the brain and body. Transcendental advanced meditation is the other one. If you watch professional musicians, they’re completely focused on their music, yet their bodies react and move in amazing ways. A piano player literally dances at the keyboard as they play. If you really want to get into whole body healing, music therapy is for you.

Why Music Therapy versus Medication?

In an age where we turn to medications far too often, music therapy offers a way out of the pill cycle without having to completely rely on outside help. Music is a non-judgemental and constant companion for most people.

Some of the research into the way music works it shows that music can actually stimulate the proper balancing of hormones, including serotonin and dopamine. For people with depression, music can actually stimulate the release of serotonin.

Of course, music does not replace all medications. You will want to work with your doctor and music therapist in order to make sure if you take medication, you are able to get off of it in a timely manner, and a safe manner. And maybe also be possible that you don’t need medications at all, of which both your therapist and your doctor will need to monitor.

Why Music Therapy versus Psychotherapy?

There is no either/or when it comes to music therapy vs psychotherapy. Music therapy is a type of psychotherapy. It is just one that uses music rather than discussion. For people that have communication issues, trust issues, or physical issues that prevent or inhibit speech, music can be an outlet.

One of the places it’s being used most often is with children. Children do not yet have the vocabulary to express what they are feeling, and can often use music to convey their emotions. They are able to pick out music that matches their mood and slash or they are able to create the music that they feel.

Children with ADHD often find music therapy very helpful because it can stimulate the brain in ways that nothing else can. Students are able to concentrate better with music because the brain is not allowed to distract itself.

Does Music Therapy Really Work?

For people who truly want music therapy or any therapy, to work, music therapy works phenomenally. It has been shown in many different research articles, many of which can be found on the American Music Therapy Association website, that music therapy is able to help a wide range of conditions. We actually go over a couple of them later on.

how positive thinking benefits your health

When Music Therapy Doesn’t Work

Of course, there are times music therapy doesn’t work. Much of the time, it is because the people are not consistent with their therapy and they don’t believe the therapy can work. You truly have to believe that music therapy will work in order for it to work.

Where Can You Get Music Therapy?

Music therapy can be found in nearly every large city around the world. There are also many universities that offer music therapy. Our recommendation is to check out the American Music Therapy Association and search out their list of approved therapists.

For people outside of the United States, we recommend visiting the website anyway, because many of the practitioners around the world belong to this website.

You can also check out your local psychology boards and therapist boards in order to request a list of musical therapists.

Types of Music and Instruments Used in Music Therapy

All types of songs are used in music therapy. Any type of music can be used. More commonly, classical and self-composed pieces are used primarily. We have found that instrumental pieces tend to be a little bit more expressive, especially for people who have difficulty with words.

All types of instruments are used in music therapy as well. The emphasis tends to go towards instruments with multiple streams of expression. A popular choice of instrument is the guitar * and the piano *. It allows the musician and client to play the instrument, saying and use the music in order to fix issues.

types of music therapy sessions

How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain and Body

There have been all types of research done on the therapeutic effects of music. We know that music itself can stimulate the emotions. Interestingly enough, a lot of the research done on the effects of music therapy are performed on professional musicians. There’s been research that shows everything from the danger of playing musical instruments to the benefits.

One of the health benefits of music therapy is control over your heart heat and pressure. There are several studies that show hearts synchronize with the beat of the music. Calming music has long been shown to reduce blood pressure.

how playing an instrument benefits your brain infographic

Share This Image On Your Site

Since performing music stimulates all areas of the brain, you can call many different issues, including dementia, ADHD, and schizophrenia. It can increase the levels of dopamine in the brain and help reduce depression.

On a different note: one of the articles we came across was that there have been three deaths attributed to playing the oboe, and fives are playing the trumpet. With the reduction in blood pressure and the intense pressure given by both of those instruments, it created a brain hemorrhage in a few musicians. But don’t worry, these were people with pre-existing problems and are an incredibly tiny percentage of the population. These are also difficult instruments to play and often not used in music therapy.

Music Therapy for Babies & Children

Babies and children have a very difficult time expressing themselves. Using music therapy can help them put out the emotions and thoughts they have using a medium anybody can understand.

There has been much discussion on whether music education improves and speeds up a child’s development, but there's not been much research. What has been done using music education, is that it shows a child can increase their IQ by approximately 10 points by studying music. They’re better adapt at reading and at math when they play music.

And though all doctors know playing Mozart make babies smarter, there’s no research to back this up. There has been no research done on children by playing classical music when in the womb. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. What we do know is that children who listen to classical, jazz, and other instrumental music as babies and children tend to have a better appreciation of music later in life and tend to do better at school. If you want to use music as therapy for your pregnancy, we recommend listening to instrumental pieces.

Music Therapy for Adults

While not used as often in adults as with children, music therapy works very well. Especially when using music therapy with veterans, it is something that can help people let go of past trauma. Working very well with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), music therapy allows veterans and other people to become better accustomed to what sound can do.

music elements and body infographic

Share This Image On Your Site

Music Therapy for Seniors

What are the most interesting things about Alzheimer’s disease is that the ability to play music is not diminished. Especially with Alzheimer’s, doctors and researchers have found that allowing a patient to play music can stimulate the brain and help retain activity.

What’s more, is that music therapy has found that seniors truly do enjoy music. Even for those who do not play music, music therapy is a fun experience and helps bring out emotions and thoughts that are otherwise difficult to express. For those who do play music, music therapy tends to be a way to help relieve all sorts of ailments that come with aging.

Music Therapy for Stress Relief

music therapy for stress management

Your mood is greatly determined by the type of music you listen too. You can affect your mood for good or for bad just by listening to different types of music. Uplifting, classical music tends to be stress relieving and brings forth happiness. Hard rock, rap, and other violent music tend to bring about violence and other dark feelings. Blues and more melancholy pieces can make you unhappy.

Music therapy plays upon this, getting people to write music that is either counter to or in line with their emotions. By writing music that personifies stress, you can explore what is causing you stress. Or you can write music that is completely opposite, and the gate the stress.

Music Therapy to Reduce Pain and Anxiety

Music does not directly help reduce pain and anxiety. What it does is it helps the brain to focus on something other than the pain and anxiety, and helps stimulate the production of hormones that help reduce pain and anxiety. Music therapy can be used within the hospital setting in order to achieve this goal. We just want to let you know that it will not completely remove pain, and it will not stop an anxiety attack. But, along with other forms of therapy, music therapy can help.

Music Therapy to Help Speech

music therapy for speech and language

Music therapy is often used to help speech issues we mentioned congresswoman Gifford earlier, and she used music therapy. This is a very good way to help regain the ability to speak. The ability to sing and the ability to speak are in two separate portions of the brain. Singing is often used to help people who stutter because of this fact.

As people return to sing, they gain confidence to be able to speak. Along with this confidence comes the ability of the brain to begin rewiring itself in order to be able to speak. New speech centers are created within the brain, often based on the person’s ability to sing.

Music Therapy to Improve Memory

While not the most common or easy way to improve your memory, music therapy can work. The music is able to activate a portion of the brain that needs to be active, will allow another portion of the brain to both learn and store the new information. Certain types of music therapy can also help the brain transfer memories from the short-term memory to long-term memory.

While you will need a therapist to help you decide which forms of music will help you the best, we have found that using classical music and light jazz helps most people to study better.

Music Therapy for Schizophrenia

music therapy for schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like illnesses

Focus is the key here. Music therapy can help schizophrenia by helping to focus emotions and thoughts. Since music stimulates the whole brain, it takes over the parts of the brain that are misfiring, and help organize thoughts into a cohesive structure. Over time, the reordering of thought structures becomes the norm and people find relief.

Music Therapy to Treat Autism & Down Syndrome

In the realm of genetic mental disabilities, music therapy works very well. It is able to tap into the emotional portions of the brain, and bring thoughts and those emotions to the surface. These people who have trouble expressing themselves verbally are now able to have an outlet. A therapist often works with the mentally disabled in order to help them express themselves. It works very well and is one of the most common areas for music therapy.

Music Therapy to Cure Depression

how music therapy helps depression

Music therapy is not a cure for depression, but it can certainly help. Using music therapy, you can influence the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which can influence certain types of depression. And other forms of depression, where emotional issues are their stomach cause, music therapy can help sort out the emotional issues and bring forth the problems into the conference room. Then, they can be worked on.

Music Therapy to Lower Blood Pressure

music therapy to lower blood pressure

Music has long been known to reduce blood pressure, so it is very common to use it as music therapy. You can use calming music, classical pieces, and anything soft and relaxing * to help reduce your blood pressure. Conversely, listening to hard rock, rap and other violent pieces of music can increase your blood pressure.

Music Therapy to Treat Mental Illness

music therapy for mental illness

Mental illness is a difficult problem to treat. Insane asylums and other group homes have long used music to help calm people. Today, music therapy is being used in order to help redirect energies and focus the patients. In particular, music therapy is being used in group activities and to help focus a number of patients in order to keep order and facilitate activities.

Music Therapy to Sleep

music therapy for sleep

Many people use music to sleep. For certain people, we have difficulty turning off our brains in order to sleep. For others, there is outside noise that disrupts the ability to fall asleep. Using music a very common way to help people fall asleep. As for music therapy, as a specialty, there are certain types of music that help the people to relax * in order to fall asleep. It’s highly variable per person, so you’ll want to work with your therapist to figure out if this is something that will help you.

Music Therapy to Treat Tinnitus

Music therapy has not ventured into the realm of tinnitus. There’s antidotal information out there that listen to certain types of music, like small chamber groups, can reduce the effects of tinnitus. It is an unsubstantiated claim, and we believe that it is not curing tinnitus, merely distracting the people from hearing the buzzing.

Music Therapy for Dementia

music therapy for dementia

Dementia appears less in musicians than the rest of the population  for a little-understood reason. One of the ways it can help is to build new pathways in the brain and activate the whole brain.

Music also invokes memories and emotions, far more than nearly all other activities. Music therapy is being applied to dementia patients in specific, directed ways and through the general playing of music. Using music can stimulate, relax, and direct thoughts just with the tones. This is especially helpful for dementia patients who are aggressive or highly confused.

Music Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

The sad fact is that even musicians are not immune to Parkinson’s, yet many continue to use and perform music. There is research that shows that using voice and motion can help people with Parkinson’s retain the use of muscles and coordination.

Research is just being done with the use of music therapy for Parkinson’s, so we really don’t have much to say at this time. Fortunately, all the preliminary work is showing promise. So, we can say, music won’t hurt, we just don’t know how much it will help.

Music Therapy for Stroke

music therapy for stroke recovery

Music therapy can’t help prevent strokes. But, it is being shown to have great benefits for both men and women in the recovery. And since strokes affect men and women different, this is a huge breakthrough. Both experience an uplift in the mood when music is applied.

In women, the brain works in a more interconnected way. It’s the reason why women recover faster and more thoroughly from strokes. Music therapy helps stimulate the brain to work altogether. Some of the research even shows that when music is used by women stroke sufferers, their recovery occurs in great leaps.

In men, the activation of the whole brain by music helps to develop new pathways for motion. Since men’s brains are more compartmentalized, they suffer more from stroke, often debilitated by small strokes women recover from in weeks.

One area of research is the ability of the brain to coordinate two opposite motions into one cohesive unit, such as walking. The ability of the brain to work one side differently than the other is being looked into with great enthusiasm. In musicians, the fingers work together to produce a pitch, yet may be completely opposite in motion. This translates well to helping people walk.

Although newer into the music therapy world, stroke recovery is showing to have one of the highest success rates for music therapy.

Music Therapy for Cancer Patients

Music therapy can’t help cancer. While there has been some research done at using sound to destroy cancer cells, it hasn’t been researched enough to know. What we do know is that using their music therapy for helping to calm the patients and provided a stress reduced environment is key. Music is such a part of musicians lives that stopping that ability is worse than cancer itself. For those people who don’t play music, music can be used to uplift the mood and make people happier.

Music Therapy for ADHD

ADHD responds very well to music therapy. Children who have this issue find out their minds have a difficult time calming down and focusing. Using music activates many sections of the brain and helps focus. By developing the ability to focus, kids can learn how to do many tasks. You want to choose the right music and avoid negative music. Focus on the music that it’s stimulating and has many melodic overtones. This density classical * and jazz music *. Avoid simple music, like rock, rap, and R&B.

Music Therapy for PTSD

The largest success of music with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is the ability to influence mood. Uplifting music helps elevate the emotions.

As with anxiety, people with PTSD can use music therapy to focus their emotions and thoughts around a strain of music. By focusing on the music, the whole brain activates and can override the fear and panic. Being mathematically based, music activates the logic centers, reducing unchecked emotional outbursts.

At Home Music Therapy

You can use music therapy activities at home.

As we’ve said before, happy, uplifting music elevates the emotions. Depressing and violent music drags people down. Just playing good music works on many different levels.

Even when you don’t feel like it, classical * and jazz music * will help reduce depression and anxiety.

If you are prone to bouts of depression, anxiety, moodiness, or violent thoughts, avoid rap, R&B, heavy metal, and hard rock. They encourage darker thoughts and depress serotonin production.

music therapy bingo infographic

Share This Image On Your Site

Music Therapy Books

A quick search of Amazon shows over a million books about music therapy. Many of the categories will teach you exactly what music therapy is and how to use it.

Within the top 100 books are several on how to do this therapy at home. Many books are clinical and applicable only to those studying to be a therapist.

You can also check out your local library. In larger libraries and those connected to a college and university, there are often one or more books on music therapy available. You can also request books through inner-library loans.

Music Therapy Programs

Music therapy is not offered at very many places. In order to learn it, you have to go to a school that specializes in teaching music and has a very good psychology program. You yourself have to have excellent skills with people, be a musician, and be able to educate yourself in order to become a therapist.

Music therapists have an excellent grasp of music theory, composing, arranging, and are able to play piano, guitar, wind instruments, percussion and have a good grasp of voice competition. They have good clinical foundations in psychopathology, human development, therapy, and relationships. They take advanced courses in the relationships between psychology and music, research and development, and assessment and techniques. The very basis of education is a bachelor’s degree, with most therapists having a master’s degree.

Which Colleges Offer Music Therapy as a Major?

The American Music Therapy Association has a list of over 40 different colleges that offer both online and in university courses. They come in a wide range of states, countries, and education requirements. In order to find a school near you, go to the website for the American Music Therapy Association and search for schools under their organization directory search.

If you liked our article, please share it and use the comment section below to tell us about your experiences or ask any questions. Thank You!


Christina Major

Christina Major is a holistic nutritionist, traditional naturopath, and herbalist. She has a Master’s degree in Holistic Nutrition and an advanced degree in Traditional Naturopathy. Further certifications in herbalism and metabolic typing. She owns and operates Crystal Holistic Health Consulting based in PA, the USA since 2010.
  • My husband was misdiagnosed with PD in 2000. Very rapid deterioration and many queries eventually led to MSA (Multiple System Atrophy) diagnosis. A horrible, horrible condition robbing people of independence, dignity, movement, speech, continence, ability to swallow and breathe.we didn’t know what to do we tried everything possible medically, we were waiting for his death then one day our daughter got back from work with the email of a herbal Dr saying her friend from work told her about a testimony on how Health Herbal Clinic cured her mom from PD and it truely worked, we were desperate and sceptical but my daughter told me we got nothing to loose and i decided to give it a try. 4 weeks after he started taking the herb he regained his speech and today my husband is fully rocovered from this deadly disease called PD, this isn’t a BS it is real you can also contact Healtth herbal clinic on healthherbalclinic(AT)gmail(DOT)com or website on

    • Hello, Jessica!

      Thank you for sharing with us this article. I’m very pleased that the author – Anil Srinivasan is a pianist by himself and founder of ‘Rhapsody Music education’, promoting music in schools. As he wrote in the article – “Music has a calming effect on children with ADHD, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Music enriches these children’s lives and gives them something new to look forward to”. Like it!

  • i was wondering if you can help me i am trying to find a program that help mt child with dead brain cells and memory from her cancer and i dont remember what was the program called but what i do is that they used to take her and that put her some headphones and then with an ipod they put play so she can listen
    plz help me what is that program called

    • Hey Mom!

      We wish we could help you.

      We’re not quite sure what program you are referencing.

      Many programs, like music therapy and active games, will help.

      If you do find the information on the program, please let us know.

      We will write an article so everyone can benefit.

  • Hello! Who is the author of this article? I would like to use it as a source for my english paper and need a full name. Thanks!

    • Hey, Paige!

      Thank you for your question. We welcome the chance to be part of professional publications. We will be contacting you privately to share our contact information.

  • Hello! Who is the author of this article? I would like to use it as a source for my english paper and need a full name. Thanks

    • Hello, Paige Elaine King!
      The author is Christina Major. She is a holistic nutritionist with lots of years of experience.
      Thank you!