“I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”

Sebastian Johannes Bach

Hundreds of hospitals nationwide employ Certified Therapeutic Music Practitioners as part of the palliative care team. St. Joseph’s Hospital and Moffit Cancer Center in Hillsborough County, Florida are local examples that have Certified Music Practitioners on staff. Hospitals such as Mercy Hospital in Baltimore and St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa have hosted training programs and practicum experiences for therapeutic musician students enrolled in the NSBTM-accredited program of Music for Healing & Transition Program. Several of our music practitioners completed modular coursework at these hospitals.

Hospitals employ therapeutic music practitioners because delivery of acute care and palliative bedside therapeutic music that is provided by a trained and certified practitioner, with understanding of the science of sound, and its application in health care settings, creates a nurturing environment that enhances the ability of the patient’s own physiology to heal.

Therapeutic Music & the Science of Sound

Music meets the patient’s current state at the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body and the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. It extends from the brainstem through the neck and down to the abdomen. It passes by the ear, through which we hear sound and music. Music resonates in the vagus nerve to trigger a parasympathetic response that soothes the body into a calmer state. That is just one of the many impacts of music on physiology that has been studied in empirical research. Others relate to quality of sleep, cognition, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure and pain control.

Therapeutic music is based on the science of sound and the physiology of the human body and mind.  It is always live, one-on-one music that is specifically tailored by the Therapeutic Musician for the immediate condition and needs of the resident.  Therapeutic music is music in which the various elements of music, such as rhythm, tempo, and tone, are applied therapeutically by the trained therapeutic musician based on how they affect the human body and mind in supporting healing.

Certified Music Practitioners and Certified Clinical Musicians have been trained to select music appropriate to a patient condition. They center on the patient, observe the patient responses, and incorporate compassionate presence and intention into the selection and elements of the music, to meet the patient’s condition in-the-moment.

Therapeutic music is especially appropriate to overcoming challenges that nursing home residents often face, including:

  • managing pain without opioids;
  • calming from anxiety
  • relaxing muscle tension; and
  • facilitating replenishing sleep.

Therapeutic music can provide nursing home residents with a desperately needed sense of safety in the midst of progressive memory loss, as the music takes memories back to a place of perceived safety and resilience, replacing fear and suffering with calm and joy. The Centers for Disease Control has published the following statistics:

  • In 2020, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
  • This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.

Research supports the physiological, social and emotional improvements to quality of life through therapeutic music.

Research Articles on Remotely-Delivered Therapeutic Music

Bonakdarpour B, McFadden A, Zlotkowski S, Huang D, Shaker M, Shibata B, Haben W, Brashear C, Sandoval A, Breitenbach C, Rodriguez C, Viamille J, Porter M, Galic K, Schaeve M, Thatcher D, Takarabe C. (2021, December 13). Neurology telemusic program at the time of the covid-19 pandemic: Turning hospital time into aesthetic time during crisis. Frontiers in  Neurology, 13(12), 749782.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.749782  PMID 34966344

Research Articles on Bedside Therapeutic Music

Bittel, C. L., Beckman, C., & Carrega, J. (2021). Impact of live therapeutic music on stress levels among healthcare workers in covid-19 critical care units. Interprofessional Journal of Healthcare and Research, 1(1).  https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/ijhr/vol1/iss2/1

Burrai, F., Micheluzzi, V., & Bugani, V. (2014, September-October). Effects of live sax music on various physiological parameters, pain level, and mood level in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. Holistic Nursing Practice, 28(5), 301-311.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25099983

Casey, B. (2019). The healing power of live music. MD Scholarly Inquiry, Phase 1, Project 1, Sidney Kimmel Medical College,Thomas Jefferson University.

Chiasson, A. M., Baldwin, A. L., Mclaughlin, C., Cook, P. & Sethi, G. (2013). The effect of live spontaneous harp music on patients in the intensive care unit. Evidenced Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 428731.   https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/428731

Clements-Cortes, A. (2011). The effect of live music vs. taped music on pain and comfort in palliative care. Korean Journal of Music Therapy, 13(1), 107-123.

Cooke, M., Moyle, W., Shum, D., Harrison. S., & Murfield, J. (2010). A randomized controlled trial exploring the effect of music on quality of life and depression in older people with dementia. Journal of Health Psychology 15(5), 765-776.  PMID 20603300 (PubMed Identifier)

Fanning, E., & Peterson, K. (2013, July). Collecting information on observable and measurable effects pre-and post-live therapeutic music sessions at patient’s bedside. In 2nd Biennial Conference of the Interdisciplinary Society for Quantitative Research in Music and Medicine (ISQRMM 2013), p. 210.

Garabedian, C. E., & Fiona Kelly, F. (2020, July). Haven: Sharing receptive music listening to foster connections and wellbeing for people with dementia who are nearing the end of life and those who care for them. Dementia (London), 19(5), 1657-1671.  Epub 2018, Oct 11.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30309252/  PDF of this article from Dr. Garabedian’s website

Goode, J. P. (2020, May). Treating chronic pain: Therapeutic music in adult palliative care. Doctor of Nursing Practice Projects. School of Nursing. University of Maryland. Baltimore, Maryland.  http://hdl.handle.net/10713/12950  (by Corporation for National Research Initiatives)

Hays, T. & Minichiello, V. (2005). The meaning of music in the lives of older people: a qualitative study. Psychology of Music, 33(4), 437-451.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735605056160

Jin, Yi. (2019). Effects of therapeutic music on improving depressive symptoms among long-term care facility residents.  Poster presentation at Graduate Academic Symposium. 64.

Kneafsey, R. (1997, September). The therapeutic use of music in a care of the elderly setting: A literature review. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 6(5), 341-346.

Knight, A. J. & Wiese, N. (2012). Therapeutic music and nursing in poststroke rehabilitation. Rehabilitation Nursing, 36(5), 204-215.

Kramer, M. K. (2001, July-August). A trio to treasure: The elderly, the nurse, and music. Geriatric Nursing, 22(4), 191-195.  Quiz 196-7 (ISSN: 0197-4572)

Landro, S. & Ingram, Y. (2017). The effects of harp music on heart rate, blood pressure, ventilation and anxiety. Keystone Journal of Undergraduate Research, 4(1), 22-28.

Lepke-Sims, B. (2014, Summer). The confluence of three major influences in the field of music and the delivery of medical care. The American Harp Journal 24(3), 48-51.  (Article is copyrighted.)

Martin-Saavedra, J. S., Vergara-Mendez, L. D., & Talero-Gutiérrez, C. (2018). Music is an effective intervention for the management of pain: An umbrella review. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 32,103–114. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30057035

Mogos, M.F., Angard, N., Goldstein, L.& , Beckstead, J. W. (2013). The effects of live therapeutic music on patient’s affect and perceptions of care: A randomized field study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 19.  188e19.

Moss, H., Nolan, E., & O’Neill, D. (2007).  A cure for the soul? The benefit of live music in the general hospital. Irish Medical Journal,100(10), 634-636.   http://hdl.handle.net/10344/5360 (by Corporation for National Research Initiatives)

Peng, C. S., Baxter, K., & Lally, K. M. (2019, January).Music intervention as a tool for improving patient experience in palliative care.  American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 36(1),45-49.  Epub 2018, Jul 25.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30045627/

Peterson, K. & Fanning, E. (2013, July). Collecting information on observable and measurable effects pre- and post- live therapeutic music sessions at patient’s bedside.  Presented at Interdisciplinary Society for Quantitative Research in Music and Medicine Conference.  University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

Sand-Jecklin, K., & Emerson, H. (2010, January-February). The impact of a live therapeutic music intervention on patients’ experience of pain, anxiety, and muscle tension. Holistic Nursing Practice, 24(1), 7-15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20023519/

Schneider, D. M., Graham, K., Croghan, K., Novotny, P., Parkinson, J., Lafky, V., & Sloan, J. A. (2014). Application of therapeutic harp sounds for quality of life among hospitalized patients. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 49 (5), 836-845.   https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2014.09.012 

Tamplin, J. & Clark, I. N. (2020).  Therapeutic music interventions to support people with dementia living at home with their family caregivers. In A. Baird, S. Garrido, & J. Tamplin (Eds.), Music and dementia: From cognition to therapy (pp. 269-287). Oxford University Press. 

Thompson, W. F., & Schlaug, G. (2015). The healing power of music. Scientific American Mind26(2), 32–41. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanmind0315-32.

Van der Vleuten, M., Visser, A., & Meeuwesen, L. (2012). The contribution of intimate live music performances to the quality of life for persons with dementia. Patient Education and Counseling, 89(3), 484-488.  PMID 22742983.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2012.05.012 Epub 2012 Jun 27.