11/03/2012 11:10 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why Music, Part 4: Music, the Healer

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." -- Bob Marley

After graduating from the University of Michigan, I moved from the Midwest to produce records in Los Angeles. That evening, before driving my overstuffed Honda across the country, I sat with my late father to re-examine the contribution I would be making to the world by pursuing a career in music.

Fred was a pediatrician -- old-school style: lots of house calls, free treatments to friends and neighbors, extra-long office visits... "Doc Fitz," as everyone fondly referred to him, loved kids -- all of them, from the seven of us to the thousands he cared for throughout the city of Detroit. And kids of all ages loved Doc Fitz. When helping others, Fred was in his element -- he shined.

Maybe you can imagine why, as a young man longing for his father's blessings as he headed out into the world, I was facing a bit of a struggle with my decision to pursue my career as a record producer. Compared to the tremendous good he was doing in the world, I felt my choice was a little shallow, even selfish. Perhaps I could be doing something more noble and beneficial for others in need.

Fred, on the other hand, was extremely proud of me. He reassured me that my aspirations in music were incredibly important and reminded me how much people, especially children, needed the joy and healing they could receive through music. He also reconfirmed what I had already discovered in myself as a kid: that music is an essential ingredient, not only to create more joy, but to help survive and recover from many of life's toughest challenges.

What became clear that evening with my father was that he and I shared a common force in choosing very different career paths: to give people, especially youth, the medicine to heal their wounds, the strength to overcome challenges and the tools to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. Music was simply the healing modality I had chosen to do work.

When we raise the subject of healing, we immediately evoke countless definitions of the word. We live in a society where we are often defined by "what" we do with a pretty traditional list of boxes that the answers are expected to fit into. For many people, the concept of healing is limited to the business of health care, like it was for me before Fred showed me otherwise. In addition, music itself heals on so many levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, often all at the same time.

According to Hazrat Inayat Khan, author of Mysticism of Sound:

A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of his body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace.

Although I primarily apply the healing properties of music through the mediums of entertainment like songs, films, television, radio or live performances, I have worked on countless programs integrating music and health throughout my career. I am also incredibly inspired by those working on the frontline of health care to heal and transform lives through the power of music.

Across multiple disciplines, countless professionals are integrating music as part of the healing process. Psychotherapists use music in the treatment of people with addictions or depression.[1] Dental offices play background music to alleviate anxiety and hypertension. Shamans and spiritual healers work to purify the mind and body through mantra and drumming. Psychologists use music to help war vets challenged with post-traumatic stress disorder.[1] Surgeons play music to create a more healing environment and greater focus in the operating room. Trainers, yoga teachers and coaches use music to help provide greater focus and motivation, inspiring healthier and more balanced lifestyles.

And more and more, doctors and music therapists at hospitals, clinics and schools across the country are witnessing life-changing breakthroughs with their patients by having them listen to or play music as part of the recovery process. Elderly people benefit following certain surgeries, as music stimulates their brains and reduces episodes of confusion and delirium, often decreasing their need for pain medication and other drugs.[2] Stroke survivors are experiencing enhanced cognitive rehabilitation, as listening to and playing music helps activate brain regions related to attention, semantic processing, memory and motor function. [3] Cancer patients are accelerating the recovery process, managing pain and combating depression by making and experiencing music. Researchers show that activities like singing and drumming can help decrease pain and stress, while boosting immunity and increasing natural cancer-killer-cell activity.[4] For many, the physical and psychological impact of music is beyond therapeutic; it is life-altering -- restoring not only functionality, but also a sense of hope, confidence and will to live.

And we can significantly affect our own health by incorporating regular doses of music in our daily lives. Right down to the cellular level, the positive vibrations of good music can help heal, shift and enhance the state and quality of our emotions, our thoughts, our moods and our physical well-being.

Whether we using music as a source of joy and inspiration, a medicine for healing deep wounds, a therapy for physical rehabilitation, or a lifeline for surviving trauma and loss, and whether we are healed at the hand of a musician or an M.D., music is undeniably one of mankind's greatest healing modalities.

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[1] Campbell, Don and Alex Doman. Healing at the Speed of Sound: How What We Hear Transforms our Brains and Our Lives. New York: Plume, 2012.

[2] R. McCaffrey and R. Locsin, "The Effect of Music on Pain and Acute Confusion in Older Adults Undergoing Hip and Knee Surgery," Holistic Nursing Practice 20, no. 5 (2006).

[3] T. Särkämö et al., "Music Listening Enhances Cognitive Recovery and Mood After Middle Cerebral Artery Stroke," Brain 131, part 3 (2008).

[4] Mitchell L. Gaynor, "Harness the Healing Power of Sound," Cancer Support Online,

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