Music therapy: new empirical data

soundwaves-light.jpgLast month I met a musician named Chuck Wild (formerly of Missing Persons). He currently makes ultrachill ambient music via his company Liquid Mind. He calls it "musical healthcare" designed to induce sleep, reduce anxiety, etc. We talked a bit about the New Age vibe that accompanies a lot of the genre, and I asked if there was any hard data to back up various health claims. Chuck mentioned that there's actually been a resurgence in empirical studies on the evidence-based positive effects of music therapy.

I did a little research, and it turns out this is indeed the case. The item that was most intriguing for me personally came out last month. German researchers Hidehiko Okamoto, Henning Stracke, Christo Pantev and Wolfgang Stoll reported that altering commercially available music improved the symptoms of tinnitus. That's good news for any of us who might have spent a little too much time wearing headphones or hanging out in loud clubs or sitting next to computers with loud fans. They found that test subjects who listened to music "notched" to dial out frequencies in the range of their tinnitus often had improvement after a year, compared to a control group. They believe tinnitus may be a refactoring of the auditory cortex due in part to lateral inhibition.

Liquid Mind VIII: Sleep (via Liquid Mind)

Study: Listening to tailor-made notched music reduces tinnitus loudness and tinnitus-related auditory cortex activity


  1. this is indeed good news! as a former proponent of “louder is better” when it came to music, i have had fairly severe and constant tinnitus for the past 20 years or so. though i’ve made some sort of peace with it, i’d love to believe there might be a real way to reduce the symptoms.

  2. has been doing this for years and offer more services: mp3s/cds/iphone and computer programs/etc. I notice they even use the same “warning – may cause” that I-Doser uses. I think I-Doser still leads as the number 1 selling distributer of simulated experiences through music

    1. If you knew the frequency range your tinnitus affects, you can do it yourself, I would think. Just play it though a good multi-band EQ, and mute out the relevant frequency ranges.

      WARNING: I am not a music therapist, and nothing I suggest should be construed as a good idea.

  3. Its not surprising that sounds could be used to treat what’s essentially a disorder of sound perception, so I’d be willing to buy this as a treatment for tinnitus.

    But that’s absolutely no indication that any of the other claims made by new age ambient music wonks. A doctor matching a frequency in a lab is a far cry from some composer in a studio mixing smooth grooves with ancient wisdom to “cure” medical or psychological conditions.

    1. So, are you telling me that you’ve never listened to a song that you absolutely loved and each time you played it, it made you happy or relaxed? Or if not that then maybe one time you were in a shopping mall or in a busy loud area and felt uncomfortable.. but as soon as you get home or to a quiet place you feel better and more relaxed? Those cases are obvious emotional effects caused by a sound or (lack of sound) so I don’t think its madness to think that you can’t create a song or sound that for example helps someone who has major anxiety problems. This is an interesting video discussing the matter as well.

  4. I can totally believe music can have profound effects on psychological conditions. Music works on that level. Also my understanding is that a lot of current music therapy is not just about passively listening to music, but also learning how to play an instrument and make music. There is something in the creative process that can do wonders for a persons psychology.

  5. With the motor cortex firing so relentlessly in fMRI scans of those listening to the immortal James Brown… might such tunes facilitate physical rehabilitation of stroke victims?
    Until accepted into a PhD program, I give this question to others to investigate.

  6. This might be off-thread, but how do we go about requesting or supporting the notion that a guest blogger be made a more regular contributor to the Boing?

    It’s been so refreshing hearing a new, smart voice here, and I’ve often felt that the Gay Community (apologies if that Aegis too broadly generalizes) was under-represented here. I mean, Xeni’s pretty close, but there’s something about Ms. James’ writing– ruthlessly smart with native razor-sharp wit; a distinctive sensibility shaped by activism and “otherness”; not interesting because of (or in spite of) her gender variation, but interesting because of the unique brilliance-for-the sake-of-itself nature of her posts; because of her mind and the way it works.

    Also, though I’ve never experienced any discrimination whatsoever here, having Andrea on BB is to me, as as gay man, the difference between being tolerated on the outskirts and fully engaging in the community. It means quite a bit to have a stimulating and engaging member of our community featured here in an intellectual role, while most other media portray high camp and sideshow theatrics as the most interesting thing about any of us. Sure, it exists, but it’s not *all* or even most of who we are.

    I don’t know if it’s even a possibility on either side for Ms. James to be a regular contributor, but if it is, I sincerely hope it becomes a reality.

    1. I’ve often felt that the Gay Community (apologies if that Aegis too broadly generalizes) was under-represented here.

      What am I? Chopped liver? The GLBT community is quite well represented if you read the comments that go with the posts.

  7. Hmmm, creating notched out music == equalizer slider set to off. Now I just need a tunable oscillator to match the ringing in my ears to a definable frequency and then set the equalizer to match. (loud tunes, small arms fire, two stroke engines and no ear protection until too late)

  8. Not (yet) notched for particular Tinnitus frequencies, but worth a try, you may be interested to check out the Free Sound Therapy Home Programme available from Sensory Activation Solutions. Their Auditory Activation Method builds on the pioneering work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis (Tomatis method) and Dr. Guy Bérard (Auditory Integration Training) and has been specifically developed with the aim to improve sensory processing, interhemispheric integration and cognitive functioning. It has helped many children and adults with a wide range of learning and developmental difficulties, ranging from dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder to sensory processing disorders and autism. It is not a cure or medical intervention, but a structured training programme that can help alleviate some of the debilitating effects that these conditions can have on speech and physical ability, daily behaviour, emotional well-being and educational or work performance.

    There is no catch, it’s absolutely free and, most importantly, often very effective. Check it out at:

  9. On a side note, if you haven’t heard what the other members of Missing Persons are up to, Dale Bozzio has become a “crazy cat lady” (no joke, google it.)

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