Mental Health Starts with Listening

JUN. 02, 2017

By Kenny Baldwin


When was the last time you considered how sound might impact your health?  Most of us only think about sound pollution when there’s a jackhammer outside our bedroom window, but it turns out what you listen to all day can affect your wellness. And since music is the most complex sound system you encounter in daily life, it may be worth pausing to consider what the next song on your playlist may do to your health. 

My research team at Genote discovered just how true this was when we were running some tests with premature infants in a neonatal intensive care unit. The sounds premature babies hear can cause stress or even cause pain because their ears are very sensitive. We wanted to see if we could use music to help them cope with stress, anxiety and development issues that come from living out of the womb too early.

Music is made up of hundreds of different components, such as melody, harmony and rhythm. Songs combine these elements to produce certain styles and emotions. But these musical elements also trigger reactions from the mind and body. After studying these interactions for more than twenty years, our team learned how to produce music that targets specific health goals.

We used a program of our specially prepared music to help the babies sleep better and to relax when they showed signs of discomfort—which worked almost immediately. In some cases, this improvement had significant health improvements for the babies, such as restoring oxygen levels in the blood.

After seeing how music could improve health in premature infants, we wanted to know if we could improve the lives of other groups of people. So, we partnered with a special education school that worked with young, blind students. We were hoping to help them improve focus, sleep, relationships and decrease anxiety through music.

By applying a special music-listening program at home and school, we saw improvement in nearly all the areas we were studying, including the students’ ability to focus, relax and sleep deeply and consistently. One student’s mother told us that the music made her son more playful and she could tell he slept more deeply and woke up in a happy mood, setting the tone for a positive day for learning.

Using Sound to Promote Mental Health

The biggest takeaway from these studies is the impact our sound environment has on our emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, negative sound pollution can also have a significant detrimental impact on mental health, such as increasing stress, anxiety and even blood pressure. Many studies also link certain types of music to negative emotional conditions like depression.

The sounds around you right now are influencing the state of your mental health. If you’re interested in seeing how your sound environment is affecting you, experiment with the following:

  1. Keep a sound journal. At the end of each day, write down all the sounds you remember hearing. See if you can identify how any given sound affected you and make a note. Make a note describing how you felt that day.

  2. Experiment with music. In your sound journal, pay close attention to what music you listen to and the effect of any given song or genre.

  3. Make adjustments. Try to add more of the sounds that bring a positive change to your day and avoid the sounds that cause stress or anxiety.

  4. Re-evaluate. After a week, evaluate how your experiment went and assess how your mood changed because of the changes you implemented.

My dream is for people everywhere to become more aware of how sound, and especially music, can be a measurable, impactful tool for healthy living. By better harnessing the power of music to improve mental health and stability, we have a powerful tool at our disposal that we can use before considering more invasive means of correction. A careful approach to music can change the game for mental health. It just starts with listening.


Kenny Baldwin is COO at Genote, LLC, a company that provides streaming access to clinically tested music albums that help individuals meet specific health and wellness goals ranging from better sleep health to anxiety management. You can try out Genote Health Music for free for yourself at


JUN, 24, 2017 01:21:26 PM
Marisha Savannah
The information was helpful I have a mental illness I have always loved music I think I am going to take piano lesson maybe this might be the key to helping me cope

JUN, 20, 2017 08:42:47 PM
Karen Mees
Great information. Music is an important mental health resource. I'll be sharing this with my client population, many with PTSD history.

JUN, 16, 2017 11:36:15 PM
Christopher Anderson
NAMI's about fighting stigma, right? I recently signed up for this site upon a recommendation following Carrie Fisher's (un)official cause of death article and someone recommending me, given I've done my best in my life to share with those my experiences and also fight (albeit anonymously beyond my Facebook account with friends) against the stigma of mental health disorders.

I am obsessed with music. I grew up listening to Metallica, Guns N Roses, ACDC, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath...and as an about to be teen, discovered the genre of heavy metal even further. I am diagnosed bipolar II disorder. Because of medication, which has been part of my life for literally half of it now at 32 years old, the mania and depression parts eventually got under control. But underneath those, crept up insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, etc.

The reason why I'm posting this is to combat another stereotype: metal music. I listen to all sorts of types of metal. There are various subgenres within the genre of "heavy metal". Some not so hard on the ears, some to the average person borderline intolerable. I literally use the "intolerable" type as a sleep aid. It helps me relax. That seems counterproductive, listening to something loud, hearing someone scream/yell/growl into a microphone to the point you can't understand what they're saying. But in a way, it's a method to sort of blow my mind up on the hundreds of things on any given night my brain wants to stray to once I'm in bed, even after taking my medication. It's bludgeoning in a way, and it's effective for me. When your ears/brain are hearing something so chaotic, it drowns out any possible wandering thoughts you may have. It limits your train of thought to only a couple things: this is great or this is horrible. I value my brain in bed being limited to only a couple thoughts as a rather extraordinary night given how overly active is generally throughout any given day, including the time I'm putting into this post.

So...I don't know my exact goal here. I guess maybe I'm agreeing with the article to the extent music can slow your mind down, relieve anxiety. But there's other things about music, in particularly concerning mental health, that can possibly help alleviate issues even further.

So like a lot of people, if you can tolerate the Ozzy's and Metallica's of this world, try digging deeper into something a bit heavier. It may be offputting at first, but you listen on headphones while in bed, you're only left with one thought...even if it's not the most pleasurable thought in the world.

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