By Zenisha Shah, CEI Writer and Counselor at Innisfree House School
One’s journey with music begins in the mother’s womb. We hear music before we see the world. Every culture throughout the world has music at its core. In addition to being a form of entertainment and celebration, music has numerous benefits. It alleviates mood and decreases stress, as well as having innumerable social, cognitive, and psychological benefits (Cherry, 2019). Music used as a therapeutic tool has proven to be successful for individuals of various age groups (Craig, 2019). In this time of great uncertainty, stress, and dis-ease, music can be a soothing balm that touches our soul unlike anything else.
Music and Healing
Trevor Gibbons, a carpenter, fell from a fourth floor building and had a stroke resulting in severe damage to his vocal cords. After spine surgery, rehabilitation, and therapy, he found an outlet for his pain and a way to communicate through melodies of gospel songs. Trevor had this to say about his ordeal, “Music is my inspiration, my escape from sadness and loneliness and pain. When I start to sing, it opens my mind and I think ‘There’s nothing I can’t do” (Glade, n.d.)
Success stories like these highlight the empowering effect music can have on an individual. Drums and Guitar, an organization that provides online lessons and tips for musicians, explains how playing a musical instrument enhances confidence, perseverance, and emotional perception—skills that can help anyone living through the stress of these times overcome their mental health challenges (Levitsky, 2019). Music can also have physiological benefits like increasing immunity (Levitsky, 2019) and decreasing pain. Researchers have found that the vibrations of music can have a healing effect on the mind and body (Novotney, 2013).
Music and the Neural Systems
Listening to music can have a positive impact on the brain and the various bodily functions controlled by it. It influences brain structure and functions. F-MRI and PET scan studies show that music lights up the entire brain. It affects the limbic and paralimbic structures of the brain, which is the core structure of emotional processing (Koelsch et al., 2009). They are the parts of the brain that activate the fight or flight response and help us return to a state of emotional balance after a stressful event has passed. These brain regions also influence the endocrine system, autonomic nervous system, and the immune system—body systems that keep our hormones and organs in a state of physical balance.
While listening to music engages the majority of our brain, playing a musical instrument has the same effect on the brain as a full body workout. Playing an instrument engages the visual, auditory, and motor areas of the brain, in both hemispheres. This greatly influences executive functioning, like problem solving, learning, attention to detail, and planning (Collins, 2014).
Music in the Classroom
Music therapy can help individuals from all age groups and walks of life, including our little citizens in the classroom. Music can have a positive impact on the way children process information (Hallam, 2010). Music also:
Enhances concentration and ability to complete tasks
Decreases stress and anxiety in students
Improves communication and the ability to share with others
Helps children regulate emotions and be more disciplined
Improves memory and task performance
Provides an opportunity to identify strengths and increases self esteem
Promotes mathematical understanding
Enhances the way students process language and spelling
All of these factors contribute to enhanced learning and a positive school and home atmosphere (Levitsky, 2019; National Centre on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, n.d.; Ziv & Dolev, 2013). There are several ways to implement and integrate music into the classroom. However, for it to be effective, the music should serve a purpose and the method used should be consistent and have an appropriate tone for the environment it is being used for (National Centre on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, n.d.).
During these unprecedented times of uncertainty and stress, many youth find coping skills they have relied on inadequate. Those experiencing grief, loss, and fear may not understand how to process or express these emotions with words. Music therapy can be an effective alternative to integrating difficult emotions when we return to school this fall.
Cherry, K. (2019). 10 surprising psychological benefits of music. Verywell mind blog.
Collins, A. (2014). How playing an instrument benefits your brain. TEDEd
Craig, H .(2019). What are the benefits of music therapy? Positive psychology blog
Glade, J. (n.d.). Music therapy: The healing power of music. Hallam, S., (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education, 28. DOI: 10.1177/0255761410370658
Koelsch, S. (2009). A neuroscientific perspective on music therapy. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1169, 374 – 384. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04592.x
Levitsky, M. (2019). 16 benefits Of playing an instrument. Drums and Guitar blog
Novotney, A. (2013). Music as medicine. American Psychological Association, 44(10), pp.46.
National Centre on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (n.d.). Voices from the field.
Ziv, N., & Dolev, E. (2013). The effect of background music on bullying: A pilot study. Children & Schools, 35(2) 83-90.