music therapy

The Benefits of Music Therapy Are Substantial

Published on May 25, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

The benefits of music are as wide-ranging as the artform itself. Ranging from improvements found in childhood development to the benefits for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, the role that music plays for the human brain’s processes is undeniable. Despite barely scratching the surface of the scientific implications of music therapy, the field has already demonstrated the benefits of practical application. For example, music therapy consistently improves mood and decreases behavioral disturbances for participants, specifically amongst those seeking recovery for substance use disorder.


Since 1992 there have been several notable studies in the field of music therapy, covering a wide range of concentrations. These topics include the impacts of singing, deep listening, songwriting, and even structural song analysis for substance users, those dealing with mental health issues, and people diagnosed with schizophrenia. In all instances, the opportunity to set aside time for music in a patient’s daily routine led to improvements in social interactions, treatment, and reduced levels of anxiety. 


Unfortunately and understandably, not all facilities are capable of providing music therapy, leaving many recovering users without access to the benefits of music therapy. With vast scopes of services and needs to fulfill for those in recovery, these benefits may seem like nothing more than a fantasy. However, there are several practices covered in the previously mentioned studies that, if included in the weekly, or even daily routine of a user in recovery, may help reduce anger, stress, depression, and anxiety management. 


Here are some of the music therapy practices, which have been proven to improve treatment when done in addition to other recovery methods:



Make a joyful noise, essentially. Singing is one of the easiest ways to tap into the brain boost music provides. Ideally, singing in a large group of people offers the most benefit as a result of the social fulfillment felt by group singing. However, there are still many ways to sing without being in a large group. The act of daily singing increases the mind’s ability to focus and exercising the body’s infrequently-used diaphragm muscle. That being said, turn on the radio, pop on those headphones, or hop in the shower even, if that’s what gets you singing!



The act of writing a song stimulates regions of the brain that are rarely activated. In a 2017 analysis of multiple studies of music therapy, the most prevalent were found to be songwriting and musical improvisation. In practice, this can be as simple as jotting down lines of prose and structuring them in the format of a song.

Yet, the more time invested in the song, the more rewarding it will be, both as a form of emotional/intellectual expression, and for the long-term mental health of the songwriter. Some writers add to their songs with rhythmic clapping or adding call-and-response lyric structures, which can add extra dimensions to the tune.

The availability of musical instruments obviously helps make a song sound more like a song, but they are not necessary for song composition. Some of the richest compositions are based entirely on vocal or rhythmic performance such as “Wade In The Water,” “How Great Thou Art,” or “The Longest Time.” If there is a desire to write a new ballad, rap, or bossa nova, go for it!


Musical Improvisation

Getting anyone onboard to make up random songs off the top of their head is no easy task, yet the exercise of allowing thoughts to flow freely from the mind and propagate as soundwaves relaxes the subconscious, alleviating stress from the high traffic regions of daily brain functions. By surrendering to the social pressures surrounding social aspects of public speaking and performing, participants open themselves to the most freeing and exhilarating rewards music has to offer.

Again, musical improvisation, like most forms of music, brings about a greater feeling when performed with others. Nevertheless, it is still highly beneficial to practice improvising by yourself. 


The simplest method starts with simply singing a melody, which can have words, or consist of merely sounds like ‘oooh’s and ‘umm’s. Then, search for a repeatable sound pattern, no matter if it’s two notes or twenty-two.

Repeat this pattern until it seems impossible to forget before creating a second pattern to memorize. After you’ve memorized the second pattern, try adding in the first pattern. It may be difficult to remember at first, however, over time this practice will become easier as the brain creates quicker and more numerous connections between dendrites. 


Music Relaxation

While creating music leads to growth and development for mental health, the act of listening to music presents many benefits for the listener as well. For many, the songs enjoyed as a youth decrease stress levels amongst the adults revisiting those songs. Nostalgia-inducing sound waves reverberate nerves along the eardrum, vibrating to the temporal lobe where sound is produced.

Throughout this journey, the unique waveform of music from one’s adolescence actually passes along the same pathway of nerves as when the listener initially listened to the song, sometimes decades prior. Effectively, the experience of listening to music from one’s past results in the same physiological response as when they were twelve years old!

The body responds with reduced levels of stress and anxiety. In Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, the behavioral progress from music therapy is truly transformative.


While the field of music therapy is relatively young, the implications of early findings suggest many positive takeaways for mental health. If you’re at all curious about incorporating music therapy into a daily routine, be sure to practice some of the exercises described in this article, and keep on singing.


Looking for a way to increase the focus on your sobriety? It can take more mindfulness and consideration than we might provide for it on a daily basis, opening the door for our triggers to sneak up on us. First Responder Wellness uses evidence-based treatments, individual and group therapy, holistic therapy, music therapy, art therapy, and various recovery fellowships to show our clients a new way of life, free of addiction and dependency. If you or your loved ones are ready to begin living alcohol and substance-free lives, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at 888-743-0490. Make the choice to be proactive about being sober.