Can music improve our health and quality of life?

February 15, 2024
man playing ukulele

Learning to play an instrument engages the cognitive brain and creates the most potential for distraction and pain reduction.

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Can music improve our health and quality of life?

3 min read

New analysis finds music boosts our mood and well-being, may help during treatments for certain health conditions

Recently, researchers looked at the impact of music interventions on health-related quality of life, and tried to answer the question about the best way to help make that shift toward release, relaxation, and rehabilitation. This recent systematic review and meta-analysis (a study 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. While the researchers found a positive impact on the psychological quality of life, they found no one best intervention or “dose” of music that works best for all people.

Complexities of music

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

  • easing a transition to sleep with a soothing playlist
  • finding motivation for exercise by listening to upbeat dance music
  • aiding self-expression of emotions by singing
  • connecting to others by attending a live musical performance.

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

How can music be used as a therapeutic tool?

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

Music therapists use both active (singing, instrument exploration, songwriting, movement, digital music creation, and more) and receptive (music listening, guided imagery with music, playlist creation, or music conversation and reminiscence) interventions, and create goals to improve health and well-being.

This is an excerpt from an article that appears on the Harvard Health Publishing website.

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Lorrie Kubicek is a board-certified music therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital, co-director of The Katherine A. Gallagher Integrative Therapies Program, and program manager of expressive therapies at MGH Cancer Center and Mass General Hospital for Children.