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What is music therapy?
According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music Therapy is the clinical
and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals
within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed
an approved music therapy program.”
Simply put, we use music to make your life better. Whether you need help socially,
cognitively, physically, emotionally, or developmentally, music can help you get
better…and music therapists are well-trained on how to do that.
What’s more interesting, though, is why it works. When used properly, music can be
an incredibly powerful treatment tool. And not just because it’s fun, relaxing, and
motivating, but because music has a profound impact on our brains and our bodies.
my top 12 brain-based reasons
why music works in therapy:
Music is a core function in our brain. Our brain is primed early on to respond to and
process music. Research has shown that day-old infants are able to detect differences
in rhythmic patterns. Mothers across cultures and throughout time have used lullabies
and rhythmic rocking to calm crying babies. From an evolutionary standpoint, music
precedes language. We don’t yet know why, but our brains are wired to respond to
music, even though it’s not “essential” for our survival.
We have physiologic responses to music. Every time your breathing quickens, your
heart-rate increases, or you feel a shiver down your spine, that’s your body responding
physiologically to music. Qualified music therapists can use this to help stimulate a
person in a coma or use music to effectively help someone relax.
Children (even infants) respond readily to music. Any
parent knows that it’s natural for a child to begin
dancing and singing at an early age. My kids both
started rocking to music before they turned one. And
have you seen the YouTube video of the baby dancing
to Beyonce? Children learn through music, art, and
play, so it’s important (even necessary) to use those
mediums when working with children in therapy.
Music taps into our emotions. Have you ever listened to a piece of music and smiled?
Or felt sad? Whether from the music itself, or from our associations with the music,
music taps into our emotional systems. Many people use this in a “therapeutic” way,
listening to certain music that makes them feel a certain way. The ability for music to
easily access our emotions is very beneficial for music therapists.
Music helps improve our attention skills. I was once working with a 4-year-old in the
hospital. Her 10-month-old twin sisters were visiting, playing with Grandma on the
bed. As soon as I started singing to the older sister, the twins stopped playing and
stared at me, for a full 3 minutes. Even from an early age, music can grab and hold our
attention. This allows music therapists to target attention and impulse control goals,
both basic skills we need to function and succeed.
Music uses shared neural circuits as speech. This is almost a no-brainer (no pun
intended), but listening to or singing music with lyrics uses shared neural circuits as
listening to and expressing speech. Music therapists can use this ability to help a child
learn to communicate or help someone who’s had a stroke re-learn how to talk again.
Music enhances learning. Do you remember how you learned your ABCs? Through a
song! The inherent structure and emotional pull of music makes it an easy tool for
teaching concepts, ideas, and information. Music is an effective mnemonic device and
can “tag” information, not only making it easy to learn, but also easy to later recall.
Music taps into our memories. Have you ever been driving, heard a song on the radio,
then immediately been taken to a certain place, a specific time in your life, or a
particular person? Music is second only to smell for it’s ability to stimulate our
memory in a very powerful way. Music therapists who work with older adults with
dementia have countless stories of how music stimulates their clients to reminisce
about their life.
Music is a social experience. Our ancestors bonded and passed on their stories and
knowledge through song, stories, and dance. Even today, many of our music
experiences are shared with a group, whether playing in band or an elementary music
class, listening to jazz at a restaurant, or singing in church choir. Music makes it easy
for music therapists to structure and facilitate a group process
Music is predictable, structured, and organized–and our brain likes it! Music often has
a predictable steady beat, organized phrases, and a structured form. If you think of
most country/folk/pop/rock songs you know, they’re often organized with a versechorus structure. They’re organized in a way that we like and enjoy listening to over
and over again. Even sound waves that make up a single tone or an entire chord are
organized in mathematical ratios–and our brains really like this predictability and
Music is non-invasive, safe and motivating. We can’t forget that most people really
enjoy music. This is not the most important reason why music works in therapy, but
it’s the icing on the cake.
Do you have a loved one, friend or family member, who has been diagnosed
with suspected Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia? If so, this recorded
program is a must. Doctors have known for years that patients with
Alzheimer's and other dementias, respond powerfully to the music of the
“courting years.” Even when the patient no longer recognizes family members
and friends, they can still hear the familiar music of their courting years and
recognize it, sometimes sing along, but always they derive pleasure from the
experience when others opportunities for pleasure have disappeared.
Dynamic Emotional and Neural Responses to Music Depend on Performance
Expression and Listener Experience
Limbic and paralimbic brain areas responded to the expressive
dynamics of human music performance, and both emotion and
reward related activations during music listening were
dependent upon musical training. Moreover, dynamic changes in
timing predicted ratings of emotional arousal, as well as realtime changes in neural activity.
BOLD signal changes correlated with expressive timing
fluctuations in cortical and subcortical motor areas
consistent with pulse perception, and in a network
consistent with the human mirror neuron system. These
findings show that expressive music performance evokes
emotion and reward related neural activations, and that
music's affective impact on the brains of listeners is altered
by musical training. Our observations are consistent with
the idea that music performance evokes an emotional
response through a form of empathy that is based, at least
in part, on the perception of movement and on violations of
pulse-based temporal expectancies.
Dynamic Emotional and Neural Responses to Music Depend on
Previous neuroimaging work has revealed the involvement of several brain
areas in emotional responses to music, focusing on contrasting musical
attributes such as consonant/dissonant, pleasant/unpleasant, and happy/sad.
Not surprisingly, areas associated with emotion processing and reward in
general are also involved in emotional responding to music. Parahippocampus
and precuneus activity were found to increase in response to increasing
dissonance of short chord sequences
current research has identified emotion related limbic and
paralimbic activations (e.g., amygdala, subcallosal gyrus, ventral
anterior cingulate, and parahippocampal gyrus) and reward
related activations (in ventral striatum) associated with affective
responses to music.
it may be that activity in the motor areas related
to rhythm and pulse perception, IFG 47, and
dACC relate to temporal expectancy and
violations of expectancy and that these
violations may evoke emotion through
activation of limbic areas such as the amygdala.
current experiment focused on how performance expression influences the
dynamic emotional responses to a musical stimulus that unfolds over a period
of minutes. An expressive music performance, recorded by a skilled pianist,
with natural variations in timing and sound intensity, was used to evoke
emotion, and a mechanical performance was used to control for
compositional aspects of the stimulus
In each hemisphere of the mammalian
brain the insular cortex (often called insula,
insulary cortex or insular lobe) is a portion
of the cerebral cortex folded deep within
the lateral sulcus (the fissure separating
the temporal lobe from the parietal and
The insulae are believed to be involved in
consciousness and play a role in diverse functions
usually linked to emotion or the regulation of the
body's homeostasis. These functions include
perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive
functioning, and interpersonal experience. In relation
to these, it is involved in psychopathology
The insular cortex is divided into two
parts: the larger anterior insula and
the smaller posterior insula in which
more than a dozen field areas have
been identified. The cortical area
overlying the insula toward the lateral
surface of the brain is the operculum
(meaning lid). The opercula are formed
from parts of the enclosing frontal,
temporal, and parietal lobes.
The right anterior insula aids interoceptive awareness of body states, such as
the ability to time one's own heartbeat. Moreover, greater right anterior
insular gray matter volume correlates with increased accuracy in this
subjective sense of the inner body, and with negative emotional
experience. It is also involved in the control of blood pressure, in
particular during and after exercise, and its activity varies with the amount
of effort a person believes he/she is exerting
The insular cortex also is where the sensation of
pain is judged as to its degree. Further, the
insula is where a person imagines pain when
looking at images of painful events while
thinking about their happening to one's own
body. Those with irritable bowel syndrome
have abnormal processing of visceral pain in the
insular cortex related to dysfunctional inhibition
of pain within the brain
Another perception of the right anterior insula is the degree of
nonpainful warmth or nonpainful coldness of a skin
sensation. Other internal sensations processed by the insula
include stomach or gastric distension. A full bladder also
activates the insular cortex.
One brain imaging study suggests that the unpleasantness of
subjectively perceived dyspnea is processed in the right human
anterior insula and amygdala.
The cerebral cortex processing vestibular sensations extends into
the insula, with small lesions in the anterior insular cortex
being able to cause loss of balance and vertigo.
Other noninteroceptive perceptions include passive listening to
music, laughter, and crying, empathy and
compassion, and language.
The insula has increasingly become the focus of attention for its role in body
representation and subjective emotional experience.
In terms of function, the insula is believed to
process convergent information to produce an
emotionally relevant context for sensory
experience. To be specific, the anterior insula is
related more to olfactory, gustatory, viceroautonomic, and limbic function, whereas the
posterior insula is related more to auditorysomesthetic-skeletomotor function. Functional
imaging experiments have revealed that the
insula has an important role in pain experience
and the experience of a number of basic
emotions, including anger, fear, disgust,
happiness, and sadness.
The anterior insular cortex (AIC) is believed to be
responsible for emotional feelings, including maternal
and romantic love, anger, fear, sadness, happiness,
sexual arousal, disgust, aversion, unfairness, inequity,
indignation, uncertainty, disbelief, social exclusion,
trust, empathy, sculptural beauty, a ‘state of union with
God’, and hallucinogenic state.
Functional imaging studies have also implicated the insula in conscious
desires, such as food craving and drug craving. What is common to all of these
emotional states is that they each change the body in some way and are
associated with highly salient subjective qualities. The insula is well-situated
for the integration of information relating to bodily states into higher-order
cognitive and emotional processes. The insula receives information from
"homeostatic afferent" sensory pathways via the thalamus and sends output
to a number of other limbic-related structures, such as the amygdala, the
ventral striatum, and the orbitofrontal cortex, as well as to motor cortices.
A study using magnetic resonance
imaging found that the right
anterior insula is significantly
thicker in people that meditate.[
sounding waves” can be frequency and pattern modulated by conscious
intent in order to yield specific information (interference patterns). Decoded
by the brain they return almost instantly on the “back” of the Schumann
Resonance. Once recaptured, the patterns are then decoded by the brain.
Dr. Cash has conducted clinical research on the use of music with
Alzheimer's patients, documenting the fact that, even when
other awareness of family and friends are gone, many patients
can still hear and recognize the music of their "courting Years."
For this reason, Dr. Cash has recorded over 20 tracks of music
from the late 1890's through the 1930's. Even if this music isn't
from your courting years, you'll probably recognize many of the
old favorites. This CD will be enjoyed by anyone looking for
some relaxing piano music, performed by a concert pianist.