A Prescription for Music Lessons

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PTSD and Guitars for Vets Program

Guitars for Vets is a nonprofit organization with 25 chapters that uses music to assist veterans with physical and mental health injuries.30 The program provides free guitars and weekly music lessons taught by volunteers. The weekly music lessons create a forum for veterans to socialize and share personal experiences, thus contributing to their healing process.30 A randomized, controlled pilot study was conducted with veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who may have physical and mental changes such as self-isolation from others, night sweats, flashbacks, and depression.31

The study participants had weekly private guitar lessons for 1 hour and a group learning session. The results showed positive outcomes in both PTSD and depression symptoms after 6 weeks of guitar lessons.30 One veteran with PTSD who participated in the Guitar for Vets Program stated, “I came here with some real serious anger issues; this takes my mind off everything.” This veteran noted that as he practiced, a peaceful feeling enveloped him and the memories of trauma faded.32

Personal Experience

Following the completion of my PhD, I started piano lessons as a hobby. I also found engaging in playing music helped me to psychologically cope with the overwhelming stress of having a parent with a debilitating disease.

My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson disease, making it difficult for him to view life positively. Piano lessons helped him to mentally deal with his disease. Dad genuinely looked forward to his music lessons and was able to focus on practicing the piano rather than on his disease. I believe playing the piano prevented him from becoming depressed and kept him engaged, because he was accomplishing something.

Dad’s Parkinson disease has progressed; he is now in a nursing home. My gift to Dad is playing the piano for him. I sincerely believe it helps him cope with his disease or at least temporarily forget about it. His mood changes, and he becomes more animated. In his more lucid moments, we play music together. Playing music has a magical way of creating peace within the mind. Plato is often attributed with the quote, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”


A healthful lifestyle includes holistically addressing issues pertaining to mental and physical well-being. Learning how to play a musical instrument is a workout for the brain, just as physical exercise is a workout for the body; both are necessary for optimal health. Evidence exists to support the hypothesis that playing an instrument elicits brain changes that positively influence cognitive functioning and decreases stress. Despite the lifelong benefits of playing an instrument, only about 8% of adults aged > 18 years play a musical instrument.33

Playing a musical instrument provides health benefits without the adverse effects that accompany pharmacologic therapy. It also can help improve social skills and provide individuals with a sense of achievement. Group music lessons provide an opportunity for people to build bonds and positively affect lifestyle choices.

In addition, engaging individuals in learning to play music may decrease the cost of health care when considering treatments for depression, PTSD, and substance abuse. Playing an instrument may help decrease the need for antidepressants and provide a healthy recreational activity. Based on its physical and mental benefits, learning to play a musical instrument should be explored as complementary alternative medicine. Compared with filling prescription medications over an individual’s lifetime, the cost of a portable keyboard is substantially less.


Given the benefits of increased coordination, social involvement, neural responses, and ability to focus along with improving fine motor skills and reducing stress, including music lessons as part of a veteran’s health care makes sense and is well worth further investigation and research.

The author would like to thank Jack Hooten, MHA, MSN, RN, and Jennifer Hammond, MS, for their help in preparing this manuscript.


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