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Migraine in Music

A fascinating study was just published in the summer issue of the journal Headache, focusing on how migraine is portrayed in popular music. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona searched two independent online music sites for English-language songs that included the word “migraine” in the title. They identified 134 songs that could be analyzed. In most cases (89 percent), the recording artists were male. Half of the songs were classified as pop/rock, with twenty-one percent as electronica and ten percent as hip hop/rap. Songs that included lyrics provided the following themes:

  • Half of the song with lyrics referred to hopelessness, despair, or severe pain
  • One in three songs made references to killing or death
  • Eleven percent referred to bombs or explosions
  • Although nineteen percent of songs referred to migraine medication, only eleven percent described successful treatment or hope

The authors of this study were struck with how commonly migraine was a subject of popular music. They were also surprised that men rather than women dominated the artists singing about migraine, especially as many used first-person lyrics, where the singer is describing his own migraines. The authors, however, were most disturbed to identify migraine as being portrayed in intractable, negative, often violent terms.

After hearing about this study, I have three questions for those of you who have migraines or live with someone with migraines:

  • Have you heard songs about migraines?
  • Have the lyrics from these songs rung true with you and your migraine experience?
  • What do you think of the authors’ conclusion that music should better reflect the treatable nature of migraine?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Not Carly Simon
    8 years ago

    I’ve never heard of a musician having migraines, much less writing a song about them. The song “Narcolepsy” by Third Eye Blind is close:

  • lulabelle
    8 years ago

    Peter Gabriel’s “My head sounds like that” describes how I feel when a migraine is coming on – the hypersensitivity to my surroundings. It is actually a lovely and calming song.

  • Aaron
    8 years ago

    Hello Dr. Marcus, this was an interesting article, and in some ways I am not surprised by it. The one thing that struck me odd was the last line “The authors, however, were most disturbed to identify migraine as being portrayed in intractable, negative, often violent terms.” I thought this was interesting for several reasons. First several artists/songwriters have served in the military in some capacity or have experienced violence in other aspects of their life and it is a way they associate whatever pain they feel based on their life experience. Second I think there is something to be said about poetic license as it were because I think we have all seen an action movie and can at least imagine what they are saying even if never having had a migraine.

    I guess what I am saying is the authors should not be disturbed by the portrayal of migraines with images of violence or negativity. I say this because even though I have never had a throbbing ice pick shoved into my eye it creates a graphic and very real image for how I feel during one of my attacks. I have never had a set of series charges go off in my head, but again it relates to the over whelming throbbing pain that is set off with an attack. Simply put, it is cathartic to put your pain out there in the most vivid way possible so others can relate because it is how it feels to you and they are not in your shoes.

  • perfectpitch
    8 years ago

    I’m an oboist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Besides practicing, part of my personal preparation for performing is to study the libretti/synopses of the operas I perform. I’m not only curious and interested in that aspect, but this knowledge serves to greatly enhance my enjoyment as a performer.

    As a sufferer of migraines–and an oboist–I have always been amused that in Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier, the Marschallin complains of having suffered a migraine that morning and, as that line is sung, one hears a wailing, plaintive passage, dwelling on one particularly penetrating note before quickly dissipating…played by the oboe!

    The line is “Ich hatte diesen Morgen die Migräne.”, delivered in the beginning of Act I. The Marschallin has awakened after a night of passionate, clandestine lovemaking and is probably not suffering with a migraine but is using it as an excuse for seeming somewhat anxious at the intrusion of servants and others to her bedchamber and having had to disguise her paramour!

    As an aside, I unfortunately find it nearly impossible to play the oboe when I have a migraine myself. The physical construction of the instrument causes the player to experience a high degree of back-pressure when playing which exacerbates the pain.

  • perfectpitch
    8 years ago

    Serena, I’ve never been able to ascertain if simply playing sometimes brings on migraine or not. Performances often run late into the night causing fatigue, and–playing in an orchestra pit–I am performing in low-light conditions that might be promoting some level of eye strain as well. I think it is probably a contributing factor when I other triggers are present as well.

    As far as a prophylactic for wind-instrument-induced migraine, I have not come up with one yet. My neurologist was extremely interested in the idea of how playing the oboe might be a trigger because of the aspect of holding one’s breath, i.e., lack of oxygen. He had previously ordered a sleep study, wondering if I suffered from sleep apnea and, thus, a shortage of oxygen. That proved negative, but he and I still wonder about the wind-playing.

    Sounds like the makings of an excellent Doctoral thesis to me!


  • Serena Jacobson
    8 years ago

    I used to play the flute but just playing gave me a headache. A doctor told me that playing was putting to much pressure on my eyes and head. Have you ever gotten a headache or migraine from playing? If you do, is there anything that works to not get a headache or that makes them go away?

  • arden
    8 years ago

    How about a study on what kind of music would sooth a migraine? There have been contributions about scents, crystals, special glasses so why not investigate what harmonics and tempos may be effective to benefit a boomer.

  • mjsymonds
    8 years ago

    Arden, I’m all for this. Once I had a migraine and my daughter wanted me to listen to a pop song she liked on her I-pod. I really didn’t want to, given my head pain, but I reluctantly put one earbud in my ear and listened. Much to my surprise, this particular song had a positive distracting effect on my migraine and I asked her if I could keep listening to it. It really helped! I’ve wondered ever since then what elements were in that song that made it so effective. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of it right now – migraine brain – I’ll have to ask my daughter what it was!

  • Serena Jacobson
    8 years ago

    I have often used music to relax me during a migraine. I like a lot of Mozart as well as other instrumentals such a Enya,Lorena McKennitt and James Galway. Anything that is soft and light without a strong beat. I turn it down so I can hear it but so that it is not loud at all. I would also suggest you find the music before you are in agony it’s to hard to consentrate when your in pain. What it does mostly for me is to give me something other than the pounding in my head to focus on. If I can relax and control the crying I seem to be in less pain and can get some sleep. I would love to say it worked every time. Instead I can say it does help sometimes and I have learned a lot about music.

  • guenevierewolven
    8 years ago

    I often find that depression and anxiety are directly linked to migraine. This is a fascinating article on music in association with migraine! I always see artwork and migraine studies and Blogs….. Very interesting indeed. As a long-time sufferer from Chronic Migraine, I can imagine the music would not be very uplifting.

  • danlevesque
    8 years ago

    hi, I often thought that depression and anxiety was my trigger other than the barometer, but I am being treated for depression and anxiety, and am not getting any relief. I mean it may not be long enough of treatment yet as it was discovered that I have been in this depression, anxiety and now bipolar for over 20 years. Hoping that in the long run the meds will work. I still get the 3-4am wake up migraine. As for music, I take a zomig and listen to nature sounds. I find that is the only escape for me.

  • vickigewe
    8 years ago

    I avoid all music because of the way it affects my head, so I’ve never come across any of these songs. But I do find it interesting that many of the pieces that reflect the migraine pain are too loud and heavy for most people with migraines to listen to them!

    As for the question about whether the songwriters should talk more about treatments that work in order to educate people, most music is not about education. It is about expressing your own individual experience. And if the writers of the songs are not getting relief from treatments (and some of us, like me, get no help from any treatments, despite having seen some of the top headache doctors available. In any case, I’m much more interested in letting people get a glimpse into a migraine than in educating people about treatments. If they care enough, they’ll find the information on treatments, but those who don’t get migraines would benefit more by developing empathy for what we suffer than the belief that all I need is an imitrex, and I’ll be fine, so my claim to be in too much pain to do x, y, or z is bogus.

  • iHold
    8 years ago

    Even though they didn’t say the actual word “migraine”, I remember hearing a song once that says “a toothache of the brain”. I think that’s a perfect way to describe what the pain feels like to someone who has never experienced a migraine. Let’s be honest, we don’t really know what “a knife in our head” or “an electric shock going through our brain” really feels like. Most people will know how excruciating a toothache can be and therefore might understand and empathize with us more. Maybe if the authors of this study really knew how many of us are out there living with these chronic toothache’s of the brain and how negatively it impacted our lives, they would understand why it’s hard to think of anything nice to say about them.

  • Migrainemonologues
    8 years ago

    It’s ok – I’m a librettist/lyricist (I write book and lyrics for musicals) when I’m not writing migraine monologues and I’m working towards writing a migraine musical when I’m a bit better myself. Partly that’s actually why I started my blog to collect material but I do hope to maybe collect stories from other migraineurs to create a more balanced and powerful picture of our lives on stage…. but really interesting piece of research!

  • Dr Marcus author
    8 years ago

    Migrainemonologues — fascinating! Keep us posted on your migraine musical!

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