Music Therapy & Biofeedback


Eric B.Miller Ph.D. CMT-BC BCIAC

The applications of biofeedback have been rapidly expanding in the 1990s since the advent of the microcomputer and computerized psychophysiological data acquisition systems. Likewise the modality has gained more acceptance in the medical arena due to the tangible evidence of effectiveness in the form of charts and graphs which are difficult to refute. Concurrently the general population is becoming more interested in "holistic", non-drug interventions and therapies which empower the patient as opposed to leaving the locus of control (and responsibility for healing) in the hands of a doctor, drug or psychotherapist.

Reports of voluntary control of single motor units date back to early and mid 20th century (Smith, 1934); (Marinacci & Horlande, 1960); (Basmajian, 1963) within the framework of the treatment of neuromuscular disorders. Since then research has shown that voluntary control of the autonomic nervous system can be achieved to lower blood pressure, relax muscles not previously under conscious control, increase temperature in peripheral extremities (e.g. raise finger temperature in some cases over ten degrees), alter brainwave patterns and change heart rate. Electromyography (EMG) is becoming standard procedures in certain rehabilitation treatments of neuromuscular disorders and thermal training as been selected by the American Medical Association as treatment of choice for Raynaud's Disease. Other disorders for which biofeedback has proven to be effective include general stress, anxiety, TMJ, low back pain, hypertension, attention deficit disorder, asthma, and particularly migraine and muscle contraction headaches.

A closer look at the actual training which occurs in a biofeedback session reveals that sound and imagery play an integral role in assisting the clients to achieve their physiological objectives. Audio feedback is a standard intervention which allows a client to hear the physiological changes they are making to help bring them under voluntary control. For example, when an audio signal which corresponds to the tension level of the trapezius ascends in pitch when the muscle tightens and descends in pitch as the muscle relaxes. Modern computerized systems can assign live-sounding digital representations of musical instruments and sounds to muscle groups of choice, for example an orchestral string section to the frontalis and a flute section to the latissimus dorsi... maybe a snare drum to the heart area.

Music may also be used as a vehicle to assist in achieving a relaxed state. Spoken images of relaxation, light, color and beaches in conjunction with music are all typical in the guided imagery interventions. The type of music which is best suited to a client, this author has noticed, is individual due to the clients particular associations with certain types of music. Some methods (Bonney, 1978) prefer to utilize classical music only.

Other uses of music in biofeedback include the giving of music as a reward for behavior modification in the desired direction. An example of this might be the automatic playing of a favorite Mozart symphony once a frontal EMG drops below 2.5 microvolts. The symphony only plays while the muscular tension remains below the 2.5 threshold, once the EMG level increases above that threshold, the music stops.

Further use of musical intervention involves the active participation of the client in the music-making process to achieve the desired physiological goal. Some examples are vocal toning, chanting, drumming and melodic improvisation. Drumming has been shown to alter Beta/Theta ratios when observing brainwaves via EEG feedback. As individuals have varied tastes, some interventions will feel more comfortable than others for any particular client.

Being that sounds and images are such a key elements in biofeedback training, it seems logical that even more effective results could be obtained by clinicians dually trained in biofeedback as well as in the use of music and art as a therapeutic modality. With this notion in mind, it appears that biofeedback utilized in conjunction with music therapy and art therapy provide a promising area for exploration and research.


Basmajian, J. V. (1963) Conscious Control of Individual Motor Units. Science, 141, 440-441.

Bonney, H. (1973). Music and our Mind: Listening with a New Consciousness. New York: Harper & Row.

Marinacci, A.A., & Horande, M. (1960) Electromyogram in Neuromuscular Re-education. Bulletin of the Los AngelosNeurological Society, 25, 57-71.

Morgan, E. (1975). Music - A Weopen Against Anxiety. Music Educator's Journal, LXI, 38-40.

Oyle, I. (1979). The Healing Mind. California: Celestial Arts.

Schwartz, M. (1987) Biofeedback: A Practitioners Guide. Guilford Press. N.Y.

Smith, O.C. (1934). Action Potentials from Single Motor Units in Voluntary Contraction. American Journal of Physiology, 108, 629-638.

Sears, W. (1968) Processes in Music Therapy. Music In Therapy (Gaston E. editor). New York: Macmillan Co. p 33.

Tyson, F. (1981). Psychiatric Music Therapy: Origins and Development. New York: Fred Weidner and Son Printers, Inc.

About the author:
Eric B. Miller Ph.D. CMT-BC is a relationship-oriented psychotherapist, consultant, published author, certified biofeedback therapist and board-certified music therapist . He has instructed at the University of Massachussetts, Antioch College and has conducted trainings at various local institutions and agencies. Dr. Miller also serves as president of Expressive Therapy Concepts, a nonprofit agency dedicated to education in the creative arts therapies. He can be reached at ETC, 125 Prospect St. Phoenixville, PA 19460 (610) 933-8145 or at the Mind Body Connection in King of Prussia, PA (610) 265-8806 ext.7

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