The Benefits of Music Therapy

Melinda Riedl, Christiane Zekpa, Rebecca Bonham

Music therapy has been around since the early 1800s. It has the potential to benefit patients mentally and physically from all walks of life. It has been known to help patients manage mental health issues to bring back memories of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. Music can also benefit people to improve their mental and physical health. Studies show the effects that music therapy has on the mental and physical health of community members in Omaha. They also show different methods of music therapy and what each method does to help to improve one’s memory, mental health, productivity, and physical well-being. Resources from the library, online databases, and music therapy websites were used to conduct this research.


Finding qualitative data based on original data was interesting. Most of the information was based on music therapy within medical practices. No scholarly journal articles based on more casual music therapy sessions were found that would be available to the public daily. Using the Research Data database on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s library page, many intriguing scholarly journal articles about the effects that music therapy has its patients were found. Despite the information that was found on the database, a step further was taken to discover what role music therapy played in Omaha, Nebraska. To retrieve secondary data, a basic search of music therapy in Omaha was conducted on the internet. Through this search, websites that provide music therapy services in Omaha were discovered. However, surprisingly, there were not many places in our area that provided these services. There was not any information about this topic disclosed in the Omaha World-Herald, and no advertisement was found for music therapy services. Though there was not an abundance of resources that contained music therapy in Omaha, a few places were discovered that provided stupendous services.


Music Therapy Services: 

The first theme that emerged from the data set was the positive effect that music therapy had on its clients. One of the positive effects was how music therapy improves learning abilities. Many of the secondary data focused on learning in special education. It has been proven that there are connections between speech and singing and between music memorization and academic memorization (American Music Therapy Association). According to Omaha Music Therapy, music is processed in a different area of the brain than speech and language, so a child may be able to understand academic material better through music. Their sessions include musical cues and they use rhythms to help a child with special needs retain the information to the best of their ability. The outcomes of these sessions increase attention, increase socialization, and improve other abilities in which enhance the child’s educational learning ability. Music therapy is proven to improve the patient’s mental ability through learning, but it can also help improve mental illnesses as well.

Music Therapy Effects on Mental Illnesses:

Another effect that music therapy has on patients is that it improves their mental illnesses. For patients diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, music therapy helps them to have a more positive outlook on managing the illness through engagement through music. According to Omaha Music Therapy, “Music therapy for clients with mental health concerns uses musical interaction as a means of communication and expression”.The sessions provided allow the patient to communicate with the music therapist through the music and emotions expressed by the music. This process allows the patient to be led by the feelings that the music evokes which relates to what they may be experiencing in their life. These techniques are extremely helpful, because not only are the clients able to experience a different form of communication through music, but they are also able to speak normally about how they are feeling to the music therapist as well. Music therapy is extremely effective in helping patients mentally, but it is also equally as effective in helping them physically. 

Music Therapy Effects on Pain Management:

According to Omaha Music Therapy, music therapy can help patients manage pain. Being able to manage pain is extremely helpful for patients that are diagnosed with a chronic illness such as cancer or arthritis. In Harmony Music Therapy was founded in 2017 by a board-certified therapist named Bridget Shevlin. She works at the Nebraska Medical Center attending to pediatric patients with a variety of illnesses. She has helped many children who have been diagnosed with cancer. Music therapy not only improves the patient’s health, but it also gives the patient and the family hope. Parent testimonials overall show an abundance of satisfaction with Bridget and the positive effect that she has on their children. Music therapy alters the patient’s mood which overall influences their physical health in a positive light.

Ages of Music Therapy Patients:

Another reoccurring theme that was noticed throughout the secondary data set was a range of ages of patients. Studies show that not only one age group can benefit from music therapy, but every patient can be impacted positively no matter how old they are. In Harmony Music Therapy focuses more on children who suffer from illnesses in which hospitalization is necessary. These children receive hope and their health is improved by participating in music therapy sessions. However, Omaha Music Therapy helps adults as well as children. Adults can be assisted in pain management, the improvement of Alzheimer’s patients’ memory, and mental health concerns.

Students in Music Therapy:

The data set also showed a concentration of students participating in music therapy. Two secondary sources show music therapy in schools. While one of these sources is focused on educating those who desire to become music therapists, the other concentrates on music therapy that is provided for special education children in a specific school program. Madonna School in Omaha, Nebraska offers an internship program where their students can learn more about what music therapy entails. First- hand experience in serving clients is also provided with the client’s approval. Through this internship program students focus on academic, motor skills, communication, and social skills that are necessary for the student’s success in the program. On the other hand, J.P. Lord School offers music therapy for children with special needs. This program offers exercises for the children to help them focus and uses music to achieve non- musical goals.  

Availability in Music Therapy: 

The datasets show a wide variation of availability for music therapy in Omaha. The Madonna Schools in Omaha have work hours from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon Monday through Friday. There are two programs provided every year. One that is held in December during the Christmas season and another provided in early May. It is during those times that they work with clients ages five through twenty-one. The Omaha Music Therapy group, J.P. Lord School, and In Harmony Music Therapy L.L.C. all work on an appointment basis. All have their contact information on their websites for the clients to use. Overall, they are very accessible and seemingly available. 


Music Therapy and Children:

The secondary data referenced to children often in music therapy. These sessions helped children in special education, those with chronic illnesses, mental disabilities, and those in the hospitals. The secondary data mention working with children more than they do with adults. This is significant because the original data set mentioned children in music therapy more than adults who participated in music therapy. One of the most compelling scholarly journals was about the effects music therapy has on inconsolable premature infants. The study consisted of infants that were born prematurely and suffered from inconsolable crying. Despite all their efforts, there was nothing that the doctors or parents could do to soothe them. In these moments of distress, the baby’s health was monitored. Before the episode, the baby’s heart rate, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation were recorded. Music was presented to some infants immediately at the start of the episode, and the duration of the episode was measured. At the end of each episode, the baby’s heart rate, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation were registered once more. 

Table 1 shows the results of the study that was conducted. The infant’s heart rate, respiration rate, and oxygen saturation improved with exposure to music during their time of distress. When the music was presented the infant’s episode lasted approximately 5.5 minutes, and without the music intervention, the episode lasted approximately 23 minutes (Keith, Russell, and Weaver). This difference is significant, and it shows the positive effects of music therapy. This study conducted not only shows the fascination of this specific topic. It also shows how beneficial music therapy can be for all children.

Mental Health and Music Therapy: 

Another theme that seemed to be recurring in the data sets was the attention on mental health. After looking through the databases, all of the articles that were found were focused on mental health. One in particular focused on the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale or MADRS. It is an expert’s rating tool to assess the severity and symptoms of depression developed by Professors Staurt Montgomery and Marie Asberg. It is also a valid scale for use in clinical practice and research.The MADRS was drawn from a 67-item scale. The items included in the MADRS are: 1) Apparent sadness, 2) Reported sadness, 3) Inner tension, 4) Reduced sleep, 5) Reduced appetite, 6) Concentration difficulties, 7) Lassitude, 8) Inability to feel, 9) Pessimistic thoughts, 10) Suicidal thoughts. The study that was done took twenty people and split them into two groups. One getting treatment through music therapy and pharmaceuticals for their depression while the other group had treatment only though pharmaceuticals. Those who participated were from the ages of eighteen to fifty. The patients were given a questionnaire before and after their treatment to provide information on their MADRS score. The graph shows the patients scores and how they became lower and lower after treatment. The “controls” are those that were only given pharmaceuticals and the “cases” are those that were provided both forms of treatment.

Recollection in older patients:

We went into UNO’s wellness center to see if anyone has studied Music therapy. From what I researched I found that Music Therapy is known to be used a lot with patients who have Dementia, and Alzheimer’s, Autism, mental health issues, pain management. In the article “Receptive Music Therapy Is More Effective than Interactive Music Therapy to Relieve Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia(Tsoi).” they had their results and found that many of the patients responded well to the Music Therapy. 

OutcomeTestNumber of ItemsInterpretation
Cognitive functionMMSE2011Higher scores indicate better cognitive function
ApathyNPI-Apathy subscale2112Lower scores indicate less apathy behavior
Anxiety symptomsRAID2220Lower scores indicate fewer anxiety symptoms
Depressive symptomsGDS-302330Lower scores indicate fewer depressive symptoms
AgitationCMAI1929Lower scores indicate less agitated behaviour
Behavioral problemsNPI2112Lower scores indicate less behavioral problems and neuropsychiatric symptoms

In this meta-analysis, all results from MMSE are reversed; lower score is better performance.

In the table above if you look at the Behavioral problems you can see that a majority of them responded well to it and actually improved. From the books that were searched up many people who use Music therapy end up being able to remember things from the past. Many of the patients ended up only remembering things if only a specific song was played if it’s the memory of their kids or parents and their grandchildren. 

According to the book Therapeutic Uses of Music with Older Adults they found that many older people with dementia may “respond spontaneously to music by tapping their feet, clapping, or dancing (Clair).” This information also goes along with what Omaha Music Therapy does. Omaha had places that are designated to helping people and studying music therapy. They have staff that are certified in music therapy with different types of people for example- autism, pain management, and with people who have mental health. For the most part in Omaha Music Therapy they are big on providing lessons on how to play the piano, sing, ukulele and guitar. In Omaha their big on learning together and individually. Usually what to expect Singing, Song Writing, Improvisation, Lyric Analysis, Ensemble Playing, and Breathing Exercises.the most effective method or most popular was the Ensemble Playing and the Singing.


Another thing that is big in Music Therapy in Omaha was the Age Factor. For the main part there wasn’t a big age group that dominated it and it was open to anyone of the age of 5 and up. In Omaha providers are providing care to older people. For older people it helped them remember, for example, many older people will listen to a familiar song and will think of something from Christmas. Older generations develop anxiety and depression and Omaha Music Therapy found a way to treat it with music. Music in Working with People with Dementia states that songs including folk songs, patriotic songs, and hymns that were learned in school, at home, or in a religious setting are most useful. They respond to it well because it was integrated into their lives at a young age. It’s just like riding a bike after awhile of jogging their memory they eventually start to remember how to do it. 


In the book Therapeutic Uses of Music with Older Adults they gave an example of someone who was suffering from dementia and it said that playing a song reminded her of something and her husband would her to dance. The only reason he did what he did was because he went to a music therapy group. In the group he went to he would respond to the music by dancing or singing to it. This study found that at the Madonna school they sing and play music in their sessions. he patients bring what they learn home with them. In the Omaha Music therapy they go in individually and sing and listen to music or play an instrument. Even having examples on their website “A young man with cerebral palsy had difficulty moving his arms, but would beat a drum during his music therapy sessions with me.”


In conclusion, music therapy creates a positive impact on many people. Whether it be they are a patient suffering from a chronic illness, a child in need of special education, or a premature baby that experiences inconsolable episodes of crying, music therapy has benefits for each person and their situation. Music therapy is a non- invasive way of healing the body and the mind. It gives the hopeless hope and the inconsolable consolation. It is scientifically proven to alter moods and to help heal those who are struggling to be healed through medicine. There are a few places in Omaha in which can provide these life-changing services, however, there should be more ways to receive music therapy. With all of its benefits, music therapy should be more accessible to people not only in the hospitals but those who seek out this treatment as well.


Bates, D. (2013). Effective clinical practice in music therapy: Medical music therapy for adults in hospital settings. Journal of Music Therapy, 50(1), 53–57. doi: 10.1093/jmt/50.1.53

 Bradt, J., Potvin, N., Kesslick, A., Shim, M., Radl, D., Schriver, E., … Komarnicky-Kocher, L. T. (2014). The impact of music therapy versus music medicine on psychological outcomes and pain in cancer patients: a mixed methods study. Supportive Care in Cancer, 23(5), 1261–1271. doi: 10.1007/s00520-014-2478-7

Clair, Alicia Ann., and Jenny Memmott. Therapeutic Uses of Music with Older Adults. American Music Therapy Association, 2008.

Keith, D. R., Russell, K., & Weaver, B. S. (2009). The Effects of Music Listening on         Inconsolable Crying in Premature Infants. Journal of Music Therapy, 46(3), 191–203. doi:     10.1093/jmt/46.3.191

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Simpson, K., & Keen, D. (2011). Music Interventions for Children with Autism: Narrative Review of the Literature. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(11), 1507–1514. doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-1172-y

Sharanabasappa Algoodkar, Sunitha G. (2019). Impact of Music Therapy in Reducing the Severity of Depression Measured by MADRS among Depression Patients: A Randomized Control Study. IAIM, 2019; 6(1): 41-47

Tsoi, Kelvin K.F., et al. “Receptive Music Therapy Is More Effective than Interactive Music Therapy to Relieve Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, Elsevier, 1 Feb. 2018, from