The Effects of Music on Mental Health: Science, Facts, and Research


The word ‘Music’ comes from the word ‘Muses’, the 9 daughters of Zeus, patron goddesses who personified visual arts, literature and music etc. Music has been an inseparable part of the Greek culture since antiquity often as an elemental part of the Greek tragedies.

The Effects of Music on Mental Health: 9 Muses
The Nine Muses

Music therapy often arises from the ancient cross-cultural belief that the vibrations produced by different types of music, if harnessed effectively, can produce a healing effect on the mind and body of a person. From the meditative ‘Om’ of the Hindu Tradition, bringing to life the spiritual connection between nature and the self to the Mozart effect temporarily boosting our IQs, and its ability to alleviate mood, and sometimes even induce sleep, form the basis of the application of music concerning its wide-ranging salubrious effect.  

“Music is the medicine of the soul”   


Ancient times

“He who knows the secret of the sound knows the mystery of the whole universe”

Hazrat Inayat Khan
The Effects of Music on Mental Health: Women Playing Sistrum
Women Playing Sistrum

One of the first people known to draw on Music for its healing properties were the indigenous people of Northern Australia, by the means of hollow eucalyptus tree branches called Didgeridoo or Yidaki. The ancient culture used this wind instrument to produce a harmony equipped with low frequencies, potent enough to bring out the healing effect. 

The ancient Egyptians prayed using the seven vowels, venerated by the priests, believing them to have been derived from the sounds of the seven sacred planets in distant antiquity. Egyptian high priestesses, also, played the sistrum, an instrument of great ceremonial importance, known to generate an ultrasound not only to enhance the soundscape but also to enhance the healing process alongside the harp which was also considered to produce a calming effect on the body.

The Effects of Music on Mental Health: Tibetan Singing Bowl
Tibetan Singing Bowl

Vocal chanting is another prominent practice in various South Asian cultures in reaction to their healing ability. Ancient Chinese and Tibetan cultures have made use of the singing bowls for brainwave stimulation, in turn, kindling a revitalising effect on psychological well-being. 

In India, various tribal communities by the faculty of music invoke the health-giving spirits such as the Adi tribal communities of the hilly regions of the Brahmaputra valley and Arunachal Pradesh. Adi song for the recovery of lost health is one such mantra chanted in the language Miri Agom by the maternal uncle of the sick person to call the spirits of good health back to the body.

Ancient Greece 

Ancient Greece recognised the therapeutic value of music quite early which led to physicians then, making use of flutes, lyres, harp and zithers to heal their patients often prescribing various musical incantations for the sick. Tuning forks are also such instruments whose vibrations can help achieve a deep state of calm and meditation and was most profoundly used in sound therapies.

Correspondingly the ancient Greeks in likeness with the ancient Egyptians orchestrated the development of healing chambers embodying the therapeutic effect caused by resonating surfaces and parallel-facing stone walls coupled with musical instruments.

The Effects of Music on Mental Health: Musical Intervals experiment by Pythagoras

Moreover, music therapy as we know it today was the brainchild of Pythagoras who is believed to have made a breakthrough discovery of musical intervals from his work with the monochord. The flute and the lyre were two of the primary instruments used by Pythagoras and his followers for healing purposes.

 “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres”


Into the bargain, in his book De Anima, Aristotle recorded that flute music could arouse strong emotions and purify the soul. The vibrations produced via these were used to aid in digestion, treat mental disturbance, and induce sleep.

Plato voiced a theory of “correspondence” stating that musica mundane corresponded with musica humana, i.e. the “heavenly harmony of the music of the spheres” could have a positive or negative effect on “earthly souls.”

Recent Developments

Probe into the application of music in modern medicine and practice of healing began near the end of the 19th century, with various studies reporting widespread physiological effects such as cardiac output, respiratory rate and blood pressure by Diogel of Salpetriere Hospital in Paris.

This work was replicated by Corning of America and later by Tarchanoff, professor at the University of Moscow who recorded the effect of music on his patient’s vital functions.

In 2005, Stephanie Rosenbloom reported in The New York Times, a burgeoning renaissance involving the use of vibrational medicine, of ancient tools such as tuning forks, Tibetan singing bowls which had a newfound interest in the domain of healing.  

Sound technology is now integrated into treatment for cancer, strokes, pain management, mental well-being, stress reduction, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. More recently, research has linked music to several health benefits, from boosting immune function and lowering stress levels to improving the health of premature babies.

The Effects of Music on Mental Health: Music, Mind and Brain

Manfred Clynes, his classical textbook Music, Mind, and Brain, is one such unparalleled research in this domain establishing a pivotal link between music and bodily reactions to it. He suggests that the limbic system, consisting of thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, mammillary bodies, and fornix, all subcortical structures in the brain, comprise the “anatomy of emotions,” and are responsible for the autonomic or the vegetative functions, such as breathing, appetite, body temperature, and moods. Here, music brings about the excitation of the limbic system with corresponding changes in neurotransmitters, such as catecholamine, indolamine, dopamine, endorphin, and the latest, neuron growth hormone.

There are different types of sound therapies that have been carried out by various scientists suggesting that the listeners of classical music performed far better in recalling shortlists of words than the participants who worked in white noise. Also, in a similar study, listening to Mozart helped people to complete small processing tasks not only faster but more accurately.

Into the bargain, a Mayo Clinic research also pointed out that while music doesn’t reverse the memory loss experienced by people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, it has been found to slow cognitive decline. In 2017, a research review concluded that listening to music, particularly classical combined with jazz, had a positive effect on depression symptoms.

In a Nutshell 

The Effects of Music on Mental Health

Music to most of us serves as a medium of entertainment but the effects of music on mental health are miraculous. It performs various important psychological functions for our well-being, from boosting our memory to improving our mood, music has wide-ranging functions. One definitely shouldn’t shy away from incorporating music as a vital part of one’s life, given the necessary positive stimulation it provides to our psychological stressors.   

Various researches have shown the effect of music therapies on various mental health conditions, including depression, trauma and schizophrenia, to name a few, by serving as a medium to process emotions and grief that one might have experienced. Similarly, it also acts as a calming means for anxiety. 

Although music therapy is related to the vibrations and frequencies we expose ourselves to on a daily basis, one still needs proper guidance from a medical practitioner to inculcate this wonderful gift of music in our process of healing.

Liked this piece? Also Read: Psychology Behind Lyrics.

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