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  • Keith L. Cooper (guitar)

The Power of Music & Surgery/Health Care

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

Do certain types of music benefit surgical patients?

By: Keith L. Cooper

In one simple Google search, “How do I prepare for surgery,” it is not surprising numerous websites and blogs relate to a pragmatic side of surgery. Everything from dietary habits, clothing, and even blood pressure, are discussed at length. But what does the medical community think about the role of music in preparing and recovering from this process? Interestingly, emphasis on music is not as common in most web-articles or op-eds regarding preparation for surgery. Most think little about music when it comes to preparation and recovery relating to our well-being. However, is it possible music, and certain types of it, fulfill a vital role in planning and recuperation for those facing surgery? In matters of health, most people desire to experience less stress and an easier time in the doctor’s office. Consequently, it is possible the next time you find yourself under the surgeon’s knife, you may experience a bit more comfort, have an easier time for prep and recovery - and you might even save a few bucks. Is Any Style of Music Beneficial for Surgical Patients? Certain types of music are more effective than other ‘musics’ in limiting pre-surgery stress and post-surgery anxiety. The general consensus between some researchers and healthcare professionals is that “any” music can have a “positive affect” on pre-and- post-surgical patients. Conversely, when considering research based on historical, current, and emotional trends, yes, there are certain “types” of music that are more beneficial than others. Therefore, not all music may be beneficial with regard to surgery. Most published research suggests classical music, and in one study Turkish-classical music, tend to moderate anxiety and stress levels in patients. The majority of research underscores soft or easy-listening and new-age styles of music. Soft music might include classical music (Brahms, Mozart), crooner-style jazz (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole) and easy listening music (instrumental hymns, praise songs, or artists like John Tesh, Yanni, Enya). Some studies suggest fast or loud music styles, such as hard rock and grunge, hike blood pressure, stress levels, and other emotional responses, potentially leading to skewed vital signs upon arriving to a doctor’s office. “High levels of anxiety and pain may result in a more difficult procedure,” an “increased need for sedated medication leading to negative physiological manifestations such as increased blood pressure and heart rate” (Ko, S.Y., Leung, D.Y., and Wong, E.M. (2019). The Greek philosopher Plato, in The Republic, published in 380 BC, argued that music’s dramatic character had profound emotional and moral affect upon the listener. Plato suggested certain harmonies supported relaxation and stress reduction, while other music, possibly relating to rhythm/tempo inspired aggression and sadness. Additionally, “Not only will the brain restore blood glucose levels and skin temperature to normal levels in response to listening to music, it will establish levels corresponding to a state of relaxation. Music, therefore, can relieve the listener of feelings of stress - and induce calmness in its place (Miluk-Kolasa, B., Klodecka-Rozalska, J., & Stupnicki, R. (2002). There is sufficient practical evidence that soft music, or [carefully selected music can reduce stress, enhance a sense of comfort and relaxation, offer distraction from pain, and enhance clinical performance] (Kemper 2005).

Can Listening to Music Pre/Post-Surgery Benefit the Patient Money?

According to a study from the New York Times in 2015, surgical patients who listened to music, while receiving general anesthesia had a 20% reduction in pain, 10% reduction in anxiety, with a significant reduction in pain medication (costs, emphasis added). In another study, children having to complete echocardiograms without the need for medication or a nurse, by use of music, reduced costs by $74.24 for a single procedure, (Walworth D.D). In 2012 there was discontinuation of anxiolytic and antipsychotic medications, and reductions in behavioral problems and depressed moods of some senior healthcare patients (Thomas, K. S., Baier, R., Kosar, C., Ogarek, J., Trepman, A., & Mor, V. (2017). In a final study, the total cost of patients who used music therapy was $10,659 versus $13,643 for standard care patients (those who did not use music), resulting in a cost savings of $2984, yielding a cost benefit ratio of 0.83 (Gifford, L. (2007). This could also be another example of how listening to music pre and post-surgery may be a cost-effective method on medications.

The underlying theme is music reduces healthcare costs, which ultimately puts money back in the patient’s pocket. In addition, no negative side effects of music as an intervention were found and therefore seems a non-harming and non-invasive intervention, in surgical practice (Wesseldijk, L. W., Ullén, F., & Mosing, M. A. (2019). However, consideration also needs to take place with your doctor and standard office procedures. How long should you listen to music prior to surgery?

According to the Journal Peri-Anesthesia Nursing, listening to as little as 15 minutes of music preoperatively is an effective method to reduce anxiety in patients who are about to have surgery McClurkin, S. L., & Smith, C. D. (2016). Some researchers also suggest that music might best be listened to with earphones. This becomes more personal and can block out unnecessary talking and sounds in the waiting room. Music allows us to focus on sounds of relaxation and the familiarity of some of our favorite artists. Often these memories conjure up positive feelings of family, friends, and other experiences that connect us with who we are. This could bring us an inner sense of confidence and peace prior to the surgical process. Most of us scarcely consider the profundity of music as therapy, or the financially promising aspects of it. As research points out, listening to soft or easy-listening music has proven benefits for the pre and post-surgery “woes,” possibly save the patient financially. Either way, listening to music as therapy might make the surgical process easier on the patient and the doctor. When vital signs are normal (blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature), this typically means patients are calm, and the doctor does not have to wait to begin a procedure that requires their vitals to normalize. This could make for an easier, less stressful time for both patient and Healthcare provider. The next time doing a google search on preparing for surgery, should we consider doing a google search on the benefits of music therapy?


Gifford, L. (2007). A cost-benefit analysis of music therapy in a home hospice. Nursing economics, 25(6).

Kemper, K. J., & Danhauer, S. C. (2005). Music as therapy. South Med J, 98(3), 282-8.

Ko, S. Y., Leung, D. Y., & Wong, E. M. (2019). Effects of easy listening music intervention on satisfaction, anxiety, and pain in patients undergoing colonoscopy: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Clinical interventions in aging, 14, 977.

McClurkin, S. L., & Smith, C. D. (2016). The duration of self-selected music needed to reduce preoperative anxiety. Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing, 31(3), 196-208.

Nilsson, U. (2009). The effect of music intervention in stress response to cardiac surgery in a randomized clinical trial. Heart & Lung, 38(3), 201-207.

Miluk-Kolasa, B., Klodecka-Rozalska, J., & Stupnicki, R. (2002). The effect of music listening on perioperative anxiety levels in adult surgical patients. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 33(2), 55-60.

Thomas, K. S., Baier, R., Kosar, C., Ogarek, J., Trepman, A., & Mor, V. (2017). Individualized music program is associated with improved outcomes for US nursing home residents with dementia. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25(9), 931-938.

Walworth, D. D. (2005). Procedural-support music therapy in the healthcare setting: a cost–effectiveness analysis. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 20(4), 276-284.

Wesseldijk, L. W., Ullén, F., & Mosing, M. A. (2019). The effects of playing music on mental health outcomes. Scientific reports, 9(1), 1-9.


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