Hi, drummers! You can access the new video here.
Any questions, call me!
Originally, my aim in music therapy was not so much altruistic as to experience engaging musically in a safe space with another person. I was petrified of my peers hearing me play, due less to my lack of musicianship as my fear of being “heard”, exposed. Music therapy was a new way to engage with another person that felt safe. I was inspired to improvise with my clients, who would not judge my music and had a great time no matter how I played.
Thankfully, once I worked as a music therapist for some time, I realized that connecting through music was not actually about me at all. It wasn’t even about the client. It was about the space between us, the connection we felt that could not be quantified or even be described. And yet, there it was: tangible, almost solid.
I write this knowing that it can be controversial in the music therapy community to talk about the abstract concepts of connection and relationship. I am grateful that some aspects of music therapy can be described scientifically, and I know that I benefit from the tireless hours music therapists have conducting valuable research (often on their own dime). But I must confess that I find it equally exciting and frustrating that we can’t explain so much that happens during music therapy sessions, and that often the treatment does not affect groups of people consistently.
I think my relief in lack of total explanation is that this leaves room for the spiritual. My most profound experiences have been in the music therapy treatment room. I learned there to trust my gut, even when it made absolutely no sense, and it was usually right. Further, there is power in music to bring us to our most vulnerable and then build us back up, and doing this with another person can be a rare gift. My last thought: if this experience could be fully explained, would it actually lose any of its power?
Dr. Oliver Sacks is a neurologist with a talent for telling fascinating stories about his patients. In this video, he talks about the phenomena in which patients with Alzheimer’s are able to function almost normally when triggered by familiar songs or rhythm. Sacks has long been a proponent of music therapy, speaking of its power with the elderly during US Senate hearings on aging back in the early 90s when most people had never even heard of music therapy. He wrote an entertaining book about the neurologic effects of music on different patients called Musicophilia. (Incidentally, another fun read, albeit more general/technical is This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin).
A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.
This video is hilarious and also fascinating. We once thought that humans are the only animals to “lock in” (entrain) in order to dance to a beat. However, Snowball the cockatoo has proven us wrong. In research by neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel, Snowball moved accurately to the beat 9 out of 11 times- an anomaly that no other animal has demonstrated. In other words, no other animals dance spontaneously! The thing we share with parrots, in addition to being great dancers, is that we are vocal language learners. Patel postulates that “since vocal learning creates links between the hearing and movement centers of the brain”, this is what must be required for an animal to dance synchronously to the beat. If this is true, speech and movement may be more intertwined neurologically than ever thought before.
One of the coolest things about music is the way that our bodies respond to rhythm. Have you ever noticed your body start moving to music without conscious thought, such as tapping your toe or dancing? The act of locking in to a beat and moving is called entrainment. A great example a song specifically written for this purpose is “Working on the Railroad.” Dance music is another example- pick the era that makes you want to move- or marching band music.
Music therapists take advantage of entrainment in their work, applying the right song or rhythm to help their clients move better and more efficiently. You can also take advantage of entrainment by being aware of your mood and either heightening or altering it, depending. For example, a friend of mine used to play dance music when we were about to go out to get us “pumped up.” Conversely, many people like to play soft, slower music when they are about to go to sleep. It is easy to tell when someone else’s tempo, or inner rhythm, is very different from yours if they play music that makes you feel just wrong, such as bluegrass at 5 am.
While we all do this naturally, I am hoping to make you more aware of your inner tempo and how to use music to help you feel better. For example, I’ve found that my tempo can tell me a lot about how I’m feeling in regards to anxiety. I have noticed that when I drink too much coffee, the constant soundtrack in my head starts playing faster songs, which can amp me up even more.
If you’re interested, take some time this week to notice what you choose to play and when. Make a mental list of which music makes you feel good, and utilize it as needed.
If you haven’t seen this video, it is so worth watching. It demonstrates how music can unlock memory in people with dementia and even give them moments of function and presence. I have seen this countless times in music therapy groups but it never gets old! FYI, this is not music therapy persay, but rather a demonstration of the power of music. Check out the Ipod project here.
This is a nice video shot at the San Francisco VA this last year during my Fellowship at MusicianCorps. It has some nice clips that illustrate music therapy in a number of ways, including:
-Veterans, many with Traumatic Brain Injury, working on sustained attention through drumming
-A man with Parkinson’s gait training to music (Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation)
-A veteran singing to increase lung capacity after being stuck in bed for a few months.
These guys were amazing to work with and taught me so much. Veterans rock!
There have been countless times when I’ve been at a party and someone asks what I do, and then the inevitable: What is music therapy? My very broad answer is that music therapy is the use of music to achieve non-musical goals. Here are some basics that might be helpful:
-Music therapy is research-based, looking at the effects of music on movement, communication, relating to others, and cognition.
-Music therapists work with diverse populations, from premature babies in the NICU to the elderly in hospice. Therapists work in forensics, neuro or drug rehab, schools, hospitals, and much more.
-Music therapists assess clients, create goals based on strengths and needs, and document progress.
-In order to become a music therapist, one must attend a pretty rigorous undergrad or graduate program that includes lots of music classes, psychology, music therapy studies, and fieldwork in different sites. Students intern for six months at an approved site and take a Board Certification Exam.
-There is a good article that gives examples of how music therapists apply their skills written by Ronna Kaplan, former president of the American Association of Music Therapy (AMTA), here. The AMTA website also has much more information, here.