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Music Changes Pain

67. Music Changes Pain

When I was at New York University doing a masters in music therapy, I did part of my internship at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and it was there that I learned in a very real way that music changes pain.

Part of the time, the music therapist (I’ll call her Marcia) working there and I traveled together. In one instance we came upon a man with his fists clenched in front of him. Marcia asked him if he was in pain and with gritted teeth he said that he was. She asked if he had told the nurse and he said he had and that she was coming. She asked if he would like some music. He said he would and said “How about Amazing Grace?”

We started to sing as Marcia strummed her guitar. Each verse his hands became less tense. He sang with us and we finished all four verses that were in our notebook and we stopped. He said, “What about the last verse?” We showed him that we had sung all the verses we had and he said, “That’s o.k., you can follow me.” He started to sing to the tune of Amazing Grace, “Praise God, praise God, praise God, praise God.” We joined him and sang those words throughout the hymn, ending with his hands totally relaxed in front of him.

In another instance we had helped the woman create her own notebook of songs she liked. She picked one of them for us to sing that day—clearly saying she wanted the second and fourth verses. She also had a tape recorder with a tape of us singing some of the songs and we asked her if she used it. She said she did and that sometimes she used it especially when she was in pain. She said, “Do you know what I do? I start the tape, and I close my eyes, and I climb up on the music and float.”

Music changes pain.

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