We all hear music every now and then. We include it in our celebrations and it gets us through our sad moments. Film makers know very well how to use music to keep us on the edge of our seats and mothers use it wisely to bring their kids peacefully to sleep. We know all of these things, but why? What is it about music that can influence our emotions? The following lines will try to explain it.
The journey begins in the ear…
Immediately after the music starts playing, even while other noises are around, your outer ear recognizes that the signal it is catching is music. Then, a pair of bones and your ear drum within your middle ear vibrate to send the vibrations into the inner ear. Once in the inner ear, the snarled shaped cochlea and the thousands of tiny hair-like cells react to the pitch and tone of the music. The cochlear system is now activated and, without you knowing it, different parts of your brain simultaneously light up like a Christmas tree.
Rhythm, pitch and tone.
Now that we know how music registers in the brain, we will get a bit more specific to describe exactly what parts of the brain get triggered by the elements of music.
The cerebellum, one of the oldest parts of your brain, gets particularly active when processing rhythm. To do so, it teams up with your motor cortex. The job of the motor cortex is to generate signals to direct movement of the body. In real life, this translates into tapping to the rhythm of a catchy song.
When processing the lyrics of a song and the melody within it, the hippocampus and the amygdala make their debut. This is possible because memory and emotions take place in these areas of the brain. No wonder we might burst into tears when hearing My Heart Will Go On or immediately remember our best friend and the time we sang September by Earth, Wind and Fire when we hear it on the radio.
During an activity that involves music, such as a music concert, a dance performance or playing an instrument, another set of brain parts get to work: the visual cortex, sensory cortex, as well as the motor cortex and the cerebellum.
Knowing how music is processed, a type of intervention called music therapy was born. As music therapists, we design specific interventions to help overcome such struggles as trauma, depression, speech delays, motor skill deficits, gait related issues and even impaired social skills. This is possible because something magical happens in the brain when making and listening to music. The reward system (the mesocorticolimbic circuit) fires up and a happy chemical called dopamine is released. Hence making the intervention not just fruitful, but also very enjoyable.
- Do I need to know how to play an instrument before using music therapy?
The answer is no, you do not.
- Does music therapy involve music learning?
Not necessarily, although that may simply be an added bonus. If no music learning happens during the music therapy that is also fine, because learning how to read music or play an instrument is not the main goal of music therapy sessions.
- Can I use music therapy along with other types of interventions ( i.e, physical, occupational and speech therapy)?
Absolutely! In fact, including music therapy in the treatment plan will enhance therapeutic outcomes and overall progress.
- Do I need a referral from my pediatrician to get music therapy?
As with any other therapy, you may need to ask for a referral and check with your insurance company in advance to ensure coverage.
Author: Abilene (Abi) Cuevas Guajardo is now offering Music Therapy at Growing Up Therapy! Contact us for more information!