Clinical Studies Prove the Benefits of Chinese Musical Therapy in Depression, SAD, and Cancer

For ages, the rejuvenating, romantic, relaxing, cathartic, emancipating and energizing power of music has touched the emotional aspects of human beings. Physicians in ancient China have established a methodical system that incorporates the power of music into the healing process.

Having been documented 2,300 years ago in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, the first medical document in China, the use of music as therapy was known and utilized by healing practitioners to relieve depression, stress and anxiety in their patients. Music therapy is considered a branch of Chinese medicine in West Orange, and is one dimension of the Five-Element theory, which is the basis of TCM or traditional Chinese medicine. According to this theory, nature is manifested in five elements: water, fire, metal, earth, and wood. There are several corresponding aspects to each of these elements, such as a musical note, color, internal organ, season of the year, etc. Chinese classical music is made up of five sounds or notes — zhi, jiao, yu, shang and gong — and was performed on Chinese classical musical instruments: the flute, drum, zither and gong. This association between the five-element correspondences, such as musical notes, and the internal organs was used in Chinese medicine is used to bring about a variety of healing functions.

According to the Five-Element theory, the “zhi” sound (which corresponds to Western music’s G note) is associated with the fire element. This note affects the heart and is the sound of summer. It invigorates blood circulation and nourishes the Heart. The “jiao” sound (which is affiliated with the E note in Western music) is associated with the wood element. This sound specifically affects the Liver and is the sound of spring. The jiao note facilitates the healthy function of Liver Chi, which is specifically intended to treat depression. The “yu” sound (which corresponds to the A note) is related to the water element. It helps lessen Lung fire, protect Kidney essence, and nourishes the yin of the Kidney. The “yu” sound is the sound of winter. The “shang” sound (which corresponds to the D note) is related to the metal element. It provides nourishment and protection to Lung yin and is the sound of autumn. The “gong” sound (corresponds to the C note) is related to the element of earth, reinforces the Spleen and belongs to late summer.

Three Chinese clinical trials a few years back, experimented on the healing abilities of five-element Chinese classical music. A Taiwanese study whose results were published in March 2014, in the Nursing Practice International Journal was intended to analyze the impacts of Chinese five-element music therapy on nursing students who were experiencing depression symptoms. Randomly assigned to either a control group or a five-element musical therapy were 71 nursing students all suffering from depression. While being given different therapies, both groups still led the same routine lifestyles. The two groups were evaluated by analyzing their salivary cortisol levels and through the Adolescence Depression Mood Self-Report Inventory. Over time, the trial showed a meaningful decrease in the severity of depression in the music group, based on salivary cortisol levels and on initial and after therapy test scores.

A second research investigated the impact of five-element music therapy on old patients suffering from SAD or seasonal affective disorder. In a Chinese nursing home in Beijing, 50 patients were randomly but equally designated to either a control group or a musical therapy group. Over an eight-week period, the musical therapy group listened to five-element music for one to a couple of hours each week. According to the HAMD or Hamilton depression scale and the SDS or self-rating depression scale, which were used to evaluate the patients’ pre and post treatment, no major discrepancies were found between the two groups prior to treatment. However, eight weeks after, the HAMD and SDS score of the musical therapy group were shown to be substantially lesser than those of the control group (04/14, Traditional Chinese Medicine Journal).

A third research was conducted to assess five-element music’s influence on the quality of life of patients with advanced cancer. Patients with advanced-stage cancer were designated randomly to one of three groups: the group that weren’t treated with music therapy (34 subjects); the group subjected to Western-music therapy (68 subjects); and the group treated with five-element music (68 subjects). For three weeks, five days a week, thirty minutes each day, both the Western-music groups and music five-element listened to the music they were assigned to. Before and after treatment, all patients were evaluated using the KPS or Karnofsky Performance Score and the HQOLI-R or Hospice Quality of Life Index-Revised.

The outcomes revealed major discrepancies in the KPS and HQOLI-R scores post treatment between the other two groups and the five-element music group. This research concluded that five-element music therapy can better the KPS and the quality of life of advanced cancer patients (10/13, Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine).

Several other researches reveal that music can influence stress hormones, brain circulation, and brain waves. Music therapy apparently works in lowering the physical effects of stress: it can bolster the immune system, slow down breathing and heart rate, lower blood pressure. In addition, music can also expand the mind. A research published in the April 1998 edition of Nature magazine showed that the brain region used to assess a musical note’s pitch can be increased through experience and practice by twenty five percent.

All those aforementioned studies do not definitely prove that neither the “shang” note, in five-element theory, can nourish the Lung nor the “zhi” note can calm the Heart. Nonetheless, they definitely provide scientific validation to the sage Chinese physicians who developed a type of music therapy over two millennia ago!