Music soothes the savage beast. You may have heard this phrase as a child. It's pretty much taken for granted. A team in Cleveland has performed a study that confirms that music can soothe the savage beast of debilitating illness.

Listening [you don't like] does not improve mood.

The study focused on 200 patients with various types of cancer, AIDS, neurodegenerative diseases or other "life-limiting" conditions. The average age of the patients in the study was slightly over sixty but ranged from twenty-four to eighty-seven. Physical and psychological tests were conducted both before and after an initial therapy session. The tests showed a marked improvement in patient anxiety, pain and shortness of breath after the therapy. More importantly, 80% of the patients said that their mood had improved after the therapy. They felt better.

The research team says that this is the first large study to gauge — and substantiate — the potential of music therapy as an aid to patients with advanced illness.

The study team was headed by Lisa M. Gallagher, a music therapist with the Cleveland Music School Settlement and the Cleveland Clinic's Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine. The study was conducted between 2000 and 2002, and the results were scheduled to be presented at the19th Annual Clinical Meeting of The American Academy of Pain Management in Nashville, Tennessee, September 2008.

While most people like music, many disagree on what actually constitutes music. Listening to the wrong type of music does not improve peoples' moods. From the New Age music torture of teenage goth girls to Beethoven enduring a mynah bird playing Jimmy Durante records, popular culture is rife with these images. Stairway to Heaven wasn't meant to speed the trip there. That's why the patients in this study got to choose the style of music used in their therapy.

After the patients chose their preferred type of music, Ms. Gallagher or an intern played appropriate selections on keyboards, for an average of twenty-five minutes. Family members were present about one-third of the time, and they also experienced an improvement in mood.

Katherine Puckett is National Director of mind-body medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Illinois. She shares her experiences with the effects of music on the seriously ill: "I've seen music be very comforting, relaxing, healing, calming and helpful with patient pain. It may be hard to put into words, because it's often a visceral reaction that people feel. But music can transport people because they can really relate to it. So it can distract from pain. It can even help regulate breathing."