Brain Topography

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 338–354 | Cite as

Music Therapy Modulates Fronto-Temporal Activity in Rest-EEG in Depressed Clients

  • Jörg FachnerEmail author
  • Christian Gold
  • Jaakko Erkkilä
Original Paper


Fronto-temporal areas process shared elements of speech and music. Improvisational psychodynamic music therapy (MT) utilizes verbal and musical reflection on emotions and images arising from clinical improvisation. Music listening is shifting frontal alpha asymmetries (FAA) in depression, and increases frontal midline theta (FMT). In a two-armed randomized controlled trial (RCT) with 79 depressed clients (with comorbid anxiety), we compared standard care (SC) versus MT added to SC at intake and after 3 months. We found that MT significantly reduced depression and anxiety symptoms. The purpose of this study is to test whether or not MT has an impact on anterior fronto-temporal resting state alpha and theta oscillations. Correlations between anterior EEG, Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale—Anxiety Subscale (HADS-A), power spectral analysis (topography, means, asymmetry) and normative EEG database comparisons were explored. After 3 month of MT, lasting changes in resting EEG were observed, i.e., significant absolute power increases at left fronto-temporal alpha, but most distinct for theta (also at left fronto-central and right temporoparietal leads). MT differed to SC at F7–F8 (z scored FAA, p < .03) and T3–T4 (theta, p < .005) asymmetry scores, pointing towards decreased relative left-sided brain activity after MT; pre/post increased FMT and decreased HADS-A scores (r = .42, p < .05) indicate reduced anxiety after MT. Verbal reflection and improvising on emotions in MT may induce neural reorganization in fronto-temporal areas. Alpha and theta changes in fronto-temporal and temporoparietal areas indicate MT action and treatment effects on cortical activity in depression, suggesting an impact of MT on anxiety reduction.


Music therapy Depression Anxiety Rest EEG Frontal alpha asymmetry Frontal theta Lateralization 



Absolute power differences


Asymmetry score










Frontal alpha asymmetry


Federal drug administration


Fast Fourier Transform


Frontal midline theta


Hospital Anxiety and Depression Rating Scale-Anxiety Subscale


Individual alpha frequency


International classification of diseases


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors


Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale


Improvisational psychodynamic music therapy


Noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant


NeuroGuide EEG analysis software


Randomized controlled trial


Standard care


Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors


Serotonin and norepinephrine re-uptake Inhibitors



PhD Robert Thatcher for software solutions; Mr. Miika Leminen, M.Sci. for technical advise, Ms. Airi Kilpilainen, M. Sci. for EEG recording assistance, Dr. Gilbertson and Dr. Luck for language support and profs. Mari Tervaniemi and Tuomas Eerola for discussions and comments on a previous version of the manuscript. The research was funded by the NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) programme of the European Commission (project BrainTuning FP6-2004-NEST-PATH-028570) and the programme for Centres of Excellence (CoEs) in research, Academy of Finland.

Conflict of interest

There are no conflicting financial interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jörg Fachner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christian Gold
    • 2
  • Jaakko Erkkilä
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Music, Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music ResearchUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  2. 2.Uni Research, Grieg Academy MusicTherapy Research Centre (GAMUT)BergenNorway

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