Music It’s good for the body, mind, and soul
by Dawn McDougal Miller, MME, MT-BC, FAMI
Music can be a wonderful tool for people with cancer. Music touches our hearts and souls in many ways. A growing body of research supports the physiological benefits of music, which include boosting the immune system, reducing heart rate and blood pressure, and facilitating the relaxation response.
Music preferences and responses to
music are unique for each individual.
As a board-certified music therapist, I provide music therapy for people receiving treatment for cancer in order to meet specific individualized goals, such as reducing anxiety or pain, facilitating relaxation, and providing emotional support. I utilize a variety of instruments to provide live music, including piano, guitar, voice, accordion, clarinet, percussion, Orff instruments, and Native American flutes. I find that some people light up when they hear certain types of music, while that same music may drive other people crazy.
I cannot “prescribe” one type of music and guarantee that it will be relaxing for everyone. Many factors influence a person’s physiological and emotional reactions to music. These include age, culture, music performance background, and memories, associations, and experiences connected with specific music.
To fully experience the healing properties of music, take time to listen to music in a relaxed state.
Music reminds us that we are
Have you ever heard a song that moves you so much, it stops you in your tracks? Certain songs can be especially powerful in the midst of the stress of cancer treatment. Songs can give you hope, or transport you to a peaceful, centered place. A specific song may speak to your heart or describe the way you feel.
Music goes beyond words.
Meaningful lyrics are not the only part of music that can have an impact. People relate to many different musical elements: melody, rhythm, beat, tempo, harmony, structure, orchestration, tone of a performer’s voice, or the timbre of the instruments. To fully experience the healing properties of music, take time to listen to music in a relaxed state while quieting your thoughts and refraining from analyzing the music.
Music can be a motivator and
Songs with a steady beat and a tempo of around 120 beats per minute are called stimulative music. Take a moment to think of a song that makes you want to tap your toes or begin to sway to the beat. Stimulative music can help you feel more energized when you are experiencing fatigue. Many rock, big band, and popular songs fit this description. Keep in mind that individual music preferences are extremely important when selecting stimulative music. Some examples are “In the Mood” (Glenn Miller), “Stars and Stripes Forever” (John Philip Sousa), “I Will Survive” (Donna Summer), “I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty), and “Old Time Rock and Roll” (Bob Seger).
Music can be used for relaxation.
In contrast to stimulative music, sedative music helps you slow down and relax. Sedative music has slower tempos (50-70 beats per minute), very few fluctuations in rhythm or volume levels, and minimal dissonance. It is typically composed of instrumental music without words. If a vocal piece is used, the impact of the lyrics is important. Sedative music should have simple orchestration, preferably a limited number of instruments. Acoustic instruments played in a soft, gentle way, such as piano, harp, guitar, dulcimer, cello, or Native American flutes, are often preferred over electronic or synthesized instruments.
Sedative music facilitates the “relaxation response,” helps you take deeper, fuller breaths, causes your heart rate to slow down, and decreases muscle tension. When selecting sedative music, use music to which you are receptive. Avoid pieces that may evoke strong emotions, associations, or memories. Individual music preferences and responses are important.
Try tuning into music to help you cope with cancer. Music can be a great way to decrease anxiety while you are waiting for test results or to provide hope when you need a lift. Listening to music in an intentional way has no adverse side effects, is easily accessible, doesn’t cost much money, and promotes wellness of the body, mind, and soul.
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Dawn McDougal Miller is a board-certified music therapist and the music therapy internship director at Park Nicollet Health Services in Minneapolis, MN. During her 23 years as a music therapist, Dawn has created several new music therapy positions in hospitals and hospice programs throughout the Twin Cities.
For more information about music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association website at MusicTherapy.org.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2009.