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Rx: Music and Tone

The American Journal of Public Health tells us "music is the most accessible and most researched medium of art and healing." I often welcome patients into class by playing one of the great oratorios of all times - the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. Patients report they literally have a change of heart, a change in perspective and mood; a little Handel goes a long way. Music, like poetry, engages us so thoroughly that we immediately feel better.

When you listen to music, your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to reward and motivation. Listening to music can be so pleasurable that even the anticipation of listening to music can cause a release of dopamine.

The benefits of using music therapy with cancer patients is also well-researched and documented.

Music increases in-hospital patients’ sense of control; it reduces pain and anxiety and increases immunity. I find that certain pieces of music and specific tones make a difference in the way a patient relaxes and engages with visual imagery and the creative process. The combination of the violin and harp is particularly uplifting and engaging. In class and on the Create to Heal mobile app, I use the music of Dian Booth, violinist, and Carolyn Sykes, harpist. Over the years, hundreds of Create to Heal participants have listened to their music, reporting that the tones are soothing and healing.

Dr. Bernie Siegel, successful surgeon and the founder of Exceptional Cancer Patients protocol, used music in the operating room to help create a healing environment for patients and staff. "There is a reason that certain heart rates are healthy and certain beats of music heal and relax us," he writes.

For more information on music and healing, please see Lisa M. Wong MD's article from the AMA Journal of Ethics, click here.