Music Therapy for ADHD

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Music has long been used to influence our moods, help us relax, lift our spirits or energize us. Chances are, your parents used music to sooth you as a baby. As a teen, music probably became even more important to you, and the music you chose to listen to showed who you were as an individual.

You may listen to one type of music to help you relax or focus, another type to get you moving. As we grew up, we learned what we liked and how music could help us achieve our goals. Science is beginning to catch up to what we have instinctively known and is starting to incorporate music into education and treatment.

What is Music Therapy?

In simple terms, music therapy is the use of music to improve overall health. In recent years, music therapy has become more popular and according to Temple University, it is used in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, schools, prisons, community centers, training institutes, private practices, and universities.

Music therapy works on the premise that everyone has the ability to appreciate and benefit from music. In sessions, individuals may:

  • Create music

  • Play along with pre-recorded music

  • Compose songs or lyrics

  • Listen to music

Music therapists often encourage clients to talk about their reactions to the music or share their thoughts while listening to music. Some use other arts, such as drawing, painting, drama, poetry or dance to further explore their feelings.

Music therapy for children frequently includes games, stories or play activities involving music.
Recent Research Findings

Some recent research has shown benefits of music therapy in individuals with ADHD.

  • A study in 1996 incorporated music into neurofeedback programs. The results indicated children receiving music during the sessions showed more improvement than those receiving neurofeedback without music. [Pratt et al, 1996]

  • A survey completed in 2003 showed music therapy to be favorable in treating elementary age children with ADHD in conjunction with other treatment methods. [Jackson, 2003]

  • A few studies completed in New Zealand showed a decrease in impulsive behaviors and restlessness in the classroom for students with ADHD who received music therapy. [Rickson, 2006 and Montello, 1996]

Music in Education

Although not specifically listed as "music therapy" music has been used in the classroom to help enhance learning, attention, focus and retention by teachers for many years. Some examples of how music helps:

  • Setting music to lists, words, or anything that needs to be memorized

  • Background music while completing seatwork, tests or writing essays

  • Background music when greeting students to create a soothing, welcoming atmosphere

  • Providing a more integrated learning experience. Children with ADHD and learning disabilities learn better when several senses are activated during the process.

  • Helps develop a sense of community

Teachers, especially in the elementary grades, having been using music to accelerate learning. Unfortunately, as children move into the upper grades, music is used less and less.

Music in Treating ADHD

Music therapy probably isn't going to replace your current treatment for ADHD. But it may help to enhance your treatment and make it more effective. When working in a social situation, creatively using music can help a child better understand the frustrations of others, by the type of music their peers have chosen to express their feelings. Children with ADHD can also express their own feelings through their choices. It adds an extra dimension to learning social skills.

We have already discussed the importance music can play in creating a calming atmosphere for focusing on schoolwork and the same can be done at home, during homework time. Try singing the math facts or spelling words rather than just memorization. See if your child has an easier time remembering if set to music.

Music therapy can help a child better express frustrations, learn strategies to calm down or even increase energy during the ADHD "lag time" many people feel in the early morning hours. Try playing upbeat music to get your child moving in the morning.

A qualified music therapist can offer you additional suggestions and ideas for incorporating music into your daily life as well as using music as a therapy for managing and coping with ADHD symptoms.


"Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom", 1995, Chris Boyd Brewer, New Horizons for Learning

"Selected References on Music Therapy and ADHD", Date Unknown, Author Unknown, American Music Therapy Association

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.