Approximately four years ago, a music student told me about a friend that was going through a tough time due to extreme pain throughout her body from a car accident. Physical therapy had helped restore mobility to almost normal, but the aftermath of pain on a day to day basis severely diminished the person’s quality of life. I asked the student to invite her friend along for the next lesson.
The individual was thirty years old. After speaking with her a while, she confided that she had always wanted to play the flute. I showed her my rather extensive instrument collection, including flutes from all over the world. One flute in particular caught her eye. It is a flute made of solid Jade and just under 300 years old from the Quing Dynasty. Up to this point, her expression had remained somewhat stoic, as if trying to block out the constant waves of pain as they rippled throughout her body. After a brief lesson with the Jade flute, a smile crept in.
In less than a half hour, she was playing simple, but beautiful melodies. When she came in, she winced at raising her arm enough to shake hands. Now, she held the flute just below shoulder level as if she could hold it there indefinitely. She made the comment that the sound of the flute “felt” natural to her. Notice she did not say the sound of the flute “sounded” natural as one might expect. She said it “felt” natural. She experienced the mellow tone being blown through a solid rock and the combination became in sync with her own internal makeup. As a result, the pain was gone for the moment. Some would say that she was merely distracted for a while, taking her focus off of the pain, which made her feel better. The fact is, however, she had tried “distracting” herself with many activities over the past year and nothing had helped.
She purchased a flute and after just three months of lessons and experimentation, she was able to reduce her pain medication by 75%. This alone increased her overall quality of life because she had more energy, more self-esteem, more focus, and less pain. These results were consistent with an article I read on the subject. This article outlined the similarities between music and pain. Two of the most important similarities are that both can be classified as sensory input and output. (Harish, 1988) Sensory input means that when music is heard, the signals sent to the brain are sensorily as real as signals sent to the brain when pain is felt. Sensory output comes from the limbic system, which is usually considered the site of emotional synthesis. If the vibration of music can be brought into close resonance with the vibration of the pain, then the psychological perception of the pain is altered and eliminated.
In conclusion, I’m a firm believer in the medicinal qualities of music and have benefited physically, emotionally, and cognitively from music throughout my life.
Harish, John M and Eagle, Charles T. (1988) “Elements of Pain and music: The Aio Connection.” Journal of the American Association for Music Therapists, 7:15-27.