Let's begin with a story...
She looked up at her agonized husband and said: "Music. I want music. I know that will cure me." The nurse thought it to be a foolhardy and useless errand, but the husband went in search of it.
The first day old familiar tunes and some of the Chopin that she had always loved, were played softly to her. Her body relaxed under the soothing influence, her nerves became less tense, her breathing deeper and more rhythmical, increasing the circulation. That night she slept. With the shutting out of the senses to the outside world the harmonic reaction brought about by the music continued its work of healing all through the night. The next day she was visibly stronger."
This story paints a picture of how music healing music is. I remember one night Little Man was suffering from a migraine. I had done all my usual therapies for him but for some reason this night nothing was working. As I heard him whimpering in my pain and prayed for what else I could do, I had the thought to play some Enya softly in the background. This I did and it relaxed his body and soothed the pain enough for him to fall asleep.
Here are some other ways music has been used as a healer for both emotional and physical ailments throughout history.
Music Used Throughout History
Civil War - Used to unite and stimulate soldiers and the people. Both sides were singing Battle Cry of Freedom to uplift and rally the men.
World War I - Music was used on the front lines and in the hospitals as forms of comfort, relaxation from the horrors of war, and as a stimulus to the morale of the men.
Crimean War - Florence Nightingale requested music for her hospitals to soothe and heal soldiers. "The mind blurred by contact with unspeakable horrors was quieted and made normal again."
Word War II - Steinway and Sons produced specially built pianos for the American troops called the Victory Vertical. They were dropped by parachute onto battlefields complete with tuning instruments to provide a bit of relaxation and stress relief.
Concentration Camps - Alice Herz-Somer was a Jewish concert pianist in Czechoslovakia when Hitler took over her country. Because of her musical skills she was taken to Theresienstadt, which was a model concentration camp, set up to give the façade that Jews were being treated well. Because of its status as a model, prisoners were taken there that had gifts and talents and they were allowed to give musical performances, operas and plays. Alice would perform over 100 concerts while there. Her fellow prisoners spoke of this music as not being entertaining as it was therapeutic. Alice said, "Music is our food, when we play, it can't be so terrible...music was our way of remembering our inner selves, our values." Prisoners in other camps that were not so fortunate to have music to listen to could replay hymns and songs of hope in their minds. It was what kept many survivors going.
Healing Properties of Good Music
- pain reliever
- stimulant or relaxant
- can change mood
- restores mental and physical equilibrium
- uplifts and comforts
- strengthens body systems
- improves immune function
- calms the mind and body
- brings balance
Not All Music is Healing
There have been very interesting studies done on the effects of different kinds of music applied to water and also plants (see pictures below). Our bodies are 70% water, can you see why music could be used to heal or cause harm to them.
What Music Should Be Used to Heal
Gravitate towards meditation music, classical, gospel, hymns, piano, instrumental, and even folk and cultural music. In the plant experiment the study showed that plants loved slow paced classical, violin, pipe flute folk music, Indian classical music, Vedic chants and a mixture of nature sounds with Native American flute. Don't forget the healing affects that singing can have as well. Sing with all your heart in prayer, praise, sorrow, gratitude and any other emotion you are experiencing.
Avoid music with a loud steady, repetitive beat without melody, heavy metal, hard rock, rap, or anything with negative or immoral messages. This list will grow as you explore playing different types of music and comparing it with what you have found is healing for you.