In recent years the effects music has on the human brain have been slowly demystified by leading neurologists. Music’s place in modern medicine has been around, in America, since the 1940s; the field is technically known as music therapy. Music therapy is a multi-faceted branch of psychology, used to treat physical, mental, social and emotional conditions.


Function

Music is used to treat all sorts of ailments, from physical and psychiatric problems to substance abuse and high stress. Many people use music as support for a multitude of health-related activities. Music therapists are professionals trained to use music and/or musical instruments to promote communication and overall health and well-being in their patients.

Music has shown to markedly improve the learning abilities of young children, especially in ages below five. Neurologists claim that this is because of music’s foundations in mathematics, e.g., ratios and fractions. In a study done by the Music Educators National Conference in 2001, high school students who were actively involved in music, through their school or some other facility, scored much higher math and verbal scores than their nonmusical peers.


Music Therapy for Treating Heart Complications

Music has been proven to reduce heart and respiratory rates. In a study done by the Arts and Quality of Life Research Center, patients with coronary heart disease found listening to music beneficial in the forms of reduced blood pressure and reduced anxiety. While some of the results of this study were inconclusive, because of the questionable quality of the evidence, they still show the clinical benefits music therapy can produce.


Misconceptions

Many people believe that music therapy can only help those with musical ability; this is a common misconception. Music therapy has been shown to stimulate many of the same parts of the brain in musical as well as in nonmusical patients. Another common misconception is that the only style of music used in therapy is classical music. The music a therapist uses with a patient is highly dependent on the patient’s preferences, circumstances and goals.


Warning

Unfortunately, music can also cause some serious harm in the form of tinnitus or other permanent hearing loss/damage. Tinnitus can result from listening to music at high volumes or amplitudes. Tinnitus is a buzzing in the ears that ranges from slight to severe. Tinnitus is a highly subjective condition; some patients claim to perceive sounds of animals or even popular songs. Music has also been known to cause epileptic seizures, often resulting in psychiatric complications. In a book devoted to the studying of these rare cases, Oliver Sacks, a professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University, writes of a woman who could not listen to a certain popular song for more than half a minute without succumbing to violent convulsions.


Potential

The science of music therapy, with its roots in the first half of the twentieth century, is still relatively young. With the proliferation of case studies, music is starting to make a comeback in the world of medicine, an area that has been relatively uncaring towards music therapy because of its seemingly mystical beginnings.