Researchers at Queen Mary University of London said the patients who had listened to music had been less anxious after their surgery and had needed less pain relief.
Writing in the Lancet, they said music had been effective even while patients had been under general anaesthetic.
The Department of Health said doctors should consider the findings.
The scientists want hospitals to suggest in NHS information leaflets that patients bring music devices and playlists into hospital with them.
The team reviewed 70 trials, involving about 7,000 patients around the time of surgery, comparing a wide variety of mostly “soothing” music with:
- undisturbed bed rest
- headphones with no music
- white noise
- routine care
While there was an effect on stress and pain, music did not reduce the length of hospital stays.