Music doesn’t help people perform CPR correctly, study finds


It’s one of the hottest questions in medicine: What song provides the best accompaniment for performing CPR? Is it “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees? “That’s the Way (I Like It)” by KC and the Sunshine Band? “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus? “Disco Science” by Mirwais, featured in the 2000 film “Snatch”? Or perhaps “Nellie the Elephant,” a British ditty about an intelligent elephant who runs away from the circus where she works?

None of the above, say the authors of a study published online this week in Emergency Medicine Journal.

The hypothesis was that performing CPR – or cardiopulmonary resuscitation – to music with an appropriate beat would help keep rescuers on a pace to execute at least 100 chest compressions per minute, as recommended by the American Heart Assn., the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation and the UK’s Resuscitation Council.


A smattering of studies has indeed found that certain tunes improved CPR performance in that respect. But they were less effective at prompting people to deliver their compressions at the recommended depth of 5 to 6 centimeters. In fact, listening to the “Nellie” song seemed to cause test subjects to perform shallower compressions than they did in the absence of any background music.

But a group of researchers from the UK and Australia weren’t ready to give up on the idea. They cornered 74 people who were attending the Australian College of Ambulance Professionals in Auckland, New Zealand, and asked them to perform chest compressions for 1 minute under three circumstances: While listening to the chorus of “Achy Breaky Heart,” while listening to an excerpt of “Disco Science,” or with no music playing at all.

The results:

--People performed an average of 120 chest compressions per minute when listening to “Achy Breaky Heart” but only 104 per minute when listening to “Disco Science.” In the absence of any music, they did an average of 105 compressions per minute.

--”Disco Science” did the best job of getting the most people into the target range of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. When listening to that song, 82% of people were in the zone. Only 64% of people did that well when listening to “Achy Breaky Heart” and 65% did so when there was no music.

--People listening to either song compressed the chest of the CPR mannequin an average of 5.4 centimeters, but when the music was turned off the average depth fell to 4.8 centimeters.

--In all scenarios, only a minority of people did chest compressions to the target depth of 5 centimeters to 6 centimeters. Without music, 42% of people passed this test. With “Achy Breaky Heart” it was 43% and with “Disco Science” it was 39%.

--In general, there was a weak correlation between the pace and depth of chest compressions – the faster people did them, the more shallow they were.

The researchers found the results rather disheartening.

“When considering the combined importance of correct depth and rate, the authors are unconvinced that music provides any benefit in improving the quality of CPR,” they wrote in their study. “This interesting but unproductive area of resuscitation research should be discontinued.”

Return to the Booster Shots blog.