Music Therapy Gaining in Popularity in Bengaluru

Researchers and practitioners find evidence that working with structured sound improves cognition and reduces pain perception

Published: 03rd June 2015 06:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd June 2015 06:03 AM   |  A+A-

QUEEN'S ROAD:Latika (11) suffers from Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) under the autism spectrum. When she was younger, she faced great difficulty in communication. Her parents signed her up for music therapy when she was eight.

Three years on, Latika is showing progress. “We didn’t know she was inclined towards classical music until we started music therapy. She is able to reproduce songs spontaneously and keep time,” said Priya Kannan, Latika’s mother. Latika is more confident, can perform before an audience, and has started exploring instrumental music.

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Music therapy is becoming increasingly popular in India, not only as adjuvant treatment but also as a career.

“There is greater awareness. Many musicians come forward to become music therapists, often from diverse backgrounds,” said Kavitha Krishnamoorthy, director of Sampoorna Music Therapy Centre.

Music involves brain function, and engages all cognitive processes from attention to information processing to emotional perception, say therapists.

“It triggers neurochemical and neurophysiological changes in the brain which is why we use it to improve cognitive functions in clinical conditions,” said Dr Shanthala Hegde, a neuro psychologist and researcher in neuro musicology and music cognition at Nimhans.

Therapy is based on the observation that the human brain is malleable -- the doctors call it neural plasticity. “This enables us to use music therapy to target the deficits in the brain,” she told City Express.

Clinical proof

As part of a study, she has recorded the effect of music on patients undergoing spinal procedures. “The perception of pain and stress reduces for those who listen to music before, during and after the surgery. The brain registers music and takes effect even if the patient is unconscious,” she explained.

Also, hypothesis and evidence published in the journal Scientific World says the dosage of medication can be reduced when music in involved.

Slow process

However, music therapy does not produce results overnight, especially when it involves helping patients recover cognitive functions.

Dr Meenakshi Ravi, director of Meera Centre for Music Therapy Research and Education, recalls her experience with a schizophrenic patient. “Although a slow process, music therapy reduced his medical dosage and improved his self-esteem and confidence. He is now working successfully as a music therapist,” she said.

So can it replace traditional medicine in the future? “No, it cannot be used as a substitute for drugs but has the potential to evolve as a form of non-invasive supplementary intervention that will build up body resistance and reduce drug intake in the long run,” she said.

Music therapy is applicable to a wide variety of medical fields such as paediatrics, oncology, psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and neurosurgery.

Vedic tradition

In fact, music therapy has a rich history in India. “Our ancient Vedic texts described it in detail. Gandharva Veda, an Upaveda of Sama Veda, is the Veda of music and enumerates its science and application on the basis of Ayurveda and yoga. All we need to do is disseminate this knowledge to the masses,” says Dr Jayalakshmi H K, nutrition specialist and researcher in music therapy at Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research.

Raga prescriptions

The therapy draws on the effect of the Pancha Maha Bhootas (earth, air, water, fire, ether) on the various parts of our body, and accordingly lists which raga is effective in curing a particular ailment.

“For example, a nishadha pradhana raga is used for psychosomatic disorders where a deep mental wound is inflicted, as in the case of cancer too. Madhayana pradhana raga activates the oxytocin centres in the body and is helpful for women who are unable to breastfeed. Similarly, Kalyani and Vrindavana Saranga help in tackling depression, and menstrual problems,” said Dr Jayalakshmi.

Music helps children with autism as well. “The specially challenged have an extraordinary interest in music. For autistic children, we have found them become calmer, and more expressive. Their social relations, speech, self-esteem, confidence, concentration and memory increase greatly,” said Dr Meenakshi Ravi.

According to Kavitha Krishnamoorthy, parents realising children’s inclination towards music and an increasing awareness are changing the trajectory of music therapy in India.

The kind of music chosen for treatment depends on the goals for the person. Carnatic music is used in autism: some therapists say it has the most calming effect on the child, with om chanting, and helps in reducing anxiety.

“It has unique swara (note) patterns coupled with components of gamaka which are absent in Western music,” according to Meenakshi. “In general, Indian classical music focuses on raga structures which you do not see in Western music.”

Certain ragas evoke certain emotions, she says. “I have looked at 10 ragas of Hindustani classical music, from their aalap portion to jhorjhaala, and the emotional experience differs in each,” said Dr Shantala.

Training scene

The field faces innumerable challenges as well. Unlike in the West, there is no academic training for a music therapist. Most are musicians who have heard of the subject and want to contribute to healing.

“We train them individually. Sometimes, music therapists come from abroad and help in the training,” said Kavitha Krishnamoorthy. The country has few qualified music therapists and fewer institutions training them.

There is also a need to bridge the gap between science and music. According to Dr Meenakshi, “A good music therapist must have training in psychology besides a knowledge of the basic aspects of music.”

Dr Shanthala agrees. “It is crucial to have a scientific understanding of music and the human body in order to use music effectively.”

The notion that one has to be a musician in order to become a music therapist does not necessarily hold true.

“To be a physiotherapist, one needn’t be a wrestler. It is essential to know the pressure points in the body, and how treatment differs from one ailment to another, and from patient to patient. It is the same with a music therapist,” said Dr Shantala.

Music therapy can go further, say practitioners. They believe a standardised approach can be formulated if scientists and musicians collaborate and unify the science and the art.


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