November 16, 2013

Music of the Soul. ~ Marc Baldwin

Music has a profound effect on the mind, body and soul.

Music alters brain waves, transforms attitudes, energizes, relaxes, focuses concentration and improves coordination.

Professional music therapists use music to help manage pain, ward off depression, promote movement, calm patients and ease muscle tension.

Of course, you do not need professional music therapy to reap the benefits of this powerful force; you can benefit from the healing and empowering effect of music on your own .

The use of music for healing dates back to the beginning of recorded history. For example, in the Bible we read about Saul, the King of Israel, suffering from a deep spiritual and emotional oppression. His servants recommended that he find someone with the talent on the harp to play for him. David was recruited, and when he played for the king, Saul recovered (1 Samuel 16:14-17).

While it has always been with us in one form or another, music therapy as a professional discipline took shape in 1944, when Michigan State University began the first music therapy undergraduate degree program. The University of Kansas followed with its graduate degree program.

Today, professional music therapy associations exist on every continent, and music therapists have joined the teams of health professionals in schools, hospitals, clinics and private practices around the world.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music by credentialed professionals to achieve therapeutic goals. It promotes, maintains and restores mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. The nonverbal, creative, structural and emotional qualities of music are used to facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication and personal development.

Music therapy incorporates listening, song writing, performing and exploring lyrics in its methods.  It is conducted in individual and group contexts and has proven effective with people regardless of their background and musical sophistication. Often, music therapy is part of stress management programs and used in conjunction with exercise.

Who Can Benefit?

People of all ages, abilities and musical backgrounds can benefit from the healing properties of music. It has been used with success in the treatment of those who suffer from acquired brain injury, attention deficit syndrome, autism, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, chronic pain and the emotional trauma of physical and sexual abuse. Music therapists complement the teams who work with teens at risk and institutions that specialize in critical, geriatric, neonatal and palliative care.  It stands to reason that if music can heal the chronic and critically ill, it can contribute to the well-being of anyone who takes advantage of its transforming power.

How Does it Work?

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that music and other rhythmic stimuli can alter mental states in predictable ways and even heal damaged brains.

For example, Dr. Harold Russell, a clinical psychologist and adjunct research professor in the Department of Gerontology and Health Promotion at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, used rhythmic light and sound stimulation to treat attention deficit disorder in elementary and middle school boys. The rhythmic stimuli increased concentration to an extent comparable to that achieved by medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Following a series of 20-minute treatment sessions administered over several months, the children made lasting gains in performance on IQ tests and had a notable reduction in behavioural problems compared to the control group.

Similarly, Dr. Thomas Budzynski, an affiliate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, conducted experiments with a small group of underachieving college students at Western Washington University. He found that rhythmic light and sound therapy helped students achieve a significant improvement in their grades.

Devices called electroencephalographs (EEGs) measure the electrical impulses in the brain. They resolve the dominant frequencies of brainwave activity that are associated with conscious states including concentration, anxiety and sleep. Researchers recorded significant and lasting changes in brain wave activity among subjects who received music therapy.  Music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats bringing sharper concentration and more alert thinking, and a slower tempo promoting a calm, meditative state. And it appears that the effects of music therapy are long-lasting, enabling the brain to adapt and respond spontaneously, even after subjects have stopped listening.

But it isn’t just brain wave activity that improves with music. Functions governed by the autonomic nervous system, such as breathing and heart rate, respond to the stimulus of music. Furthermore, music has also been found to lower blood pressure, boosts immunity and eases muscle tension.

With so many benefits and such profound physical effects, it’s no surprise that so many are seeing music as an important tool to boost the body’s  health. More than that, selective listening nurtures our emotional, psychological and spiritual wellness.

Designing Our Own Music Therapy Program

While music therapy is an important discipline, we can also benefit from music on our own. Whether we are seeking to relieve stress, sharpen concentration, energize exercise routines, foster creativity, enrich spirituality or hone sensitivity, there is a musical genre that can help. With today’s technology, we have easy access to quality digital recordings that can be downloaded and arranged in an endless variety of configurations to help us attain our goal.

For example, we can design a specific playlist to keep a regular rhythm during cardio or aerobic exercises such as running, biking or cross-training. Another playlist, replete with nature sounds and soothing instrumentation can help induce a meditative state. Complex jazz or classical orchestration lends itself well to stirring our creative juices. Religious music can raise our spirituality and worship to new levels.

    Music, the universal language, not only soothes the savage beast, as they say, but it meets each one of us where we are at and empowers us to get the most out of life. There are countless ways we can incorporate music into our program of personal growth.

For an introduction to the world of music therapy, you may want to check these websites:

American Music Therapy Association, Inc.

Canadian Association for Music Therapy

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Assistant Editor: Kerrie Shebiel/ Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Flickr 

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