Music Therapy-The Evidence

By Erdonmez, Denise | Australian Journal of Music Therapy, Annual 1991 | Go to article overview
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Music Therapy-The Evidence

Erdonmez, Denise, Australian Journal of Music Therapy


Music therapists are frequently required to provide proof of the efficacy of music as a therapeutic medium. A literature review is presented to show clear evidence of music therapy as a viable means of therapy in diverse applications. Selected articles from music therapy Journals have been reviewed to represent music therapy clinical practice with different age groups and client populations. Emphasis is placed on research in which gains are made by the clients through music therapy. The literature review indicates that music therapy is successfully incorporated into treatment/education programmes for clients with special needs due to disabling conditions or illness, and in the management of pain.


To present evidence for the efficacy of music as a therapeutic medium, a review of the research literature has been undertaken. Selected articles from the Journal of Music Therapy, Music Therapy Perspectives, Music Therapy (the Journal of the American Association for Music Therapy), and the British journal of Music Therapy have been reviewed. Articles were chosen for review on the following criteria:

(i) that there were clearly stated variables to be measured

(ii) that the focus of the research was related to clinical objectives

(iii) that the results were substantiated by statistical analysis or some other acceptable means of measurement.

An attempt has been made to include evidence from each of the disability/disorder/disease areas across the age span from foetus to frail aged.

Music-Assisted Labour

There is increasing evidence of the use of music (taped programmes of carefully selected music) to assist at each stage of labour. Music has been effective in cueing rhythmic breathing, assisting relaxation, and as a focus for pain relief (Hanser, Larsen and O'Connell, 1983). In a study involving 20 women, 13 in an experimental group, and seven in the control group, Clark, McCorkle and Williams (1981) measured successful labour experiences in terms of pain relief and satisfaction with the birthing experience. The experimental group had music during delivery, the control group had traditional options of pain relief. The experimental group showed higher ratings on five of the seven indices.

Response of Infants to Music

Standley and Madsen (1990) studied 24 infants aged between 2 and 8 months on preference for mother's voice, other female voice and music. Measures were taken of listening time and videotapes of the infants' responses were analysed. Results showed that the babies did discriminate between the stimuli. Younger babies (2 months) preferred their mothers' voices, whereas older babies equally preferred mother's voice or other female voice. Videotape analysis showed that the babies listened more attentively to music than other stimuli.


Much of the research in the paediatrics area comprises studies of children's responses to hospitalisation and the use of music to lessen anxiety. A child's reaction to hospitalisation may include anxiety, fear, withdrawal, regression and defiance, quite apart from the reactions to illness itself (Adams, cited in Froehlich, 1984). Froehlich compared the efficacy of music therapy and play therapy sessions in facilitating verbalisation about the hospital experience. Forty children were studied and results showed that music therapy elicited more verbalisations about hospitalisation than play therapy.

Chetta (1981) studied 75 children between 3 and 8 years to determine whether music therapy could reduce fear and anxiety during pre-operative medication. The study incorporated a three-group comparison design where group one (control group) received verbal information only about operation procedures, experimental group one received verbal information with music, and experimental group two received verbal information with music, plus music immediately prior to pre-operative medication on the morning of surgery.

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