"Does Music Really Matter?”

Music matters. That conclusion certainly appears to be accurate based upon the amount of energy, time, and money that we devote to music. Ponder the energy you’ve exerted in finding new music or in using the music you already have in your possession. Consider the amount of time you’ve spent during the past month listening to music and/or playing music on some type of instrument. Crunch the numbers in terms of money you’ve spent on music in the form of equipment, instruments, lessons, concerts, or compact discs. During any given year most individuals spend a significant amount of money on various aspects of music. The collective sum spent by United States citizens might even be enough to eradicate our national debt—and we’re talking big bucks!

Music really does matter. It is within us—and all around us. Frequently we’re singing or humming, either out loud or silently. Our feet and fingers are often tapping out rhythmic patterns for the music we love. Our interest in music is reflected in the widespread usage of Pandora, iHeart Radio, YouTube, and countless other internet music streaming resources.  At restaurants, in automobiles, in elevators, and even in the International Space Station music is a vital part of day-to-day living. Indeed, we are surrounded by music.

Throughout human history music has played a vital role in times of war and in times of peace.  In regard to warfare music has been used to motivate soldiers to march into battle with greater zeal and courage, while at the same time music has been effective in generating fear and anxiety within the enemy.  People who have disagreed philosophically with warfare have used music as an effective method for protesting involvement in war activities. The impact of music is felt in many of our personal experiences. We use music at weddings to celebrate the commitment made by a man and a woman to begin their journey together along the Marriage Highway.  We sing lullabies and play soft music to help our young children fall asleep. We go to the theater to see a movie and we listen to a musical score written specifically to enhance the emotional effects of the story line. Romantic dinners and special parties include music designed to add to the experience. We attend funerals and hear music that helps us grieve the loss of a loved one or to commemorate the person’s life. Indeed, from the cradle to the grave we respond to music. The role of music in contemporary society might be summed up by one person’s comment I heard recently: “I could not live without music!” Music is definitely a significant part of the human story.

Good music possesses the quality of endurance. It transcends the passing of time and affects people in many subsequent generations. We still listen with amazement as an orchestra plays Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or a pianist plays Mozart’s Turkish Rondo even though the original music was composed centuries ago. At church services we sing hymns written and composed by men and women of faith who lived many generations ago. We travel to various countries of the world and hear music that we heard back home. Music has the amazing ability to MusicFourSeasonstranscend both time and culture.

So, why does music matter so much to so many people? Music matters because music has power—tremendous power to modify moods and to motivate behavior in positive ways. In regard to its power there is an element of mystery in that, while we know that music affects us and changes us, we may not understand fully the biochemical or behavioral process.  This inherent power of music could lead us to think of music as medicine. Properly used, prescribed medicine provides positive benefit; improperly used, that same medicine can do harm. Likewise, music as medicine possesses the potential for positive enrichment while at the same time, if misused, it can cause harm and hinder growth.

The unwise usage of music can damage lives through its negative effects upon the individual’s mind, mood, and behavior. On some occasions our personal struggles are worsened through the music we choose. For example, I recall one fellow who was going through a very difficult divorce. He reported that the preceding evening had been especially hard. Having an inquiring mind I asked him about his experience. In response the man said something like, “I had a really tough day at work and I went home to an empty house. So I spent the evening listening to country music and drinking beer.” By bedtime he was in total misery and despair.  You could assume that the overuse of beer was the main culprit for his low mood, and you could be correct. However, I’m convinced that the musical lyrics and instrumentation contributed significantly to his downward spiral. His experience may have validated what was said by another man I know. This man asked a group of people, “What do you get when you play a country song backwards?” When no one responded he declared, “You get your wife back, your truck back, and your dog back!” The group thought that the joke was humorous, but after our laughter we discussed the truthfulness suggested by the joke and explored the positive and negative benefits of music in general. Now, before you jump to conclusions about my taste for music please permit a clarificaMusicMattersTexttion. I am not opposed to country music in totality; I really like some of it. Yet there are some country songs that can pull a person’s mood down to rock bottom and rip his emotional heart right out of his chest. That type of music poses a serious threat to a person’s health and well-being, especially if he is already in a vulnerable state.  

The lyrics or words of songs that we bring into our minds will shape our thought processes and will influence our basic value system. Certain music could generate specific emotions that in turn reinforce negative emotional states (or moods) characterized by anger, fear, anxiety, or depression. The resulting thoughts, values, and emotions could lead us into actions or behaviors that are unethical, illegal, or immoral. Our lives can be damaged severely by continued exposure to music (that is, lyrics) that promotes a mindset and a lifestyle that are inherently detrimental to healthy living. Our challenge is to discern the effects of music as medicine and to use the inherent power to improve our individual health and our human relationships. Wise discernment means that we see both the potential for harm and the potential for help that music contains. Here’s the bottom line. The music we make is a clear expression of what is already in our heart; that music reflects what we are. The music we choose to listen to is our invitation to what we want to enter our heart; that music reflects what we want to become. Good or bad, music transforms us. Music matters.                                                                                                 

In the remainder of this article we will focus upon the positive potentials of music as medicine. Specifically, let’s explore briefly the benefits of music in regard to two powerful features: its power to modify moods and its power to motivate behavior.


Music possesses an awesome ability to improve our health in general and our emotional moods in particular. Ongoing research confirms the positive benefits of certain types of music for a variety of issues. Individuals can use music as an integral component in a pain management program. Selected music can decrease blood pressure and can enhance a person’s immune system. Over the years in my professional therapy practice I have encouraged numerous clients to use music to promote wellness in terms of physical and emotional health.MusicMedicineRxMindMood

In March, 2013 an online Internet article by Medical News Today discussed some of the current research being done on music and health.* The article contains the following description of music. "We've found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics. But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding."

The truth that music modifies mood can be seen not only in our current generation but also throughout human history. Ancient writings, especially the Biblical record, provide many descriptions of music that underscore its power. For example, according to I Samuel 16 King Saul struggled with mood problems, perhaps depression or anxiety. In his search for solutions he invited David to come to the palace and play the harp (or lyre) for him. According to Scripture “Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better . . . .” (I Samuel 16:23) David’s music had a soothing effect upon King Saul and apparently became an important resource for his mood management. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments singing is presented as a powerful method for worshipping God and for encouraging and instructing one another. In fact, Jesus commanded through the apostle Paul the usage of singing by the first-century Christians (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).

Our specific usage of “mood music” today depends upon our personal goals. Sometimes we choose music that matches our existing mood, and the music tends to reinforce and maintain the current mood. If that mood is a positive one the music fulfills a positive purpose. In contrast music will have a harmful impact if it serves to sustain or deepen an already-existing negative mood. At other times we choose music that alters or modifies our current mood. We might be feeling “down” so we choose music that lifts us “up,” or we might feel tense and uptight so we choose music that calms and relaxes us. On special occasions we select specific music that we hope will provide ambiance and will promote a desired mood. For example, picture a husband and wife eating dinner at an upscale restaurant. The conversation wanes and the dinner is fast becoming a hum-drum activity. Then an unexpected event occurs. A talented violinist approaches their table and begins playing Strauss waltzes. Suddenly a forgettable dinner has been transformed through music to become a romantic experience that will be remembered for years. Again, picture a two-year-old girl who is having trouble going to sleep. Fearful and anxious she is unable to relax and get to sleep. Her mother enters the girl’s room, sits on her bed, and begins singing soft lullabies. Within a few minutes the soft music has quieted the girl and she drifts off into a peaceful sleep. The power of music is truly amazing!

When we use music to modify our moods we’re actually using music as a type of medicine. I can think of many examples of music medicine. One lady I know listens to selected music on her drive home from work in order to release the tension accumulated throughout the day. According to her report the music serves to relax her mind and body. I recall another lady who struggled with anger, particularly in regard to her stressful job. She often left work with a high level of anger that created and maintained a negative mood that prevented her from enjoying her evening at home. When I learned that she was a skilled pianist I encouraged her to use music as a positive medicine. She selected three or four pieces of piano music that she labeled as “anger music.” Upon arriving at home she was to play her anger music on the piano as vigorously as possible. She tried the experiment and found great benefit in that through playing the piano she was able to release her pent-up anger. I recall a man who struggled at times with stress and anger. I learned that he loved to play drums so I encouraged him to use his drums to help with mood modification. He agreed and started playing his drum set more often. Later he reported that the drum-playing allowed him to release a significant amount of tension. I have a ninety-one year-old uncle who believes in using music as medicine. He has lived alone for several years since the death of his wife. When he encounters his “down times” he is likely to get one of his harmonicas and play several gospel songs. Through the music his spirits are lifted and his day is brightened. Many similar examples could be provided but these should be sufficient to illustrate the potential benefits of music for mood management.

You might wonder about the benefit difference between listening to music versus playing a musical instrument. Based upon the research I’ve seen and upon my personal experience with classical guitar I believe that most of us derive a greater benefit when we actually play an instrument rather than simply listen to music. Playing an instrument is an active engagement whereas listening to music is usually a passive process. Obviously, people who play instruments also listen to music, so they derive benefit from both experiences. If you do not now play a musical instrument it might be a great time for you to select an instrument and learn to play it as well as you can.

Our moods are clearly affected by music that is instrumental. However, the instrumentation is only one part of the process. The lyrics of songs possess tremendous power to influence our thoughts and our moods. We cannot listen to lyrics and stay totally neutral or uninfluenced. Our minds and moods are modified by the thoughts we entertain regardless of the mechanism, that is, whether the thoughts come through musical lyrics or verbal conversation. To the extent that the lyrics change our thought patterns our moods will likewise be modified in either a positive or a negative direction.  

Because music has power to modify our minds and moods it therefore motivates our behavior.  Clearly, our behavior is generated by our thoughts and fueled by our emotions. Thus, music management is a key component to effective behavior management.

As already stated the lyrics of songs become part of our thinking process and are often internalized into our personal belief system. The resulting beliefs will influence and shape our behavior. For example, the more we listen to romantic love songs the more likely we are to think of someone we meet in a romantic way or to initiate romantic behavior toward that person. If we feed our minds on music that promotes violence we will probably be more tempted to engage in violent behavior toward other people. The person who listens to musical lyrics laced with profanity is thereby motivated to think and speak profanity. We cannot help but be motivated by music toward the behavior that is promoted in the music. That motivation is the power of music.  The claim that “music does not affect my behavior” is sometimes made in order to justify negative music. We’ve heard teenagers make this claim, no doubt with the hope that their parents will back off and allow them to listen to their preferred music. In light of current research and common sense the person who denies the impact of music on behavior, whether positive or negative, is uninformed, ill-informed, or naïve. Unfortunately, some individuals choose to remain in a state of denial rather than change their habits regarding harmful music.

Most of us have learned from personal experience that selected music does actually motivate specific behavior that is desired. For example, we choose music with a fast tempo and heavy beat when we need motivation to complete our exercise routine. Alternatively, we select slow, quiet music when we want to calm ourselves down and to decrease hyperactive tendencies. As students we listen to a selected type of music because it increases our effectiveness in doing our homework or in preparing for exams. As athletes we are motivated by our college fight song to compete with greater passion and intensity. As communicators we might rely upon music to connect with another person or to convey some sentiment that is difficult to express with words alone. In conclusion, we select certain music to listen to or to play based upon our goal, that is, the specific behavior that we want to either increase or to decrease.

It should be of no surprise that music also has significant spiritual implications in regard to behavior management. I recall a Christian man who described his daily dependence upon music to help him keep a spiritual perspective. He used Christian-oriented music to reinforce positive moods and appropriate behavior. He memorized many Christian hymns so that he could sing them throughout the day, either silently or aloud depending upon his surroundings. He shared his belief that God must love music because He created it and refers to it often in Scripture. This man’s usage of music illustrates the efforts of many Christians who rely upon spiritually-based music to help them live and behave in a manner that is consistent with their personal faith rooted in Scripture.



The question “Does music matter?” deserves a quick and definitive answer “Yes!—Music matters!” As described in this article music possesses tremendous power to modify our moods and to motivate our behavior. Music is powerful.

Many organizations and researchers are promoting the beneficial applications of music to health maintenance and improvement. One such organization is the American Music Therapy Association*. One of its missions is to promote the usage of selected music in clinical settings to help patients recover from medical problems. (Note: A description of “Music Therapy” is provided at the MusicRxScriptend of this article along with the URL for the AMTA website.)

What kind of music works best for you? Great question! Your selection of music is related closely to your purpose or goal. What are you trying to accomplish—or change? Certain music will hinder your progress toward your goal, whereas other music will provide helpful reinforcement. Hopefully, you are already committed to a lifestyle that is healthy and happy, a lifestyle that is based on positive values and high integrity. With that commitment in mind you will choose music that will modify and motivate your day-to-day activities so that you will move steadily toward your goals.

I wish you well as you continue in your travels through life. Specifically, I hope that you will choose to travel the Good Music Highway on which you use music as good medicine. In following that highway you will benefit greatly by positive music that will add positive enrichment to your journey. By choosing positive music medicine you will be more able to live your life—and to end your life—on a high note!


                                                                                     (Miscellaneous Topics  #1505)
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* “Music Benefits Both Mental and Physical Health.” Published by   (March 29, 2013)

**American Music Therapy Association:   Website:
The home page of the AMTA provides the following description of “Music Therapy.”

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.
Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients' abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.



VIDEO:  To view a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses “Using Music as Medicine” please click on the image to the right or click here.




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