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Beauty, Music, and Healing

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Illustration by Jon Lieff from Music Training and Neuroplasticity

I remember a young mother who was concerned about her eight year old so shy that she wanted to stay home most of the time. The mother tried various ruses to get her to play with friends away from home and to reach out to other children, but most of her attempts were less than successful.

She eventually enrolled the child in a music class and left her there alone at the first meeting, then crossed her fingers and hoped for the best. After class, she was amazed to see the exuberant joy on her reclusive one’s face as the little girl began to sing her own name and a welcoming greeting to show off her new skills.

The teacher had eased the tension for all of the students that morning by teaching each of them to sing an introduction that included their name and a welcome to their classmates. Although many adults quake in fear at the thought of singing a solo in public, somehow singing reduced all fears for each of the students.

Singing is also used as therapy with stroke victims or others suffering from some type of brain impairment. Their ability to speak is often diminished. However, singing uses a different part of the brain than speaking does, so singing ofter helps repair the damage. I understand that Gabby Giffords was treated with a form of music therapy when recovering from the assassination attempt.

Music also has the power to help people with dementia remember aspects of their lives that had been long forgotten. I remember reading about a patient who appeared to be totally unable to understand or communicate. But one time  when walking near a piano, he sat down and played song after song after song that he had played as a young adult with a band. Eventually he showed additional signs of recovering both speech and memory.

When reading about the therapeutic uses of music, many people wonder what it can do for the normal person (whatever that is). I know a teaching consultant who encourages all parents to insist that their children participate in music lessons. According to Andrew Pudewa at IEW, it’s not so much an effort to discover the next virtuoso as it is to help the child’s brain develop more fully.

If you’re interested,  The Great Courses, an adult learning resource, recently released Aniruddh Patel’s “Music and the Brain” course. This series of 18 half-hour lectures covers fundamental ideas of music theory, neuroanatomy, and cognitive science and looks at the diverse range of experiments, discoveries, and debates in this fast-changing field. Access the program online at thegreatcourses.com. Also, there are several books and numerous articles available on similar topics.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather