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Is Live Music Actually the Best Medicine?

Sorry laughter, but music may actually be the best medicine. In fact, the researchers behind the study making that bold pronouncement say music not only helped patient mood and recovery, but also aided the patient’s families as well as their health care providers.


It is often said that laughter is the best medicine. Some research has even shown as much. Most link these health benefits to the emotional boost from laughter, while also highlighting the oxygenation and neuro-chemical benefits caused by the occasional chuckle.

Now, a team from Northwestern University has looked at the palliative and recuperative potential of music, specifically live music tailored to each patient’s specific tastes. And based on their positive results, laughter therapy may have a new challenger.


Published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, the study focused on hospitalized neurological patients who in many cases were separated from their families due to COVID-19 precautions. Those patients were provided a 30 minute live performance tailored to their specific tastes, which was performed remotely by actual musicians using the teleconference software FaceTime.

Throughout the three month trial, a total of 87 live music sessions were completed, and nearly all of the patients who participated in these sessions showed positive results. For example, 92% of patients said the musical intervention improved their overall emotional state, 92.4% reported an overall pleasurable experience, and 89.5% of patients said that the music reduced their anxiety and stress levels.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of these same outcomes were reported by family members and health care providers who were also able to enjoy many of the same benefits from the medicinal music sessions.

“Music interventions, and in this case tele-music, can affect the emotional well-being of patients, their family members, the health care team and improve patient care,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour, a professor of neurology at Northwestern University.

“Patients said they felt emotionally supported,” the press release announcing the study’s results explains. “Music awakened their speech and prompted them to dance in their hospital beds despite their neurologic disability for which they were admitted.”

This type of positive aesthetic experience is not commonly associated with hospital stays, the researchers note, but in this case it appears to have “empowered the patients and their families and eased medical procedures, because patients were less anxious and more cooperative.”

These benefits also lightened the load on nurses, who observed that “patients who received the musical intervention were more content with their stay.”


“Our study stresses the importance of demographically and clinically informed music and art interventions for patients as an essential part of their care,” said Bonakdarpour of the custom tailored music therapy.

The research team also says they are now looking into trying music therapy on patients suffering from epilepsy and dementia, “using specific physiological measurements (heart rate, functional MRI, brain wave tests),” to determine effectiveness.

“Music as a clinical tool is underutilized in outpatient settings and in hospitals,” explained Bonakdarpour. “The impact of the findings can apply to patients beyond the neurosciences unit to include other specialties and other hospitals.”

Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction