Thoughts on Music as Cure

Thoughts on Music as Cure

In “The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song”, I wrote a lot about the relationship between music and the human body and the research that’s driving exciting advances in the use of music for healing.

Since the book came out, I’m now frequently asked: “So can music cure cancer?.” Sometimes the tone is cynical. Sometimes it’s filled with hope.  My answer is “probably not, right now.” But then I point to the evidence discussed in Chapter 2 of the book, “Music Plays the Body”, showing that music certainly does affect the body in profound ways and can certainly help people with cancer.

Studies show that music can reduce stress. It changes the heart rate. Slow tempos lower the heart rate, pulse and breathing rates.  We entrain to musical rhythm.  We echo music as the body synchronizes to the beat of the music. And new research also delves into the relationship between music and time. Chronobiology is the science of biological cycles and rhythms. Our bodies operate according to circadian rhythms of upswings of activity alternating with downswings. So some researchers believe our physical and emotional response to music varies depending on the time of day we’re listening to a particular piece. A relaxing piece of music may be even more relaxing if we listen during one of our “down swings”. Music therapy is becoming even more refined.

And studies show that music definitely helps to reduce pain. Patients with cancer and other conditions require less pain medication. In surgery, patients who listen to music before the operation, and even in the OR, require less anesthesia.  And certainly music brings emotional comfort.

So it’s known right now that music can help people with cancer in these ways. And there’s promise of more help to come. Psychoneuroimmunology is a relatively new field that studies the relationship between neurology, psychology, and the immune system.  Our nervous, immune, and endocrine systems are constantly interacting.  The immune and nervous systems are wired through neural circuits in lymphatic tissues. As we come to understand this interaction, the potential for effectively using music as medicine is likely to grow. Scientists say we’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of realizing the possibilities.

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