Music Therapy

Music therapy has received a lot of attention in the media recently. Although it may seem like a new idea, the value of music is something that I believe all music educators and performers already understand.

I know the power of music. It’s my life’s work.

I have worked with preschoolers and their families in music class, taught middle school students how to play the flute, led community choirs, and helped kids with learning disabilities. In these and many other ways, I have seen lives changed by music.

That’s why I read this article in the Philadelphia Enquirer with interest.

The article explains how Neurologic Music Therapy or NMT is successfully being used with patients who have brain injuries, are encountering memory problems, or staving off the effects of aging. In this article, the author shares the story of one music therapist working in a nursing home. The music therapist uses NMT to help the residents move their bodies and connect with each other. In this way, it is both physical and emotional therapy.

Music for Memory Care

The film “Alive Inside” is a beautiful exploration of music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. I have been moved to tears by this film more than once. Have the tissues ready when you watch these elderly people come alive when listening to music. It’s incredible.

A quick search of the web turns up countless articles supporting the benefits of music for people experiencing memory loss:

Researchers believe music stimulates many parts of the brain at the same time, such as those areas affecting language, mood and movement, along with the senses of hearing, sight, sound and touch. Research at the University of California at Davis pinpointed an area of the brain which stores memories by linking them to familiar songs and the emotions associated with those memories.

An article on how music boosts brain activity from

A Personal Story

I have been teaching Greg*, a nine year old boy, for about three months. Greg has many neurological problems but he LOVES music. Our lessons have focused on the “big ideas in music.” These big ideas include

  • High notes / low notes
  • Fast tempo / slow tempo
  • Loud / Quiet
  • Rhythm
  • Instruments
  • Counting
  • Short / long

Every week, I am learning with Greg. Sometimes, I let him lead and see what he is interested in for the evening. Last week, we did a class of “improvisation.” I handed him instruments and we played together. There were times that I offered an accompaniment on my guitar. Other times, I followed his lead. Often, I suggested a pattern or idea and said “now you try.”

In these lessons, I try to stay very present with Greg. While I have an outline of the concepts I want to highlight during the lesson, I stay flexible and open to his cues. Above all, I remain curious about the connections his brain is making and what lights him up.

His parents tell me that he looks forward to our lessons every week. So do I.

*Names of students are changed.

Tell me your stories

Have you participated in music therapy as a teacher or client? I’d love to hear stories about how you’ve been changed by music or how music therapy has worked in your life.

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