Music Therapy – How Music Works As a Catalyst to Promote Health and Wellness

“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor!……”

Thus starts the Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Twelfth Night”, with the love-struck Duke Orsino ordering his musicians at his palace to feed him with music all the night, as he desires to have the sweet strains feed his appetite for romance. The bard makes him describe the music played as an energizing “food of love”, and in the following lines makes him pour forth sweet words of passion, all of which originate from the tranquilizing effects of the music being played.

Centuries before, while this play had been staged, and even epochs later, the cultivation of music and the arts used to be perceived merely as aesthetic pursuits, entertaining and relaxing the mind and the soul and also connecting the performers with people at large. Today, while numerous groundbreaking researches have proved that music, as an entity, has a profound effect on the body and the psyche of all living organisms, that which was perceived only as an aesthetic pursuit is today regarded as an established therapy to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. In fact, quite some time back researches had shown music used as a therapy to not only bring about qualitative changes in humans, but also in animals and plants.

While today’s youth are completely in love with music having beats and rhythms, it is a fact revealed by scientists that these beats have a definite impact on the stimulation of the body of an individual. Let us for once think about the immensely mentally invigorating music like the symphonies of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart! Can anybody ever deny the level of creativity, positive energy, powerful melodies and harmonies they produce that compel the mind and the soul to embark on a journey of powerful emotions and impulses? Any classical form of music, for that matter, has been said to have profound effects on both the body and the psyche of individuals, playing an instrumental role in the healing and harmonizing of the mind, body and spirit. Long accepted as both soother and stimulant, any form of “positive music”, including classical music has been proved to profoundly impact the cognitive abilities, creativity, optimism levels and the overall ‘state of the mind’ of an individual. By the term “positive music”, researchers have actually referred to the kind of music which is usually emotionally and spiritually uplifting, and that which is gifted with beneficial qualities, healing the mind and the body in the process. Apart from the pure classical variety of music, pop songs that are romantic in content, country tunes, and some amount of rhythm and blues (earlier referred to as ‘race music’) with evocative lyrics and tune are considered to be parts of “positive music”. Today’s world music, a vast arena of music dedicated to the great non-western traditions of music, including Indian, Chinese, Persian (Iranian) and Sufi forms-comfortably fall into the category of “positive music” as defined by scholars and exponents of music.

What the ancient cultures, including the Vedanta philosophy, the ancient Greek philosophy had to say about the effects of music on an individual:

If we look back into the history of ancient, age-old philosophies and cultures, the extent of philosophical, spiritual impact that music was said to have on the human soul would become obvious to us. Ancient historians have come up with the fact that for thousands of years, the Vedic culture had used the profound sound effects of music not only for the tranquility of the mind, but also for the proper balance and equilibrium between the body and the soul, for encouraging a heightened state of awareness in humans, and even for health enhancement and promotion of healing. It had been believed by the unique Vedanta philosophers that ancient oriental music, in its true nature, was an enriched exercise of the human mind in its path of exploration into the mysteries of Nature and of Ultimate Truth (the “Brahman”). It was ages and thousands of centuries ago that in the ancient Vedanta philosophy, music had been considered as a subtle divine thread capable of linking the “Jeevatma” (individual soul) with the “Parmatma” (Supreme Soul). And why not, when the Vedanta philosophers had identified “shabda” (sound) as “brahma” (absolute reality), the primeval source of creation of the universe? This ancient concept of the “shabda-brahma” had been embraced in its entirety by ancient Vedic philosophers to understand the beauty, depth and elevating powers of ancient Indian music. On the other hand, the myriad effects that the various “raagas” of classical Indian music that inspire the human mind and rejuvenate the senses are quite undisputed till today. Saying this, it is imperative why the ancient spiritual music form (termed as the “Dhrupad”) performed in the temples and the courts from the ancient to the medieval times was connected to its spiritual roots and also why even contemporary researches still try to delve deep into its magical prowess on the human body and soul.

On the other hand, researchers have found out that in ancient Greece, the legendary mathematician Pythagoras theorized that music had the power to diminish and even eradicate negative energies and emotions from the human mind. Other ancient Greek philosophers had full faith in the ethical powers of music, including philosophers from around the fifth century B.C. to around third century A.D. Most of them recognized the immense impact of music on the development of one’s personality. The stupendous power of music over the ethos of an individual, and on the overall human disposition has been time and again emphasized by philosophers like Plato and also by Chinese authors of various documents.

 

Developing a Musical Child

“Music has a power of forming the character, and should, therefore, be introduced into the education of the young.” ~Socrates

Parents who put their children to musical learning at a young age must have known that they are putting in a very good investment. All the more enlightened are parents who enroll their young in MUSIC and MOVEMENT classes, where a musical child is developed before a child musician is made.

In a musical environment where foundational musical experiences involving the whole child – mind, body and spirit – form the basis of the developmental process, a solid musical foundation is laid that ensures much more sustainable musical development for the child in years to come. Such musical foundation includes developing a true passion and motivation for this art, musical discernment, auditory acuity, pitch and rhythmic competence, motor coordination, and expressiveness.

As an area of learning, music is a challenging topic that requires perseverance and inspirations. Many children had ‘fallen out’ with their musical pursuit within a short time because they were ‘jump-started’ in their musical development, going into learning to play an instrument before any of the above musical skills were in place. It is evident in children who were fortunate enough to be nurtured musically before being put to the rigors of formal music instructions, which they are much more likely to thrive and succeed in playing the instrument well.

The type of pre-instrumental music instructions that nurtures holistically a musical child should be started as early as infancy, but taken to a higher plane at 4 – 6 years of age. These are often weekly group sessions that engage children in a fun and developmentally appropriate manner. The following areas of development must be in place:

• Vocal development – the voice is the most important musical instrument that every child possesses. A musical child ought to be able to sing in pitch.

• Listening development –  the human ear is able to process information and discriminate between sound sources and discern qualities of sounds. It also governs attention and focus. A musical child will have a high command of this important sensory faculty.

• Movement development – dexterity, and coordination are motor skills required to play instruments well. Children who have danced and moved and experienced use of their body in a variety of ways will be able to transfer the same skills onto instrumental playing with ease. Music, when played expressively on an instrument, needs to be supported by an equally expressive body movement. A musical child will be relaxed and uninhibited in expressing his music through the body.

• Simple Instrumental Play that promotes eye-hand coordination and pitch association – the skill of reading music and playing at the same time is a challenge faced by many musicians. A young child can be prepared for this by working with simple melodic instruments like xylophones or glockenspiels.

Musical ensemble works – music is a community art form that is most enjoyable when playing together with others. Different tasks requiring different levels of competence in a musical ensemble allow children of different abilities to enjoy playing together and making ‘complex’ music. Ensemble opportunities in music classes also promote focus and confidence – both important traits for musicians.

• Music Literacy – reading and writing and composing music can be as easy as ABC if the child starts learning musical notations and putting them in musical context. This can start at age 4.

• Learning about musical styles and genres, composers, musical instruments, and musical terminology – these are all knowledge that widens a musical child’s horizon.

To accomplish all these, the weekly session should be at least 60 minutes long and preferably inclusive of parents or caregiver in a portion of the session. So that each child gets sufficient individual attention, the group should not be larger than 12 – 15.

If the child loves what he does in a music class, he will be much more likely to make music his life-long passion, whether or not he chooses the path of becoming a professional musician.

The Musical Classroom Experience:

• Vocal enhancement and singing – The use of musical language may sound odd to the average person, but it plays a vital role in preparing children for reading and writing easy rhythm patterns. You will hear tonal sounds like “do”, “re” “mi” and combination of rhythm and pitch like “mi-mi”, “ti-ti” and “fa-fa”. This is the language of music.

• Moving – Children already love to dance, and this kind of musical program encourages moving and dancing to the rhythms of musical pieces. This exercise helps improve coordination and promotes musicianship.

Musical reading and writing – Children learn about pitch, rhythmic notation, melodic notation and musical notes which will lead to their own compositions over the course of these classes.

• Attentive listening – Since young children love music already, they will be attentive and focused on learning the sounds of various instruments and develop the ability to identify them. Music classes like these also aid in learning more about the works of the master composers.

• Musical instrument exploration – The children will be given real instruments including percussion, stringed, keyboards and woodwind instruments in order to introduce them to all the choices they have in them. This opens up the opportunity for musical development before starting any kind of formal lessons.