Music as a Healing Tool After Brain Injury

Linda W. Arms,
Music as a Healing Tool After Brain Injury

After a brain injury many of us have an assortment of issues with sounds and music. For some of us, sound becomes intolerable. Even the sound of water splashing when a car drives over wet pavement or the sound of birds tweeting can be overwhelming. Music may be unbearable. Others have no problem with this and can listen to just about anything. I could not tolerate most sounds or most music. I did find, however, that there was certain music or sounds that worked like “brain massage” for me. Since then I have learned that there is actually a recognized health profession that provides music therapy for that purpose or to treat cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions.

It seems that music as therapy is still in its early stages in the traditional medical world. According to Michael H. Thaut, Ph.D., and Gerald C. McIntosh, M.D., “The role of music in therapy has gone through some dramatic shifts in the past 15 years, driven by new insights from research into music and brain function. These shifts have not been reflected in public awareness, though, or even among some professionals.” Their entire article is available (as a PDF download) in the March 2010 article, “How Music Helps to Heal the Injured Brain”, that appeared in the Dana Foundation’s publication, Cerebrum.

I’ve spent more time recently learning about music as therapy for brain injuries and for brain wellness in general. Gabriella Giffords participated in music therapy as part of her treatments after a brain injury caused by a gunshot.  According to Headway, the brain injury association of Great Britain, “music therapy is often used to aid improvement in multiple areas of brain function deficit and to improve quality of life, as well as facilitating physical healing… Music therapy uses multiple approaches to focus on different problems. For instance, rhythmic auditory stimulation is thought to aid movement, musical improvisation is thought to help emotional expression, while singing, oral motor, and respiratory exercises are thought to assist speech. Even simply listening to music is thought to be a potential tool in the control of pain, which is notoriously problematic to treat in some cases.” Additional information about music therapy can be found at American Music Therapy Association.

Amy Price Ph.D. wrote in an article for the Traumatic Brain Injury Centers, “Neuroscience reports successful outcomes with specially engineered music therapy programs. Reports of music making a difference abound in science and classical literature. In Bible days musicians were sent ahead of Warriors to maintain morale and to set the climate of victory for battle. Recently there has been much emphasis given to the Mozart effect. In some studies, music has been emphasized as being able to even enhance mathematical ability.” She also discusses the “Listening Program” which offers many benefits but also “serves as a relaxing way to restore cognitive reserve and reduce the fight or flight response created by learning anxiety.”

Not only is music recognized as a healing therapy for neurological disease or injury, but the AARP references an article by Kimberly Sena Moore, “The 12 Benefits of Music Therapy”, in their brain health resource section.

Personally, I experienced a healing experience when I listened to certain music. I could not tolerate most any other music like rock, pop, jazz or Mozart. It felt like someone was scratching a chalkboard when I had to listen to it. It agitated me physically and mentally; I couldn’t think at all; and it fatigued me. By accident, I listened to some music on a meditation CD and found that it soothed me and restored that cognitive reserve.   If I felt sensory overload or was fatigued, I would often listen to my “special music” to settle my brain, like a brain massage. I actually found great benefits from these alternative approaches to healing with music. One set of music that helped me were the songs onDeepak Chopra’s CD called Chakra Balancing: Mind, Body, And Soul Pt. 1. Another was a CD by Leigh Ann Phillips, Dawn Mountain, was very soothing. Since Leigh Ann has a Colorado connection, I decided to contact her and asked her to write an article that explains her approach to healing with music: Body Song: Utilizing the Power of Sound, Music and Vibration for Brain Injury

Visit her web site where you can listen to free downloads of her music or purchase a CD:

Posted on BrainLine March 22, 2017.

About the Author

My name is Linda W. Arms. I am a TBI survivor. My accident happened January 15, 2006. I am much improved but the effects of the injury are still with me and will be part of my life forever. Before the accident, I did not understand the impacts a brain injury can have. During the very dark days of the first years, I grieved for who I was and what I lost. I despaired because I just was not getting better. Very slowly I saw improvements and now 10 years later I can say I am much, much better. My recovery was assisted by many medical providers and by the elusive “Brain Fairy” who works magic (good and bad) in our brains.

You can read more from Linda on her blog:

Comments (6)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Thank you for this article. I experienced a concussion/TBI in December of last year. The sound of music was at first intolerable for me for several weeks. It has improved, but I find that listening to classical music, which I love -- especially strings, piano, etc. -- is still a problem. I made an appointment with a hearing specialsit to determine if music therapy would help.

Hello it was so helpful to read this article and all the comments. My 14 yr old daughter is going through post concussion syndrome aswell after falling off her skateboard 3 months ago. I wasn't sure if listening to music would be good for her but reading all your comments has put my mind to rest. She suffers severe migraines, blurred vision, some memory loss and mood swings and no meds or heatpacks or even soothing oils help. To be honest after seeing all the specialists and doing all scans and tests now I believe we're at that stage that no one can really help her but time and rest. So its a blessing to read music can help ease some pain but I'm not too keen on those little headsets she puts semi in her ear. She just started to speak to a phycologist hopefully that can help a little. Being a mother sometimes I feel helpless that i cant help her anymore than what I have, I guess understanding and just being there for her is what she needs most at this moment.
Thanks again for some new insight.

I have had post concussion for roughly 2-3 months now, I have a range of symptoms. The main persistent symptoms tend to my ears seeming 'popped', feel disoriented and spaced, brain fog and much more. However, I have found that listening to music stops me from feeling spaced or at least to some extent. This isn't just ambient music, anything with a pulse or a rhythm makes me most 'normal' and when faced with silence I get the symptoms a lot worse. I tried listening to white noise but that just made me feel more spaced, it is definitely anything with more things going on whether thats the movement of violins, saxophones and strings or the 4-4 kick drum on dance music.

I can focus best when listening to music, more so when the music is complex i.e multiple sounds going on and as soon as I go back to silence I can feel the symptoms return. I have experimented with other sounds, the sound of people speaking around me helps rather than sitting in silence, but I can still 'feel' and sense the symptoms.

Such a weird phenomena. No doctors, teachers or professors have yet been able to explain it. I hope this comment can be of interest to others.

My best friend became delirious in her final days of life (she had breast cancer/ metastasized to bone). I made a playlist of songs I knew she liked and others that I was fairly sure she had been exposed to growing up. I provided and iPod and small speaker, charger for her hospital room/then at home. She immediately started singing along instead of crying out random things. It eased her final days, I believe, as well as her loved ones. I've since done this several times for others in chemo or recovery from other injuries. It's been pretty universally helpful, especially when delirium is an issue but at other times as well. I think familiar music is especially important.

i recently suffered a concussion, and listening to ambient music has had a significant impact on my overall mood and reducing pain. Specifically, Music for Airports by Brian Eno and anything by Lovesliescrushing. Actually, Anything without percussion - or minimal - of course, my discoveries/realizations are trial by error and its a shame that there isn't more research and information in mainstream medical journals or recommended by doctors.

Playing music really helped and still helping with my aphasia. Not just playing music but listening to my old favorite songs and singing the lyrics  Ric J.