Slow-tempo Music is Best

Classical music might be one of the best choices. Listening to slow-tempo classical music may ease pain from chronic osteoarthritis, says researchers at the Florida Atlantic University College of Nursing in Boca Raton, Fla. They found that study participants’ pain levels decreased because they were distracted by the music. Stress levels did, too. Music therapists have also found that heart muscles synchronize to the beat of music, as does breathing. When classical music rhythms mimic the average resting heart – approximately 70 beats per minute – the soothing sounds actually helped to slow fast-beating hearts.

“Music has a lot of power,” says Joanne Loewy, PhD, director of music therapy for Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Loewy uses music to slow patients’ breathing and promote relaxation.

But all music is not created equal. Faster compositions stimulate the heart rate, and some can actually rev up the nervous system. When listening to this kind of music, pain may actually feel more acute. Steven Halpern, PhD, a composer of music for healing and relaxation, offers tips for finding a classical regimen that can decrease your stress level and keep your mind off your pain:

Pay attention to your breathing and heart rate. If your breathing slows down while you’re listening to a selection, you are being soothed by the music; stress will melt away. On the flip side, if your heart is racing after a selection, save that music for your exercise routine.

Make your own music compilations. Store-bought classical compilations often mix rousing, booming pieces with slower, more relaxing ones, causing you to feel relaxed one minute and worked up the next. Find a compilation designed with relaxation in mind, or create your own mixed tape of slow favorites.

If classical music isn’t your cup of tea, try jazz or new age genres. Although classical music is a favorite among researchers, Loewy says any type of music that makes a person feel good when listening to it can be effective. Turn to the tunes that suit you, but here are a few suggestions for classical music collections you can find online or in retail stores:

  • "Beethoven for Relaxation"  
  • "Chopin for Relaxation"
  • "Vivaldi for Relaxation"
  • "The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe"
  • "Music for Sound Healing."