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September 2013

In This Issue:  

   News Item

Characteristics of Healing Music

Twenty-five years ago, writing about healing music was not something that many musicologists would do.  As the newly appointed Coordinator of Music and Medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, I was stepping into new territory.  But I was SO thrilled to have this opportunity and jumped in with both feet and eyes wide open!

One of the first things I began studying and researching was the components and characteristics of healing music.  We all know what music we like and, depending on our mood and energy level, we know what music to reach for to calm us, soothe us, comfort us, energize us or simply to distract us!  But no matter what music you prefer and choose, there are certain characteristics common to all healing music. 

Here are the top seven things to listen for when trying to determine your optimal choice:

Melody-a simple melody with a narrow range and primarily step-wise melody with small intervallic leaps.

Harmony- harmonies can use triads and 7th chords, but texture should be spare with perhaps no more than 3 or 4 notes per chord.  This is a matter of taste, but when choosing healing music, the sicker a person is, the simpler the harmonies and texture should be.

Rhythm- in order for entrainment to happen, the rhythm and pulse of the music should be basically steady with little if any syncopation or complicated rhythms.

Tempo-for healing music, a moderate tempo is ideal.  Again, the sicker a person is, the slower the music and the harmonic rhythm will be.

Dynamic range- for healing music, the dynamic range will probably be anywhere from pianissimo to mezzo forte.  A person who is quite ill and perhaps in the ICU will not want loud, fast, or rhythmically complicated music.

Timbre-a soft beautiful tune played on a flute or a harp will sound very different played on a trumpet or a trombone.  Each instrument and each voice has its own unique timbre.  That's how we know who is calling us on the phone before they even say their name.  We "recognize" their voice and we "recognize" the sound and timbre of different instruments.  Instruments for healing music tend to be soft and gentle and easy to listen to.

Instrument-the most popular instruments for delivering healing music seem to be the harp, the flute and the piano.  These are generally considered to be easy to listen to and mellow.  The more percussive instruments such as drums or xylophones, or brass instruments such as trumpets or tubas, would not be popular for healing music.

All of this is certainly open for discussion, if not debate, but these are seven important facets to be seriously considered when choosing music for your healing, relaxing and calming.

   Healing Music Blog

Healing Music Delivery: Live, Recorded, Headphones, Ambient?

This is a question that many people want to know. And the fact is, all of the above are viable and effective choices if you want to use the music you love for healing purposes. As a general rule, live music is always the best, but it’s just not always practical to have a live and capable music playing in your living room, hospital room or bedroom.

To have music being specially chosen and played for you by a music therapist is ideal, but that is probably not available to you very often. In New York City, Los Angeles and other large cities, live musicians and music therapists go to the operating room, the delivery room, the ICU, CCU, and individual patients rooms to provide patient-chosen music, but in the vast majority of hospitals, this is not available to patients.

So how can you benefit from the healing powers of music in the most effective way? The next set of choices include recorded music through personal headphones, speakers in the wall of perhaps a boom-box or CD player with speakers in the room. Patients occasionally use their own iPods or iPhone with earbuds, which are far from ideal! Not only do their iPods and iPhones bring lots of germs with them, they do have cords that can become entangled with other objects, and the ear-buds are notorious for falling out!

The operating rooms that have speakers in the wall are set up for playing music for the surgeon. For several decades now, surgeons are choosing and playing music that they like and that they believe the patient will enjoy while going under sedation. The problem there is that what the doctor likes and often chooses is high energy music that is good for him and his work, but the music the patient needs is slow, steady, soothing music that will allow the phenomenon of entrainment to kick in and relax the patient without as much medication.

Just being aware of these various pros and cons will give you a tremendous advantage when planning your surgery, chemo, cosmetic procedure or other medical procedure. Questions? Feel free to contact me at

 DrAlice@SurgicalHeadphones.com  or DrAlice@SurgicalSerenity.com.

Read More postings on "Healing Music Blog"...

    Surgery and Music Blog

More Benefits for Music with Surgery: HIPAA compliance

Today I was talking with a nurse at a large mid-Western hospital. They had contacted me about buying our pre-programmed headphones for their surgery patients and I was answering her questions and beginning to understand what their specific needs were. The nurse told me that they specifically wanted them for pre-surgery, because there were invariably a room full of patients waiting to be taken into surgery and that each was allowed to have two people with them.

Occasionally, the nurse went on, the room is crowded with surgical patients and one of them begins having a problem or an issue of one kind or another. The nurses congregate at the one nursing station to discuss the patient/issue/medical crisis and all of the other patients and family members can easily hear the conversation! Of course this is totally against HIPAA compliance with privacy and patient confidentiality. In other words, one of the main reasons they wanted the Surgical Serenity Headphones was so that patients achieved privacy and sonic “space.”

When we look at benefits, we typically cite

  • reduced anxiety
  • stabilized blood pressure
  • stabilized breathing and oxygenation of blood
  • reduced anesthesia requirements
  • faster recovery for patient
  • less nausea and vomiting after surgery \
  • back to work and life faster because of less medication

Now we have a new one: better HIPAA compliance! And that is truly a big deal.

I’ve worked at several different hospitals since HIPAA was put into law and I know that the fines for violating HIPAA laws are enormous. Hospitals can even lose the accreditation is they repeatedly violate HIPAA laws and policies. Very important! Take note, hospital administrators!

Please Read More from our Surgery and  Music Blog...

    Brain and Music Blog

Why does music affect emotions so powerfully?

Have you ever had the experiencing of bursting into tears when you heard a piece of music that was so achingly beautiful that you couldn’t hold back tears? I have. Have you ever heard music that simply made you smile/grin from ear to ear because it was so clever or even funny? I have. Have you ever heard music that totally gave you the “creeps?” I have.

Music can inspire and elicit hundreds of shades of emotion. It can be familiar or it can be something you’ve never heard before. I remember that first time I heard the theme music from “Schindler’s List.” It was one of these hauntingly tragic melodies, played on the violin that just made me want to sob immediately. Listen to a little of it:

If video doesn't play, here is the link

This is the power of music and I believe that it is a power we can harness, with intention and healing, to help people process painful feelings, and also to enjoy their good feelings all the more. It can also be used, of course, to help people deal with physical pain, neurological disorders, surgery and so much more.

An interesting study from Northwestern University suggests that people with musical training are especially fine-tuned to the emotions of others.

Here are excerpts from their findings:


    Alice H. Cash

For nearly two decades, I've been helping people use the music that they already love to heal their lives and increase their wellness quotient!  I am one of the world's only clinical musicologists and hold  a Masters degree in piano performance, a Ph.D. in musicology and a Master of Social Work in clinical social work.  I am also a licensed clinical social worker. I work with people and diagnoses of all kinds, enabling them to find healing, acceptance and hope.

I love performing, researching, and teaching and have put them all together in a career called "Music Medicine." 

See you next month!!

 Alice Cash        


Dr. Alice H Cash



"Using Music in the Hospital"

Dr. Alice H. Cash is often asked to share her
Grand Rounds Presentation with hospitals' doctors and staff.  Learn what is currently happening around the world and the results they are having.


"It was the easiest of all hand surgeries! I was listening to music, then a slight lull of nothing and then back to the music. Wonderfully comfortable. The best surgical experience yet. I am honored to know, worked with and utilized Dr. Cash's magnificent creation. I do hope the medical field understands the import of her invention!"

Sheryl S.
Louisville, KY




Dr. Cash will come and speak or play a recital for YOUR association, conference, university or church

Just visit our speaker information page and then let's talk!


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