Musick has charms to soothe a savage Breast.” This oft-misquoted idiom, from the 17th-century play, Mourning Bride, by William Congreve, posits the idea of music as therapy.1 Note the words used in the original verse from 1697—it’s “musick,” not music and “breast” not beast. Because the words were penned so long ago, it’s hard to know for certain—or verify if “breast” was intended as “beast” (surely there were typos back then, too!)—but the meaning seems clear: In times of agitation or sadness, music can be a calming influence.

Music as therapy has shown positive and beneficial effects in managing a host of medical conditions, like high blood pressure, as well as an effective treatment for some mental health conditions. Usually part of a multi-pronged approach to care, music therapists work with doctors, nurses, social workers, and other practitioners to alleviate depression, trauma, schizophrenia, and more.2

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While modern music therapy may be a 20th-century “invention,” it is by no means a new concept. Ancient Greek philosophers used music therapeutically, playing tranquil flute melodies to manic patients; while people with depression were treated to the soothing sounds of a dulcimer (an instrument similar to a zither).

Physicians and musicians were housed in holy healing shrines—further cementing the intertwined relationship that music and healing had in Ancient Greece. Early Ancient Egyptian medical papyrus texts describe chant-like incantations for healing the sick. And within Chinese medicine, a tradition with an ancient lineage, music is seen to correspond to the five different organ and meridian systems, which can be used to promote healing.3

(Photo: RawPixel)

Updated: Feb 21, 2020
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