What is Music Therapy?
Music Therapy is a health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Functional, non-musical goals are targeted via music-based interventions designed by a Board Certified Music Therapist to bring forth rehabilitative, developmental, or educational enhancement. Music interventions draw from a diverse range of techniques, including therapeutic singing and instrument play, physical movement with music, music-based memory approaches, and a variety of compositional, improvisational, receptive, and re-creative strategies.
“Music Therapy is the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can address a variety of healthcare & educational goals: Promote Wellness, Manage Stress, Alleviate Pain, Express Feelings, Enhance Memory, Improve Communication, Promote Physical Rehabilitation, etc. ”
— American Music Therapy Association
Music Therapy & The brain
Listening to and engaging in music we enjoy stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that can benefit human beings in awe-inspiring ways. Known as the brain’s reward chemical, it is typically present during moments in life that we cherish: enjoying a favorite meal, visiting a special place in nature, witnessing family and friends achieve their goals, and notably, experiencing preferred music. Dopamine is perhaps our body’s most potent mood enhancing chemical, but going beyond this, scientists have discovered dopamine is a grand orchestrator in accessing heightened neuroplasticity within the human mind and body. Neuroplasticity refers to the nervous system’s ability to form new connections; to grow, restructure and re-map as it reaches new potential.
There is no single area where music is processed in the brain. Just like a symphony requires many different musicians to work together in various elaborate arrangements to achieve something incredible, the brain similarly draws from the totality of its specialized regions when responding to and processing music. These widely-distributed neural networks that are activated by music are also important in cognitive, motor, and language function. As a result, music processing has the ability to engage, train, and retrain non-musical brain and behavior function.
Furthering the concept of total brain activation, we can break music down into its elemental components. The elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, lyrics, pitch, tempo, and meter are each processed in different regions of the brain. Credentialed music therapists harness these elements in a carefully considered manner to cultivate rehabilitation and relearning of functional goals for clients with neurological needs.
Rhythm precipitates entrainment, a state in which physiologic functions such as breathing, movement, and heart rate are synchronized or modulated by an external pulse. In order for higher level cognition and brain function to occur, the brain stem must first be regulated (Perry & Hambrick, 2008). Rhythm plays a powerful role in regulating the brain stem through entrainment.
Within the brain, the auditory and motor cortices are located nearby to one another, allowing musical rhythm to stimulate and motivate muscle movement. When combined with tempo and meter, rhythm can significantly aid in pacing, organizing, and planning functional motor movements. Rhythm can similarly play a role in speech and verbal articulation, as paced rhythmic speaking musical exercises allow the brain extra processing time and a cueing mechanism. Many clients who have engaged in ongoing rhythm-based interventions have demonstrated improved attention levels, a greater ability to focus and stay on task, and the retaining of organized physical movement regimens for use in activities of daily living. In patients with impaired ability to initiate and control movement due to neuromsucular disease, music's extenal rhythm supplies timing-based cues that have helped make more coordinated movement possible. The pulse of music, an emotionally rich and meaningful form of human expression, has been shown to motivate clients in a way a monotonous metronome click sound can not.
Harmony, melody, and dynamics further enhance music's ability to connect with people. In music, these elements are often components of organized sequences and patterns. They attract the brain's attention, and can be manipulated to represent and express complex human emotions even in the absence of words. In conjunction with physical movement exercises, a music therapist may play a ascending or high pitched melody at the same time a client is prompted to lift their arms high, and a descending or low pitch melody when the arms are prompted to return to resting position. Harmonically, the music therapist may play a dense chord cluster when the client is completing spatially closer movements, or open, spread chord tones when the client is completing more expanded movements. Soft, gentle dynamics may reflect a more calm mood, while loud dynamics may match a client's heightened emotional state by using the iso principle of meeting a client where they are at before gradually modulating the atmosphere.
Lyrics can be used as a learning tool, communicating prompts and instructions and helping to model behavior. Pairing words with the above mentioned musical elements (melody, harmony, etc.) can exponentially increase memory recall and overall retention. In the realm of client-preferred music, lyrics can aid in expressing a client’s individuality, through sharing existing songs that have a personal meaning, or through the composition of a new song by the client through collaboration with the music therapist.
“Will is a 'people' person. He has the ability to bring out the best in others, and encourage them to accomplish more than they thought possible. His social interactions are warm, putting students at ease and encouraging them to express their individuality. He is gentle, patient, and kind. Will demonstrates an outstanding amount of flexibility and adaptability, and has solved many student challenges in a creative manner. ” - Karen Suedmeier, Director, Loveland Academy of Music
“Tara loves her lessons & seems to be improving & growing more quickly than what we expected. Which is fantastic & she's excited. Will works well with her & is always willing to be flexible if she wants to try or learn something that may not have been in his next steps.” - Bridget Homola, mother of Tara Homola (piano student)
“Both Ryley and Harper really enjoy Will and his positive feedback. He is helpful with his strategies for placement of hand and fingers and for chords and he always balances the lesson very well with working on possibly learning new skills and with playing something enjoyable and fun. Both the kids have really enjoyed their time with him. They look forward to lessons with him. 😊” - Erin Dawe, mother of Ryley (guitar student) and Harper (ukulele student)