The Well-Tempered Ear

Can classical music help treat anxiety and depression? | January 24, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Can classical music help treat anxiety or depression?

Based on what I have seen and read and experienced personally, the proposition seems iffy to me.

I recall that  the famed piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below)

retired from concertizing several times when he was being treated for depression, and that his late career success blossomed only after he got off medication that had impaired his playing and memory.

Somehow when you’re depressed, a sense of pleasure goes away. Doesn’t that affect whether and how you listen to classical music — or, for that matter, any other kind of art or music?

It is hard to imagine composing music when you are seriously or clinically depressed or anxious. But maybe some famous composers did just that.

Maybe some performers too.

But then again maybe the field of art therapy has made progress on that front.

Anyway, some German researchers now say that classical music– but not necessarily others kinds  can benefit anxious and depressed persons.

Here’s a link:

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/304312,music-can-help-treat-conditions-such-as-anxiety-depression.html

What do you think or know from personal experience about listening or performing classical music if you are depressed or anxious?

How do you respond to classical music when you are anxious or depressed?

Are there composers or pieces you find good or bad to listen when you are depressed or anxious:

What do you make of the new research?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Posted in Classical music

7 Comments »

  1. I have suffered from depression for about the last fifteen years. I have tried anti-depressant medication, psychologists, and counsellors, none of which have had any real, useful effect. I normally listen to music in the alternative or blues genres as they feel “right” to me. However, for me, today is the first day of a self-designed classical music program (developed by researching suggested classical pieces for treating depression). Basically, I’m wiling to try this is it doesn’t make any less sense than anything else I’ve tried! I believe music can be very influential to someone’s state of mind.

    Comment by Isabel — September 18, 2011 @ 11:11 pm

    • Hi isabel,
      Thank you for reading and replying in such a personal matter and with such detail.
      I completely agree with you and do not think you will be disappointed.
      I personally have found classical music, both listening to it and making it, to be very beneficial for difficult moods, including depression and anxiety.
      I hope it works for you too.
      Do please let us know the results — and also the pieces, composers and performances you find most helpful.
      Others could benefit from your experience, I am sure.
      They might also have suggestions for you based ion their own experiences.
      Good luck and best wishes,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 19, 2011 @ 8:44 am

  2. I think it probably depends on why someone suffers from depression. If there’s a physical cause for their depression like a hormonal imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or toxic overload, I doubt that music would help them significantly. Although at least it won’t hurt to try.

    Comment by Dr Janelle Sinclair — August 9, 2010 @ 2:08 am

    • Dear Dr. Sinclair,
      I suspect you are right for the most part.
      But there is some research I believe, that shows music can indeed alter hormonal balances and affect the brain. (See the book “This Is Your Brain on Music.”)
      But how much I don’t know.
      I suspect, as you say, a lot depends on the severity of the depression and that, as you also say, music can’t hurt and it might help.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — August 9, 2010 @ 10:39 am

  3. Interesting… I found a similar study where researchers used “favorite songs” to evaluate Anhedonia (loss of interest in once pleasurable activities). Which might explain your “Somehow when you’re depressed, a sense of pleasure goes away. Doesn’t that affect whether and how you listen to classical music — or, for that matter, any other kind of art or music?” observation. Check out the study if you got some time:

    http://parkertichko.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/what-can-music-tell-us-about-depression/

    Comment by freezegelman — June 19, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

  4. Oui, la musique est la meilleure thérapie contre la dépression : je le sais mieux que quiconque !
    Le chant est la voie royale pour se prévenir de la maladie (car c’en est une) ou pour en guérir.

    lisez, sur le site http://www.ensemblevocaldecambrai.fr
    ou écrivez-nous (adresses sur le site).

    Le premier point est de trouver l’impédence du lieu qui sera source d’énergie.
    à bientôt.

    Comment by Ensemble Vocal de Cambrai — June 6, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  5. I don’t know about depression, but I think it’s possible to lift a mild anxiety by playing or singing, especially with others. It helps break the cycle of rumination and repeated negative thoughts and literally takes you out of yourself.

    On the other hand, if you want to feel sorry for yourself and dramatize your woes, there’s lots of classical music to help set the stage for a session of schmertz. (I used to like the “Death in Venice” Adagietto from the Mahler Fifth and the slow movement from a Mozart oboe quartet.) That could be a whole interesting and embarrassing discussion.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — January 24, 2010 @ 12:57 am


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