Music in Medicine

The use of music therapy across healthcare is well-established. But what biological changes does music trigger to promote healing in patients? And do the effects extend to others involved in healthcare, such as family members and providers?

A lifelong pianist and Steinway Artist, Boston surgeon Claudius Conrad spends part of his research time working to answer these questions with evidence. He also seeks to restore an ancient tradition — the once common connection between music and how physicians train and practice.

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Evidence for Music’s Healing Ability

While still a surgical resident, Dr. Conrad co-founded and directed the Music in Medicine Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. By then he had joined a small group of researchers developing a new field, one that investigated music’s apparent healing effects with rigorous scientific inquiry.

In a seminal study published in 2007, Dr. Conrad and his partners showed that slow movements from Mozart’s piano sonatas could lower stress hormones while raising growth hormones. Subjects also had lower blood pressure and heart rates, with less need for sedation. Dr. Conrad and his colleagues proposed a particular biology pathway for these health benefits.

Listen to Dr. Conrad’s Steinway Album, Healing Hands

Exploring Music in Surgery

Dr. Conrad draws parallels to playing piano and performing surgery — not just the precise hand control and tactile feedback, but the focus demanded by both.

In the operating room, he has studied the impact music — and specific components of music — can have on:

  • Its use in building team dynamics

  • What surgeons can learn from professional musicians

  • The potential impact on surgical performance

Exploring Music in Surgery

Dr. Conrad’s group is in constant contact with musical collaborators around the world to continue the conversation about further developing the field.

Recent or current projects among Dr. Conrad’s group include:

  • Looking for molecular pathways of music-induced stress reduction

  • Helping families of surgical patients

  • Relieving anxiety among cancer patients who need disease re-staged after treatment

  • Promoting sleep at the hospital, especially for chronically and critically ill patients

  • Working with NASA to create culturally neutral and team-building music for long-distance space travel, such as a mission to Mars