Music Therapy

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The Therapeutic Effects of Music

Music Therapy Can Benefit Our Brains

Winter is a difficult time of year, especially for those of us living in the north. Folks who have only lived in warmer parts of the world can’t quite understand just how difficult it can be.

Snow is so often portrayed as being picturesque and beautiful. Pure, pristine, untouched. It’s romanticized in holiday movies, children’s books, and in poetry. 

The first snow of the season offers great promise. But that promise is an unrealistic one. When the new becomes old, that’s when winter gets real. 

It’s only a matter of time before the soft, fresh snow-white gives itself over to a more weather-beaten look. It becomes trodden and discolored. It’s overcome by muddy street residue. An unremitting hint of muck loiters in the air above it. What started out pure and untouched has now been transformed into a grey, ugly mess.

It’s February. By this point in winter, the new snow is long gone. It’s been covered with a layer of dirty, icy snow. And it’s so, so cold. Colder than many of you could possibly imagine. By now, we’ve spent lots of time cooped up in our houses, hiding from the bitter winds. Our bodies haven’t seen enough sunlight nor experienced enough outdoor activity in a long time.

I’ve always lived in cold climates. I’ve come up against many winters and many Februaries. I’ll admit, the late winter months can really bring me down. 

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Over the years, I’ve found ways to cope. A friend once told me she struggled against winter until she decided to find ways to love it instead. She suggested turning to outdoor activities like cross-country skiing, show-shoeing, ice-skating and winter hikes. Any way to stay active outdoors.

I took her advice and decided to embrace the frigid outdoors. I quickly took to winter walks. To my astonishment, I realized there is much beauty to be found in winter when you look for it. But not just in what there is to see, but in what there is to hear.  

Sometimes while walking I simply listen to nature. I live next to a Great Lake and love the sounds of the water and waves crashing all year round. Other days I prefer to listen to music. I try to pick the appropriate music to match my mood and the season. I believe music has the power to heal the soul. 

Music Has the Power to Heal the Soul.

As long as I can remember, music has been one of my lifelines. My go-to when life feels crushing. Music takes me back to particular moments in time. But not just as a witness to the account. Often, I can smell and I can feel those bygone experiences.

Listening to the music we loved in our youth is powerfully therapeutic. Music imprints itself on our brains deeper than any other human experience. It brings back feelings of life when nothing else can. It’s powerful mind-altering effect can change one’s experience of time, space, body and relationship.

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If music be the food of love, play on.”

William Shakespeare

Getting lost in music can bring us a renewed sense of emotional freedom. Current research shows specific types of music may enhance relaxation and help to relieve anxiety or depression. It helps to exorcise emotional tension, replacing it with feelings of release and catharsis.

More and more scientific research seems to be pointing to the same conclusion: Music is good for you. It activates every known part of the brain. This includes areas responsible for emotions, creativity and even motor actions! 

Music Serves us as a Natural Remedy.

Humans created music early in our existence. Since then, it has been an important part of nearly all cultures throughout time. As stated in the Harvard Health Publishing newsletter: “The human brain and nervous system are hard-wired to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm and repetition, tones and tunes.”

Music moves us. It enhances memory, motor skills and much more. It brings happiness, reduces physiological age, alters our mood, changes our mind.

Experiencing music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure.

This helps to explain why experiencing tension followed by listening to music can be so satisfying. Additionally, there is a sudden spike in dopamine if we hear one of our favorite songs when not expecting it.

Dopamine is also responsible for motivation. Studies have concluded listening to background music while completing a task improves accuracy and efficiency. Even more, those who were allowed to select their own music completed the tasks more quickly, and came up with better ideas. When background music is forced on us, it can increase feelings of irritation or stress.

Another brain chemical released through music is oxytocin. Oxytocin encourages bonding and trust between humans. And, it also highlights and reinforces cultural ties. Believe it or not, research shows when we discover someone likes a piece of music we like, it improves our opinion of them. I could keep going on forever. 

Music can improve muscle function, our immunity, our minds, and nearly everything else. While music has always had an intrinsic therapeutic response, the view on its use as a therapy continues to evolve.

What Is Music Therapy?

As studies show, when music stimulates the brain, the body responds too. It can help reduce pain, depression, and anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, support sleep, stabilize balance and gait, help hormones and immunity, relieve PTSD and improve self-esteem. 

During the 1940s, music therapy starting to emerge as a clinical profession. Musicians would sometimes give volunteer performances in hospitals. Health providers began to notice war veterans suffering emotional and physical trauma responding well to music. 

Despite this, the profession spent decades on the fringes of medical science. The early 1990s saw advances in neuro-imaging technologies confirmed the profound effects of musical activities on the brain. This was a game changer.

Since then, researchers of music therapy have discovered that musical interventions can reduce chronic pain, help stroke patients regain speech, increase social engagement in children with autism and help patients with acquired brain injury or Parkinson’s disease improve their gait.

But that’s not all! There is also strong evidence suggesting music therapy can calm Alzheimer’s patients, help addicts commit to treatment and ease suffering in individuals with clinical depression and anxiety.

When hearing a song over and over again, we may hear more of it than we remember. Not just lyrics but notes and other musical components we didn’t realize were there before.

This process is a powerful reward for our brains. Even though we’ve heard the songs many times before, there is always be something new to hear.

The more music we hear, the better our brains work. One area of increased brain activity circulates more blood to potentially help other areas.

Another reason we listen to songs over and over is because of the memories we connect them to. Hearing songs from certain times in our lives is powerful. They make us revisit the good times.  Listening isn’t the only way to experience benefits from music. Playing music may even be more powerful, as can dancing to it too.

The feelings music can evoke help lead us to creative thinking and an amazing feeling of freedom. Music makes takes us – and our brains – to a better place.

Music Therapy can Help Children with Anxiety

A degree of anxiety or worry is expected in our lives. Including for you people. But for some, anxiety can affect every aspect of their daily lives.

As many as one in eight children (aged 5-19) experience a struggle to their mental health. Moreover, a significant number of these cases are related to some form of anxiety. One productive method of providing support for anxiety is through music therapy. Therapists use music to connect and work with young patients. 

Lots of young people love listening to music. The music choices they make can be closely tied to their sense of self and identity. Research shows young people’s ardent commitment to songs and genres of music shift depending on the situation. 

In addition to offering support, music therapy can help young people develop their skills of emotional regulation. This is the mechanism allowing us to function in our daily lives. It’s how we manage difficult situations by adjusting our emotional responses to events and feelings.

Developing emotional regulation skills is key to reducing the risks of psychological challenges later on. This can begin in early childhood with interactive musical play.

In Conclusion, Music is Good for the Brain, Body and Soul

Most of my experience as a Montessori guide occurred at the upper elementary level. My favorite memories revolve around reading aloud and music. I made sure to start every day with music. It would invite the children into our classroom each morning. 

Depending on the day, season or mood, I would adjust what music we started the day with. Montessori guides want to create a calm and inviting environment for our students each morning. Therefore, the music would never be too loud or too exciting.

Classical music, such as The Planets, Op. 32 by the English composer Gustav Holst and Billie Holiday were two of my favorites. Often I would match the music to lessons during that day.

The Planets went swimmingly with lessons about Our Universe and the Composition of the Earth. Billie Holiday and other depression era music went well with the Newberry Medal Award winning novel Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Follow this up with The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, set during the U.S. civil rights movement. The possibilities are endless.

The reason we listen to music is because we love it. Music makes our minds a better place. That has profound therapeutic effects.

We should not wait for a symptom to get music therapy!

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Read More: Winter Learning Involves Children in Our World

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References & Read More:

How Music Therapy Can Help Anxious Children
By Dr Elizabeth Coombes, October 2019

Music Benefits Both Mental And Physical Health
By Sarah Glynn, March 2013

Rescue Me! The Brain-body Benefits of Music Therapy
By Dr. Phil Maffetone, August 2018

Therapeutic Benefits of Music Being Used to Treat Alzheimer’s, Addiction, and Depression
By Adriana Barton, May 2014

What Does Music Do To the Brain, Body and Soul?
By Scottish Ensemble, September 2018