November 22nd: Music Day

NOVEMBER: The month of music and health November

How does music influence our health?

Traditionally, the biomedical model has attributed health problems to biological deficits or structural alterations, overlooking social, psychological, or behavioral dimensions. However, current evidence supports the existence of connections between the body, mind, lifestyle, emotional state, and other health determinants that are crucial in the development of pathological entities and the perception of health (Farre & Rapley, 2017; Wade & Halligan, 2017).

In response to the need for interventions addressing these areas, framed within the trend known as “humanization of healthcare,” mind-body therapies emerge (Ettenberger & Calderón Cifuentes, 2022; Schulz et al., 2023). In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a scope review on the role of art or artistic activities (music, painting, theater, dance, literature, etc.) as health promoters (Fancourt & Finn, 2019), demonstrating their potential to elicit biopsychosocial responses by stimulating sensory, emotional, imaginative, or cognitive processes, among others. Of all these, music constitutes one of the most widely used and effective modalities (Ettenberger & Calderón Cifuentes, 2022).

The use of music as a therapeutic resource dates back to ancient times, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century and World War II that it emerged as a profession to address the needs of war casualties. In 1919, Margaret Anderton, an English pianist, became the first person to introduce the study of music in the university setting (Barbarrojas Vaca, 2008; Fernández Company et al., 2021). Currently, due to the growth of research in this field, musical interventions are supported by scientific evidence and are considered the only ones capable of acting on perceptual, motor, cognitive, or socio-affective processes (Andrade & Bhattacharya, 2018; Clements-Cortes & Bartel, 2018).

So far, it has been suggested that the three main elements of music—rhythm, melody, and harmony (W. G. Chen et al., 2022)—are primarily responsible for these effects, especially at the emotional level. However, these acoustic properties do not justify the great heterogeneity of generated responses; they are influenced by different intrinsic factors in the listener, such as cultural background, musical history, or personality (Sachs et al., 2018). “The real stimulus is not the progressive development of musical structure but the subjective content of the listener’s mind” (Trimble & Hesdorffer, 2017). Additionally, prior to musical perception, there is a preconscious mental activity that can influence the emergence of certain emotional states; just as when the music concludes, the brain is capable of continuing to reproduce it as mental musical representations or images (Vickhoff, 2023).

Therefore, music has a global impact on all systems of the organism, capable of modulating physiological functions (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, etc.), motor functions (activation and organization of movement), emotional functions (awakening of emotions), cognitive functions (attention), and social functions (facilitating interpersonal relationships) (Agudo Cadarso, 2015). Hence, its use extends to a multitude of processes such as psychological or behavioral disorders (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, sleep disorders, or dementia) (Wang & Agius, 2018), movement or language disorders (Devlin et al., 2019; Liu et al., 2022), cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, or cancer-related diseases (Galińska, 2015; Huang et al., 2021; Köhler et al., 2020; Xu et al., 2022) in all types of populations: pediatric patients, adolescents, adults, and the elderly (Carr et al., 2013; C. Chen et al., 2021; Yue et al., 2021).

Depending on the mode of application and the technical resources used, musical therapy can be differentiated into musical medicine or music therapy. While the former involves only passive musical listening and is carried out by healthcare professionals, music therapy uses more complex musical activities, encompassed in a therapeutic process and requiring the patient’s participation under the guidance of a music therapist (Ettenberger & Calderón Cifuentes, 2022). Within the latter, we find interventions such as rhythmic training, practice of musical instruments, or singing, with the possibility of combining them and with other active interventions such as exercise (Schneider et al., 2022).

With all of the above, we advocate for the role of music as a non-pharmacological treatment strategy, effective from a biopsychosocial perspective, and applicable to individuals experiencing various conditions either individually or collectively. Therefore, we highlight its high versatility. “Listening to music brightens the soul!”