The right musical selection can enhance the relaxing ambiance of a massage session. Massage therapists rely on client’s relaxation for optimal therapeutic results. Whether a client requests a session for relaxation, wellness, injury prevention or specific treatment, all types of bodywork are enhanced when the body is relaxed.

Listening to music that causes discomfort or irritation sparks the tightening of muscles, a programmed reaction meant to protect and mask our feelings. During massage, this type of response works contrary to the intended result. Whether conscious or unconscious, the clenching or tightening associated with a negative response will inhibit the body’s circulation, hindering the massage’s goal of releasing muscle tissue. If a client dislikes the music, then he/she will not be relaxed during a session, and the treatment will not have the full, desired effect. Massage therapists are typically aware of the direct relationship between relaxation and massage, often going to great lengths to bring comfort to their clients.

Everyone is different

When deciding what music to choose for a session, understand that peoples’ preferences for music run a wide gamut. This includes both the preferences of the therapist and the client. All massage therapists have different styles, thus finding tunes to meld with your work is going to be highly personal. Additionally, choosing music that your client enjoys, but you dislike, will also hamper the experience for both of you. Deciphering your client’s musical preferences may take some time, as many people are often unaware of the sounds that best suit them. Therefore, it is worthwhile to discuss musical preferences with your client before, during and after the session.


As reported in the online publication Heart, Italian researchers reported; “Music induces an arousal effect, predominantly related to the tempo. Slow or meditative music can induce a relaxing effect; relaxation is particularly evident during a pause. Music, especially in trained subjects, might first concentrate attention during faster rhythms, then induce relaxation during pauses or slower rhythms.”

Most experts suggest that music’s rhythm or beat unconsciously denotes its calming effects. Music with a slow rhythm (slower than the natural heart beat which is about 72 beats per minute), and a repeating or cyclical pattern, is found to be most effective in relaxing people. It is theorized that humans are influenced by the heartbeat of our mother while still in the womb. A relaxing response to certain music throughout life is perhaps associated with the safe, relaxing and protective environment provided by our mother.

Twelve Tips

  1. When shopping for music online, take advantage of audio clips. Actually listening to as much of the recording as possible will give you the best idea of its suitability for massage.
  2. Utilize a network of other massage therapists to share information about massage music preferences.
  3. When purchasing a CD, choose a vendor that has a liberal return policy, in case the selection more closely resembles heavy metal than light and relaxing.
  4. Search for albums long enough to play continuously without repeating for the length of an entire massage session.
  5. Albums that evolve slowly during the session give the added bonus of allowing practitioners to maintain a subtle sense of timing during their work.
  6. Though undoubtedly relaxing, water sounds (waterfall, babbling brook) may activate a urinary response. This can either interrupt the massage with a bathroom break, or cause the client to tense pelvic girdle muscles to hold it in.
  7. Drumming may be trancelike for many of us, for others it is too stimulating for a massage.
  8. While an instrument enjoyed by many people, the flute can sometimes reach very high pitches, which can be irritating and jarring to a relaxed client.
  9. Massage music is typically located in the following categories: relaxation, stress management, meditation, new age or ambient. Note: Any of these categories may include portions inappropriate for a session.
  10. Seek music without any obvious tune or pattern. This style seems to be more conducive to relaxation.
  11. Music with words or a specific rhythm may be especially soothing for some people, while it may psychologically spark non-relaxing thoughts for others. (Relaxation classics may have emotional baggage attached for certain individuals.)
  12. When screening music, look for the following characteristics: slow tempo, the lack of unexpected changes and music that flows smoothly from one track to another without an obvious break.

When a great musical selection is made, the massage experience is greatly enhanced. Determining the tunes that best fit your style, and melding them with each client’s taste is a trial and error process. If you don’t have the luxury of repeat clients, then you are left to make the best choices possible and be flexible to change music mid-session. Attention to musical detail displays your desire to provide high quality, considerate care to your clients.

Editor’s Note: To browse Natural Wellness’ relaxing musical selections, visit Natural Wellness Stress Management Music.

References:, Music May Be an Alternative Relaxation Technique With Cardiovascular Benefit, Heart, Laurie Barclay, MD, 9/30/05., Choosing and Using Music for Relaxation and Complementary Therapies, Symbiosis Music Ltd, 2006.