Music and Wellness

  • Frederick C. Tims
  • Music Therapy Program
  • College of Arts and Letters
Surgical team for Ambient Music Project, Alegent Health, Omaha, NE.

Frederick Tims believes that the healing force of music is near-universal—and, with collaborators from medicine, biochemistry, psychiatry, psychology, music, and other disciplines, he is gathering the evidence to support his observations.

Dr. Tims, who directs the Music Therapy Program at MSU's School of Music, has worked with persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease, healthy retirees, cancer survivors, and violence-prone youth. He has seen first-hand the power of music to make a difference in people's lives. Senior citizens experience less depression, anxiety, and loneliness; autistic children become more communicative. At-risk youth learn to listen to each other and work together, skills that translate into other areas of their lives. Stress hormones are modulated in positive directions.

While few would dispute the psychological benefits of music in a general or spiritual sense, Tims' goal is far more specific. He wants to quantify the effect—to find out why it works. "I hope to see my profession develop better models to explain the mechanisms of how music therapy works, so we can use it to improve quality of life for all people," he said.

Tims and his multidisciplinary teams have conducted numerous studies of the physiological and psychological changes that result from participating in music therapy.

Box that delivers ambient music to surgical patients

For one federally funded study a team of physicians, biochemists, psychologists, and music therapists looked at the effect of active participation in music on veterans suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The research team was able to document changes in norephinephrine, melatonin, and human growth hormone (hGH), which led to more normal sleep patterns, increased feelings of well-being, and less stress. Melatonin levels remained elevated for at least six weeks after the music participation ended. The vets in the study were able to learn new songs and remember them from session to session, improvise music spontaneously, and socialize more with their peers.

"Toward the end of this study," said Tims, "one of the vets—who was in the later stages of Alzheimer's and did not even recognize his family members when they came to visit—called me by name, saying 'This music is doing wonders for me and these other guys.' The vet then named a song he asked me to help him remember and teach to the others in his group." Tims is presently engaged in an exciting research endeavor with Chip Davis (founder of Mannheim Steamroller and American Gramophone Recording) and Alegent Health Systems in Omaha, Nebraska. Davis wanted to give something back to his community and Alegent wanted to research innovative patient interventions with music. How did they find Tims? "I got googled," said Tims. "They asked me to join in the collaboration, along with Dr. Durant Begault, a psychoacoustical expert with NASA."

The study is measuring pain perception, patient and surgeon satisfaction, anxiety, rapidity of healing, and neuroendocrine (stress hormone) production among 226 major spine surgery patients receiving ambient music before, during, and after surgery. About half of the data have been collected and data analyses will begin soon. This interdisciplinary team involves surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and hospital research personnel. After the first several surgical patients experienced the ambient music, the lead anesthesiologist remarked that he was amazed at how relaxed the patients were before being put to sleep for the surgery.

  • Written by Linda Chapel Jackson, University Outreach and Engagement

Like this Magazine? Join our mailing list