The Healing Power of Music

By Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes

Music and medicine have been paired together throughout history, and music was used by many ancient cultures in connection with healing practices. In African cultures, the shaman, who was a musician, medicine man and priest, used music with magic and religious rituals to drive out disease. In Greek mythology, Apollo, the god of music and medicine, used music to restore a person back to a state of harmony and order, promoting health.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, doctors began exploring the combination of music and medicine, and music was introduced into the hospital setting. The professional discipline of music therapy got its start after World War II when musicians and music educators began working with soldiers who were in rehabilitation. The Canadian Association for Music Therapy was founded in 1974 and today there are over 500 accredited music therapists working across Canada with people of all ages.

So what is it about music? Music is processed in several areas of the brain, and the research of Dr. Oliver Sacks shows that music occupies more of the brain than language. As a result of music’s significance in physiological and psychological wellbeing, researchers are now increasingly studying its therapeutic capabilities.

Here are 3 simple things we know:

* Music can change and evoke moods. Just think of when you are driving and you hear your favourite song on the radio. This may motivate you to sing along, or just put a smile on your face.

* Music can stimulate extra musical associations and remind us of other times and places. For example, your wedding song.

* Music and movement can influence physiological processes (blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves, breathing).

And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

I encourage you to use music in your daily life in simple ways. Listen to music while dining, driving, exercising or getting ready in the morning. If you suffer from sleep issues, consider using slow-paced music to facilitate and target the brain waves. I like to refer to music as “The drug without side effects.” Here is my prescription: Listen to some good music and sing along!


Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes,PhD, MTA, MT-BC, FAMI, is Senior Music Therapy/Practice Advisor at Baycrest and Instructor of music therapy at WLU and UWindsor.

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