Music therapist’s 5 tips for using music to improve health


Music therapy provides a host of health benefits ranging from developmental support for children to stress management and refocusing attention for adults. On top of its benefits in a clinical setting, music can also be used therapeutically at home.

Jenna Bollard, a music therapist who works with pediatric patients and their families at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital, advocates for the use of music in our daily lives.

"In stressful situations, we don’t always immediately think of music," Bollard said, "but music can be incredibly helpful in shifting a mood or improving a situation in many different ways."

Bollard encourages individuals and families to think of music in the following ways to improve their health and well being.

Think about how certain songs and genres affect your mood.

Different sounds and types of music affect us in different ways. When we're in tune with our reaction to different styles of music, we can tailor the music we listen to – and our mood – in relation.

"I encourage people to be aware of how sound and music is impacting them throughout the day, taking note of their physiological reactions to certain songs and styles of music," said Bollard. "If you notice that certain music helps you to feel more relaxed, for example, then you can call upon that music when you are feeling anxious or stressed."

Julian at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital

Use music to prompt activities for kids and toddlers.

Families can benefit from pairing particular songs with actions to ease children into activities.

"Parents and caretakers can use music during times of transition to help engage their babies and toddlers," said Bollard. "Creating songs for certain situations – like when it's time to change a diaper or time to clean up – can not only help to provide social and behavioral cues to kids, but can also promote language development and word-activity associations along the way."

Bollard encourages parents to be creative and make their own songs for these situations, too. To do so, they can borrow a melody from a common song – like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider” – and change the lyrics to fit the activity or situation.

Create playlists for different purposes.

Music impacts the activities we do. Many gym-goers and athletes can vouch for the benefits of listening to music for energy and motivation.

"Use your playlists and go-to-songs when you are trying a challenging exercise or when you might need some help relaxing," she says.

Create music yourself.

Bollard encourages individuals and families to not only listen to music others have made, but to make music themselves.

"Singing and playing instruments is great for your mental health," said Bollard. "Making music has been shown to engage many areas of the brain and stimulate the creation of new neuropathways."

No need to be an expert, either. Bollard notes that there are many ways to make music even if you're not already a pro. Testing out computer programs and smartphone apps that allow you to create music or singing in the shower are just a few ways.

Share music with those around you.

Bollard encourages us to involve music in our relationships in different ways – like exchanging music with someone from a different generation, sharing or creating a collaborative playlist with others, or learning a new instrument together with your family.

"Group music making and singing encourages bonding, builds community and brings along a host of physiological and psychological benefits," says Bollard. "Sharing music is a great way to connect with others."