For most of us, music is the soundtrack to our lives. It makes that traffic jam we’re stuck in that much less frustrating. It either makes us tap our feet, or dance without a care of who could be watching. It makes us want to sing the lyrics at the top of our lungs (maybe not skillfully, but all that matters is that we’re having fun). It injects itself into almost all aspects of our daily routine, and is indicative of our society and culture.

But for some and more than you might expect, it’s so much more. A means of self expression. A learning tool. A relationship builder. But most of all, a catalyst for growth and rejuvenation. 

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the results-proven clinical use of creative arts to accomplish a goal catered to an individual patient’s needs. These needs vary, but may involve diagnoses like autism, dementia, depression, anxiety, and even cerebral palsy. For these individuals, music helps them learn, grow, and overcome the obstacles that they face. They can’t help being subject to adversity, but they can be proactive. After all, their experiences shape who they will ultimately become, and may even position them in a way that allows them to see things with a unique and profound perspective.

How Does It Work?

Music triggers many distinct areas of the brain all at once, whether you’re reading, actually performing, or listening and dancing to it. We could get into cochlear nuclei, somatosensory functions, and neuroplasticity. Boy, we could talk about music therapy all day if given the chance. But, we’ll just skip that beat for now. Essentially, it’s a blend of using basic human senses, cognitive psychology, and learning modalities to make connections with the mind and body. Brain World Magazine’s article on how music affects the brain does an excellent job of explaining this stuff if you’d like all the technical lingo we folks in the industry know all too well.

Through expression of music, the patient can use sight, sound, and touch to learn and understand those things that have been giving them trouble. And music therapy is often the best way to accomplish their goals; it’s a form of therapy catered to their specific needs.

Who Might Benefit from Music Therapy?

Patients’ age and background can vary just as their diagnoses and needs do. For instance, if a child has autism, or an adult has dementia, exercises to strengthen social skills and cognitive ability are two initiatives covered through music therapy. 

In terms of social skills, imitating body language and movement targets understanding of non-verbal communication, while conversational lyrics and cooperative play enhances verbal communication skills. 

What about cognitive ability, you ask? Well, let’s say your child is experiencing difficulty with learning colors; we might consider letting them “play” on a colored xylophone. To them, they are simply having fun, but behind the curtain, they become more engaged with the curriculum. Or, to help prevent memory loss, we practice lyric contemplation and music association. Sometimes, we can’t remember what we had for breakfast a day before, but can rattle off every lyric to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. These exercises allow for a more in-depth resonance, and a longer-lasting recollection.

It is important for therapists and caregivers alike to understand each patient’s needs, and parlay exercises toward their case. What works for some will by no means work for all. However, as much as music means to us, it could mean the world for the development of your loved one’s education, recovery, and growth.