National Memorial Day Concert

Luis Avila and Rebecca VaudreuilLuis Avila and Rebecca Vaudreuil

History of Music Therapy | How to Get Involved

Music Therapist Rebecca Vaudeuil describes how music therapy works.

Music can be a powerful tool when rehabilitating our veterans after injury. Using the healing power of music is not a new science, as its legacy spans 70 years in the United States. Its evolution from music in military hospitals to adjunctive treatment and evidence-based medical intervention displays its real power. Military medical centers have been researching the effects of music since World War II. But music therapy is also a cutting-edge healing modality used more widely by neuroscientists, physicians and board-certified therapists to assist in recovery. Music therapy programs are a vital part of treatment options at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and military treatment facilities across the country.

Renée Fleming and Captain Luis Avila perform "God Bless America" at the 2017 National Memorial Day Concert.

In 2017, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Opera singer Renée Fleming launched Sound Health, a program designed to explore the connections between music, health, and wellness. Sound Heath is working to expand our understanding of how listening and creating music interacts with the human brain to further explore how this could be harnessed for health and wellness applications in daily life. To learn more about this important mission, visit:

If you or someone you know might benefit from music therapy, there are several places to begin, including military centers in cities around the country like the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland, and the NICoE Intrepid Spirit-1 at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. To find a program near you, visit Americans for the Arts.

If you are a musician who would like to be involved, please visit Creative Forces.



In 1942, a joint effort between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy established the Music Advisory Council, which explored the intersection of educational and recreational music programs for recovering servicemen within the armed forces. Since then, music has been a therapeutic tool used in military treatment facilities and VA hospitals. In 1945, the U.S. War Department issued Technical Bulletin 187 detailing the use of music for reconditioning among service members recuperating in Army hospitals. These early programs established clinical music therapy treatment and community performance as therapeutic tool. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music can be used within a therapeutic relationship to address an individual’s physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. Music therapists across the country provide therapeutic services for military personnel, their families, service members in transition and veterans with acute and severe conditions relating to pre-mobilization, deployment, post-deployment or injury.



Since the 90s, an important expansion of music therapy is clinical research related to advances in neuroscience specifically examining the brain’s relationship between human response and music. This research has allowed therapists to better refine and inform their therapeutic interventions with patients. The role of music spans a patient’s continuum of care, from the moment of injury or diagnosis through reentry into the community. Board-certified music therapists help to develop the patient’s music-based skills, assisting in the transition and reintegration into the community. Services offered through music therapy include sensorimotor, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and social, emotional and behavioral health interventions. Some activities offer diversion from daily routines and contribute to the patients’ well-being and resiliency. Other programs and interventions focus on assisting patients in need of physical or speech rehabilitation.

Sensorimotor, Physical Rehabilitation: Patients with sensorimotor and physical rehabilitation goals have experienced improvements in their gate stride length, speed and velocity using rhythmic auditory stimulation.

Cognitive Rehabilitation: Patients with impaired cognitive function due to injury or disease have shown improvement like physiological reactions to sound stimuli during vegetative state and reductions in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Communication and Speech Rehabilitation: During speech and communication rehabilitation, patients that are hypokinetic dysarthric speakers have improved their speaking intelligibility with rhythmic speech cuing, while auditory rhythmicity enhances movement and speech motor control, restoring the patient’s speech function. 

Pain Management and Social, Emotional and Behavioral Health: Music therapy interventions have positive effects on anxiety, pain, mood and quality of life through techniques like songwriting, group drumming and performance.


For more information on Music Therapy:

Americans for the Arts

American Music Therapy Association

Department of Defense – Office of Warrior Care Policy

Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund


National Endowment for the Arts

National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival

Resounding Joy, Inc.

Semper Sound Military Music Therapy Program

Wounded Warrior Project