Let Music Be Thy Medicine

Whether you need to de-stress, get motivated, or lift your mood, music has an almost magical ability to help you feel better.

The key is knowing how to use it therapeutically.

That’s why today I’m going to reveal a valuable approach for getting the most out of music’s therapeutic potential.

Music heals a bit differently

When you’re feeling down, it makes sense to think that upbeat music would help lift your spirits.  

But it’s not always that simple. In fact, listening to happy music when you’re feeling sad can sometimes make you feel even worse.

Fortunately, experts in the field of music therapy have been studying this issue for years and recently, they’ve found an effective, reliable solution. I’ll tell you about it in just a minute.

But first, let’s talk about why and how this approach works…

Let yourself feel

The secret to using music to shift your mood begins with realizing and accepting that you experience emotions for a reason.

Your body is hardwired to express energy through emotional responses. Like laughing when something’s funny or crying when you’re sad.

But ignoring it, masking it, or distracting yourself from feeling the emotion invalidates it. And this lack of expression can ultimately do more harm than good.   

To truly feel better, you need to let yourself feel and move through an emotion as you’re experiencing it. 

And music therapists have found a unique method to help with this.

It’s called the iso-principle.

In their textbook, An Introduction to Music Therapy: Theory and Practice, Drs. William Davis, Kate Gfeller, and Michael Thaut—all professors and certified music therapists describe the method as:

“A technique by which music is matched with the mood of a client, then gradually altered to achieve the desired mood state. This technique can also be used to affect physiological responses such as heart rate and blood pressure.”

The good news is, you don’t need to enlist the help of a professional music therapist to get similar benefits. In fact, it’s easy to incorporate the iso principle in your everyday life.

Crafting therapeutic playlists

My favorite approach for implementing the iso-principle is to make a few therapeutic playlists ahead of time.

Having a few of these at the ready can make a huge difference, especially if you need them at a moment’s notice. Whether you’re at home, in the car, or out and about, your playlists will be right at your fingertips, ready to go.

Each of your playlists should be crafted with a certain emotion in mind—one that you experience regularly and have a desire to work through.

For example, you could make one to help lift your mood and another to calm anger.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. First, download a music streaming app like Spotify, YouTube, or Apple Music on your phone or computer.

    These programs are very user-friendly and convenient (plus many offer free versions).

  2. Now think of an emotion you often experience and want to work through.

  3. Pick five songs that make you feel that emotion.

    For example, if the emotion is anger, pick five songs that stir up those feelings inside of you.

    (And if you need to wait until you genuinely feel your emotion in order to make your playlist, that’s completely fine too. Allow yourself to do so.)

  4. Next, choose five neutral songs. These are songs you like, but that don’t particularly make you feel any particular way.

    Instrumental or ambient music is great for this.

  5. Finally, choose five songs that make you feel your intended outcome (happy, calm, etc.).

Each playlist should be a minimum of 15 songs long and made up of music that you like. Remember, you can always gradually build upon them or adjust them at any time.

Music can be used in so many ways. And the best part is, it’s free, natural, and accessible nearly anywhere.

If you’d like to learn more about all the various ways music can help you, check out the free archives on my website at donovanhealth.com/article.

P.S. If you’re interested in experiencing more sound-based therapy, you might like my Donovan Sound Solution. This audio toolkit is designed to activate your body’s own healing frequency sound. Click here to learn more or listen now.


SOURCES:

Crowe, B. (2004). Music and soul making: Toward a new theory of music therapy. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Davis, W.B., Gfeller, K.E., Thaut, M.H. (2008). An introduction to music therapy theory and practice. (Ed.). Silver Spring, MD: The American Music Therapy Association.

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.