Music Therapy

Here are some references for Music Therapy Studies. While these are dated, the information is still valid and there is probably a lot more of these types of studies available now.



Try to imagine that you are tied to a wheelchair and have lost all control over your life. You live in the cacophony that goes on in any institutionalized care giving facility. Sometimes it seems like it never stops. Then you realize that you are listening to a beautiful song that you fell in love to … and you are transformed to a happier place and time. Your mind wanders back to better days and you smile.

This it what happens to many people when they are exposed to music they love, whether it be popular music of the era or classical music from an earlier era. If they loved it when they were younger, they will love it many times more now. While it is not 100 % universal, (there are always some folks who just don’t like music), generally, music has the ability to reach more people from all generations (everyone loves “You Are My Sunshine”) and all religions (everyone loves “Amazing Grace”) including family and staff.

If you accept the above as true, you would expect that every facility has a reasonably good sound system to play CDs and tapes, as well as a collection of musical videos to provide the residents with a consistent program of appropriate, entertaining music. Quite the contrary is true. Most facilities use small boom boxes for their music and, even in cases where there is a decent sound system; they almost never play appropriate music or videos. (Music from the 20s to the 50s – definitely pre-rock ‘n roll.) Generally their collection of music includes a lot of today’s popular music that the staff likes to listen to. There are often stacks of tapes and CDs collecting dust while the TV or radio blares out some nonsense that the residents don’t want, or need, to hear.

Heart and Soul Music has spent the last 10 years performing in nursing homes and convalescent hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area, performing about 30 shows a month in over 200 facilities. A lot of our opinion about the positive effect possible from music comes from first hand observation of miraculous results. We’ve documented many instances on our web site ( and our original intention in this endeavor was to promote quality live music shows. We still firmly believe that a professional quality show every day would be a wonderful improvement in the system.

However, we have to live with the fact that a) the “powers that be” don’t understand the positive effects and are not willing to fund it; and b) there aren’t enough musicians who can play these songs and are willing to go out and perform in these facilities to really make a dent it what happens TODAY.

The beauty of this story is that there can be a happy ending to what seems an insurmountable problem. Using recorded music and videos can significantly improve the life experience of residents in nursing homes or any kind of care situation. If the music is the right kind of music and is presented at the right time, it can give residents something to enjoy in their day and that, in itself, says a lot.

For the past five months my partner, Lynda Richards, has been working as an Assistant Activity Director and has used the solo piano music series we have developed (Piano Magic and Musical Memories, Volumes 1 to 4) as well as the music in the facility's library of CDs and videos and achieved wonderful results. The residents spend many parts of their day in a calm and peaceful atmosphere listening to their favorite songs. Music is there for every lunch and many dinners. Family members have commented on how much nicer it is at lunch when the beautiful piano music is playing. Staff members have purchased CDs to play in the car because it mellows them out. We have a two-hour video of nature scenes along with the piano music that is often chosen as an activity by the residents. ("Can you play the music with the pretty pictures?") She has also used scenic nature videos with classical music soundtracks [produced by Readers' Digest]; Lawrence Welk is a mainstay; and a sing-a-long video from Musical Journey, a music group in Canada that often performs in nursing homes.

The music NEEDS to be soothing. This is even more important than that the music be chosen from the era; it needs to have a calming effect. The resident may have loved the Big Bands when he grew up, but the Big Band music now will make him crazy – it’s too busy and dynamic – which is what made it great when he was 20. Now he’s 80 and just wants something pretty and mellow.

Now the real beauty of this story is that everyone can make a difference. Bring a CD of pretty music to someone in a care situation and try to see that it gets played as much as possible. If you work in a facility, try to get them to buy a 200 CD changer (only around $150-200) and you can keep all your CDs ready to play. Put them on random play and let the folks enjoy their favorite music at every meal. Once you realize how much joy a simple CD or video can bring, you’ll know that in spite of the horror of their life as they approach their death, they can enjoy some pleasant hours.

Robert Goldstick, December 2002


Effects of calming music on the level of agitation in cognitively impaired nursing home residents

Patricia A. Tabloski, PhD, CS; Leah McKinnon-Howe, MS, CS; Ruth Remington, MS, CS

American Journal of Alzheimer's Care and Related Disorders & Research, Jan/Feb '95


"Music therapy has proven itself to be a very effective modality for connecting with persons with dementia and enabling them to reach optimal levels of functioning and well-being."

"...repetitive behaviors such as 'picking at things' were significantly reduced in those who listened to music.  Subjects also had a decrease in the number of aggressive behaviors, strange noises, and attention seeking behaviors."

" is a battery charger for the brain, and patients will frequently begin to reminisce, and verbalize thoughts and feelings in ways thought to be long dormant."

This study examines the use of music as a strategy to decrease agitated behavior in cognitively impaired nursing home residents. Twenty agitated subjects, 68 to 84 years of age, were exposed to 15 minutes of calming music on two occasions. Agitated behavior scores were recorded before, during and after the musical intervention using the Agitated Behavior Scale. Results indicate that a statistically significant reduction in agitated behavior occurs both during and after the musical intervention. Calming music was shown to be an effective, nonpharmacologic strategy which nurses and other caregivers may use to reduce agitated behavior in the nursing home.


The Mozart Effect

In his book, The Mozart Effect, Don Campbell tells this story about the power of music as demonstrated by one elderly woman in a nursing home in New Jersey:

"Arriving for a sing-along at a Ridgewood, New Jersey, nursing home, music therapist Grant J. Scott noticed a striking woman sitting at the back of the room in her wheelchair, silent and withdrawn. He was told that the woman, Ruth, did not speak or interact with other patients. But partway into his program, while he was singing the standard, You Made Me Love You, Ruth suddenly straightened her back, and, after two years of silence, broke into song, with a well-defined contralto voice that once must have been thrilling--as it was again that magnificent night. Scott hasn’t seen Ruth since then, but he understands that Ruth continues to sing and that she talks once again to her loved ones and to other members of her community."

And Mr. Campbell tells this story about Fred:

"At a nearby veterans home, Scott led a program of songs for a group of old solders and their spouses. Gradually, those who could got up to dance, and that attracted others. The sleepers awoke and began to tap their wheelchairs with their hands and fingers. Eventually, the dancing became more vigorous. Couples formed and embraced, reaching a climax with Sweet Georgia Brown. As Scott began the song, he looked over to see Fred, an Alzheimer’s patient who had been watching and chewing gum for more than 45 minutes, struggle to his feet, leaning heavily on his silver walker. A volunteer asked if he would like to dance, and Fred replied that he couldn’t walk without his walker.

"But then he grew steadier on his feet, made motions like a trombone player, and smiled broadly at the volunteer. He was having a wonderful time. ‘From silence and quiet,’ Scott observes, ‘he had come alive to the beat of this old-time, down-home Southern song. When I looked back at him, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Fred was dancing with his walker. He swung it from side to side and dipped as the beat carried him to the end of the song. Fred continued with our farewell song and then, in complete satisfaction, put the walker down and shook his finger at it with what I called his inner joy of ‘wasn’t that the cat’s meow?’’"

It’s stories just like this; witnessed each time we’re in a facility, that keep us moving forward with this project. What a wonderful gift this music can be! What a wonderful gift it was to Ruth and her family ... a return of communication after two years of silence! And to Fred ... the freedom to not just move, but to dance!

Please read on for further abstracts and excerpts.

Effect on Sleep

Effects of music on sleep in healthy elderly and subjects with senile dementia of the Alzheimer type

G.F. Lindenmuth, PhD; Manish Patel; P.K. Chang, PhD

American Journal of Alzheimer's Care and Related Disorders & Research, March/April '92


"Music of a serene nature has been shown to lessen anxiety and allow individuals to relax."

"...patients in the final stages can make contact through the means of music when everything else has failed..."

"...there are alternate ways of improving sleep for Alzheimer patients other than medication."

Alteration in sleep function of the elderly is associated with the aging process. Subjective sleep surveys of the elderly commonly reveal a general dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of sleep. The widespread utilization of sedative-hypnotic drugs in order to alleviate the sleeping complaints of the elderly probably rests on some untested assumptions made byphysicians. Music has elicited some strong responses from subjects with Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type (SDAT), when other means of communication has failed. Music of a serene nature has been shown to lessen anxiety and allow individuals to relax. This study investigates music as an adjunct or alternative to sedate-hypnotic drugs in inducing sleep in "healthy" elderly subjects and patients with SDAT. A behavioral assessment chart of sleeping behavior was designed and utilized by nurses on the midnight shift. Combined analysis of variance for the number of hours asleep for all four groups yielded a significant relationship between the numbers of hours asleep and music. A paired comparison between control and experimental SDAT disclosed a significant relationship between the use of music and the number of hours of productive sleep. A paired comparison of the number of hours asleep between control and experimental "healthy" elderly revealed no significant relationship.


Effect of Participatory Music

The Effects of Participatory Music on the Reality Orientation and Sociability of Alzheimer’s Residents in a Long-Term-Care Setting

Karen Smith-Marchese [Activities, Adaptation & Aging, Vol. 18(2) 1994]


"The benefit of using music to tap long-term memory is that it is a medium to which nearly 100% of the population has been exposed (even many deaf persons can feel the rhythm of a piece of music!)"

"results ... suggest that even the most impaired human brain can still be reached with skillful, careful and patient use of music as a therapeutic tool."

The purpose of this field research/case study was to design a music-participation event for moderately to severely impaired elderly diagnosed as having Dementia of the Alzheimer’s Type (DAT). This study gives an overview of current knowledge of Alzheimer’s Disease, covering its neurology, symptoms, progression, and symptom management. The music events, conducted on the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home, involved ten (10) elderly persons whose physicians had diagnosed them--at the time of nursing home admission--as having DAT. The eight (8) women and two (2) men were directed to actively participate in twice-weekly musical events over a six-week period of time. Simple musical instruments, singing of familiar songs, and active manipulation of the hands, feet, and head of each subject, allowed directed and active participation in each musical event at their highest possible functioning level. Data analysis and clinical observations revealed an overall positive and measurable effect of participatory music on the subjects. Suggestions for further research include simultaneous studies of many such small groups in order to tap into what mental, physical, emotional and psychological functioning remains in this population of frail elderly.


Effect of Dinner Music

Influence of Dinner Music on Food Intake and Symptoms Common in Dementia

Hans Ragneskog, RNT; Gorel Brane, Reg. Psych., DMSc; Ingvar Karlsson, Associate Professor, MD, PhD; Mona Kihlgren, RN, PhD

(Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, Vol. 10, 1996)


"...whereas language deterioration in patients with Alzheimer's disease is a feature of deficit, musical ability appears to be preserved."

"Music is likely to reach the brain by pathways other than speech and may therefore enhance the patients' ability to interpret the environment correctly."

"Human beings are affected by their environment; in domains other than medical care, such as supermarkets and restaurants, it is a matter of course to use music to develop a relaxed milieu for the customers."

The influence of dinner music on food intake and symptoms common in dementia such as depressed mood, irritability and restlessness was studied. The study was carried out in a nursing home ward in Sweden. Soothing music was played as dinner music for two weeks. Swedish tunes from the 1920s and 1930s for two weeks and pop music for two weeks. Prior to these periods, there was one week without music, and at the end of the intervention there was a two-week control period. The effects of the intervention were assessed by psychological ratings and by weighing the food helpings. It was found that during all three music periods the patients ate more in total. The difference was particularly significant for the dessert. The staff were thought to be influenced by the music, as they served the patients more food, both main course and dessert, whenever music was played. The patients were less irritable, anxious and depressed during the music periods. The results of the study suggest that dinner music, particularly soothing music, can reduce irritability, fear-panic and depressed mood and can stimulate demented patients in a nursing home ward into eating more.


More on the effect of Dinner Music


Dinner music for demented patients; analysis of video-recorded observations

Hans Ragneskog;  Mona Kihlgren; Ingvar Karlsson; Astrid Norbert; Linda A. Gerdner; Kathleen C. Buckwalter


It is generally assumed that music plays an important role in the development of the human being. Campbell (1988), who studied the psychological significance of music and its effects on the mind and body, held that music reduces stress, strengthens the immune system, and acts as a catalyst to improve human interaction.

Aldridge and Aldridge (1992) reported that musical ability appeared to be preserved in patients with Alzheimer’s disease in spite of their language deterioration. Music therefore may be a factor in enhancing a patient’s contact with his or her environment.

Clair and Bernstein (1990) carried out a 15-month music therapy program for three severely demented patients. Despite a deterioration of the patients’ conditions during the therapy period, all were able to continue to participate in musical activity. Therapy was the only time in the week when they could successfully interact with others in some acceptable form (Clair & Bernstein, 1990). Scruggs (1991) conducted an intervention study that showed that musical activity reduced wandering behavior in a geriatric population.

The findings of this study suggest that dinner music, particularly soothing music, is a way to increase time spent on dinner and thereby to let the patients have their dinner more sedately.

The study’s findings meet our expectations that soothing music is best for reducing a patient’s restlessness and anxiety. ...if the music put staff members in a good mood, maybe contact with the patient becomes better.

The results of the study showed that patients with severe dementia were beneficially affected by dinner music, particularly soothing music. Dinner music made the patients eat more sedately. Music as a nursing tool is an intervention that is simple to realize and worthy trying. Music can dampen restlessness and agitation in patients with dementia disorders.

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