Restorative Properties of Music

Examples of Use/Application of Music

Use/Application Considerations

Books, Articles, and Recordings


Restorative Properties

Research has shown that music can have significant restorative effects. For example:

  1. When healthy adults listened to 15 minutes of music they liked, their blood tests afterwards revealed higher levels of interlukin-1, a polypeptide hormone necessary to immunological reactions, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, both signs of stronger immunity1.

  2. A Strauss waltz and a piece by Ravi Shankar lowered blood levels of immunity-attackers cortisol, t-PA antigen, noradrenaline2.
  1. Regular music and relaxation sessions have been shown to match up body temperature, electrolytes (fluid balancers), corticosteroids (hormones), and neuro transmitters (brain chemicals) – your circadian rhythms – with daily patterns and activities.3
  2. Music can be used to alleviate depression, anger and loneliness4; improve awareness and insight 5; increase motivation, endurance, psychological well-being and physical comfort 6; increase relaxation, alleviate anxiety7; and increase pain tolerance.8

Many organizations and individuals have created “designer music” specifically intended for restorative use. Much of it boasts research showing its restorative effects. A partial list of providers of designer music is included below.


Examples of Use/Application

In a restorative space, music (or other sounds – see section on Sounds) might be used in some or all of the following ways:

(1) as general background to the entire space
(2) in certain selected places
(3) made available for individual listening (e.g., through headphones)

Examples of each are provided below.

As General Background

It seems unlikely that it would be desirable to fill the entire space with music at all times. Even as “background,” some of that music might be distracting or even irritating to people embarked on other restorative tasks (e.g., meditation). However, the decision might be made to do that at certain specific times.

In Selected Places

A designated “music area” might be possible. In addition to playing “designer music” or other demonstrably restorative music in such places, there are systems created specifically for limited areas. For example, there is the C.A.R.E. (Continuous Ambient Relaxation Environment) Channel, a 24-hour environmental channel that provides original instrumental music and nature images on a television screen. This system is in use in hospitals in over 30 states. There is also a music-only version, used in hospital corridors and public spaces9.


With headphones or in some other individualized environment (e.g., a listening booth), people could experience a wide range of restorative music. To choose just one example (there are many more below), HeartMath has created and tested several designer tapes/CDs, and its “Heart Zones” spent 50 consecutive weeks on the Billboard “Adult Alternative” chart.10

It is also possible to provide more expansive restorative opportunities with music, by making information available to individuals about potentially healing processes they might undertake while listening to music.

Here is an example of one (of many) such process recommended in one of many books on the subject, Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body, and Mood11:

To let out aggression with music, try this visualizing sequence:

  • Put some Cleansing music on the stereo or Walkman and turn it up to a satisfying but safe volume.
  • As you listen, picture the limbic system at the base of your brain, right where your spinal column connects to your head. Feel your anger originating there and flowing to all your tension spots: the back of your throat, the front of your head, your pounding heart, and knotted stomach.
  • Feel the energy of the music electrify the spot where your anger begins. Imagine it as a whirling, cleansing ball of fire while it flows through and vibrates your entire limbic system. Your anger is the fuel and the music is the flame; and as the fire burns, it sucks the aggressive feelings from the far reaches of your body.
  • Let the fire burn bright and hot for a moment, consuming the anger until, with the last chord of your song, it burns itself out.

When you’re listening to violent music for the purpose of discharging anger, keep it short. Extended listening can stress your body with the symptoms of hyperarousal – and might reignite your anger all over again. Stop as soon as you’ve dispelled your explosive symptoms, and then move on to recovery.

An important step in catharsis of any kind is returning to normal. Just as you jump in a lake or take a shower after a sauna, should cleanse yourself of the negative feelings you express listening to Cleansing music. To come down from a Cleansing session, first listen to some calming music. Relax, until your heart rate has returned to normal and your emotions have subsided. You might like to follow this with [uplifting] music, to return to a positive mood. Don’t skip this step! Retransitioning to calmer thoughts and behaviors helps prevent further explosions in your overexcited system.11


Use/Application Considerations

General, as opposed to individualized, sound raises the important restorative issue of control. Having a sense of control over one’s environment is an important aspect of restoration – and having too little control is a contributor to stress.

It’s wise to remember that even a “Walkman”-type listening device with headphones emits sound that can be heard by others within some range.

There could be substantial logistical/administrative issues related to managing a number of listening devices and a collection of tapes/CDs (maintenance, security, etc.).

A consultant to healthcare institutions says this about the sound environment: “In working with hospitals across the country, I have found that by looking at the design of the auditory environment, it forces administrators to consider the issues at stake in the whole environment.” 12


Books, Articles, and Recordings

Music and Sound in the Healing Arts by John Beaulieu (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1987)

Music for Inner Space: Techniques for Meditation and Visualization by Nevill Drury (San Leandro, CA: Prism Press, 1985)

The New Music Therapist’s Handbook by Suzanne Hanser (New York: Berklee Press, 1990)

Self-Transformation through Music by Joanne Crandall (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1986)

Sound Choices: Using Music to Design the Environments in Which You Live, Work, and Heal by Susan Mazer and Dallas Smith (Carlsbad, CA: Hay Press, 1999)

The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology by John Ortiz (Samuel Weiser, 1997)

Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body, and Mood by Elizabeth Miles (New York: Berkley Books, 1997)



Ortiz, J. “Sound Psychology: The Tao of Music”

Volk, J. “Sound Insights”

Recordings of "Designer Music"

“Healing Music Project.” The Relaxation Company

“Healing with Great Music” and “Heal Yourself with Sound and Music.”

“Heart Zones.” HeartMath Institute

“Magic Of Healing Music.” Center for Mind/Body Health

“Reclaiming the Spirit.” Sarah Hopkins 

“The Soothing Pulse.”

“Tune Your Brain” series.




[1]Bartlett, D., D. Kaufman, and R. Smeltekop, “The Effects of Music Listening and Perceived Sensory Experiences on the Immune System as Measured by Interluken-1 and Cortisol,” Journal of Music Therapy 30/4 (1993): 194-209

[2] Mockler, M., T. Stork, et al. “Stress Reduction Through Listening to Music: Effect on Stress Hormones, Hemodynamics, and Mental State in Patients with Arterial Hypertension and in Healthy Persons,” Deutsche Medizinische Wockenschrift 120/21 (1995): 745-52

[3] Rider, M.S., J.W. Floyd, and J. Kirkpatrick, “The Effect of Music, Imagery, and Relaxation on Adrenal Corticosteroids and the Re-entrainment of Circadian Rhythms” Journal of Music Therapy 22 (1985): 46-58

[4] Cordobès, T. K. (1997), Group songwriting as a method for developing group cohesion for HIV- Seropositive adult patients with depression. Journal of Music Therapy,34, pp. 46-67.

[5] Wijzenbeek, G. & van Nieuwenhuijzen, N. (1993), Receptive music therapy with depressive and neurotic patients. In r. R. Pratt (Ed.), Music therapy and music education for the handicapped (pp. 174-175). St. Louis, MO: MMB Music, Inc.

[6] “The effects of music therapy on motivation, psychological well-being, physical comfort, and exercise endurance of bone marrow transplant patients.” Journal of Music Therapy, 33, pp. 164-188.

[7] Standley, J. M. (1986), “Music research in medical/dental treatment: Meta-analysis and clinical applications.” Journal of Music Therapy, 23, pp.56-122.

[8] Bailey, L. M. (1986), Music therapy in pain management. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management,1, pp. 25-28; Beck, S. L. (1991). The Therapeutic use of music for cancer-related pain. Oncology Nursing Forum, 18, pp. 1327-1337; Hekmat, H. M., & Hertel, J. B. (1993), Pain attenuating effects of preferred versus non-preferred music interventions. Psychology of Music, 21, pp. 163-173.

[9] From Healing HealthCare Systems, 100 W. Grove Street, Suite 175, Reno, NV 89509, (800)348-0799,

[10] 14700 West Park Avenue, Boulder Creek, CA. 95006. (800) 450-9111,

[11] by Miles, E. (New York: Berkley Books, 1997): 192-193

[12] Mazer, S. E. “Patients Find Comfort in Auditory Interventions” at


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