Music Therapy: Does It Really Work?

“The method can show the tiny, otherwise imperceptible, changes that take place during therapy.”


Most people often listen to music to calm their nerves, indicating that it works, but we are not sure how. According to a new study, an innovative brain scan may provide key insight into how music therapy works.

Music is indeed powerful and during sessions, music therapists attempt to build a connection with people to improve their well-being, confidence, awareness, attention, and communication skills.

There are a few types of music therapy. Some therapies include simply listening to relaxing music while talking, while others include making music with instruments, especially who struggle to communicate orally.

Studies have found certain benefits to music therapy; however, how it works is unclear.

To find out an answer, two experts from Anglia Ruskin University, UK, Prof. Jörg Fachner and Clemens Maidhof, conducted a study. Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The researchers used hyper-scanning, a procedure that includes simultaneously recording two people’s brain activities in order to study a session of music therapy with a client.

Prof. Fachner said, “The method can show the tiny, otherwise imperceptible, changes that take place during therapy.”

Both therapist and client wore electroencephalogram (EEG) caps to record the brain’s electrical signaling and the session was recorded. Eventually, the experts hoped to learn more about how they interacted.

“Music, used therapeutically, can improve well-being and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, autism, and dementia. Music therapists have had to rely on the patient’s response to judge whether this is working, but by using hyper-scanning we can see exactly what is happening in the patient’s brain.” Explained Prof. Fachner.

The researchers also wanted to know whether there were any points of interest to all four participants. They found that two moments fell into this category.

Taking the EEG readings into the consideration, the researchers paid special attention to specific areas of the brain that process positive as well as negative emotions. Surprisingly, they developed an image that demonstrated a “moment of change” inside the brain.

The EEG recording clearly displayed the switch from negative emotions to positive emotions in the client’s brain. And a few moments later, the exact same switch was recorded in the therapist’s brain. They also noted increased activity in visual cortexes during these “moments of change” in both the participants.

Prof. Fachner described the study as “a milestone in music therapy research.”

”Music therapists report experiencing emotional changes and connections during therapy, and we’ve been able to confirm this using data from the brain,” explained Prof. Fachner.

He added, “By highlighting the precise points where sessions have worked best, it could be particularly useful when treating patients for whom verbal communication is challenging.” Prof. Fachner concluded, “Studies such as this may help [researchers] better understand emotional processing in other therapeutic interactions.”