Apologies to all the classical musicophiles out there, but there’s no magic to Mozart. Don’t get me wrong, Mozart is great, maybe even the greatest of all time, but there’s no hidden qualities in it that make our brains magically grow.
In fact, one research article found no difference in scores on spatial-temporal tasks between a group that listened to Mozart or Schubert and a group that listened to a narrated story. Rather, the difference was reflected in the participants preferences. If you liked the story more and were in the story, you performed better on the test than participants who enjoyed the music more but heard the story.
Now, before you close this blog and delete it forever from your bookmarks (Please don’t go, I can change baby, I swear!), there is a good amount of research that points to developmental benefits associated with music listening and more importantly, music participation. One such study found that babies who participated in interactive music classes (similar to Kindermusik) showed better early communication skills, smiled more, and were soothed easier.
So music is powerful, but don't limit yourself to one composer. Why not try a little Stravinsky?
Children with Autism are Musical Geniuses
People with autism are like everyone else in this world, they're talents and interest vary greatly. Some people with autism have incredible natural gifts for music, others for visual arts, others for math and numbers, etc. but these characteristics are also seen in people without autism as well. It's important to remember that autism is first and foremost a social disorder (though I'm hesitant to use disorder here, perhaps "difference from the general population"). To discount someone's ability or to be shocked of their talents "in spite of" an autism diagnosis is to discount much of what these individuals are capable of. Intellectual disabilities can be observed in autism, but it's not always the case.
You could make the argument that some of the traits through which autism manifests itself lend to the extreme dedication and intense focus needed to achieve elite talent, whether musical or otherwise. We always hear stories of Michael Jordan as a child staying out in his driveway until the wee hours of the morning shooting free throw, after free throw, after free throw. Reaching the upper echelons of any skill requires the kind of repetition and attention to detail that most are just simply not capable of, but if repetition and detail bring your comfort and helps you organize your life, as frequently seen in individuals with autism, you might have what it takes.
Every individual has a talent or gift, and it's important to celebrate these gifts without turning them into a label or acting surprised that an individual is somehow able to achieve them.
Music is for Children
You might read this one and think "People don't really believe that." While most people would not outwardly say that music is only for children, they demonstrate this beliefe in their words and actions. Countless teenagers with incredible musical talent leave behind their instruments when they go off to college, never to pick it up again until their kids join band. In a way, we see it in the musical preferences of adults. It's natural to enjoy the music of your youth, but how many adults 40+ ever go out and discover new bands that they might enjoy? Not nearly enough.
But there's not much cooler than watching a non-professional, adult musician pick up a guitar and shred. They may be a dentist during the day, but they play a mean piano on the weekend. Music and music making is such a powerful cognitive experience that lets our brains break out of their normal routine and get creative. In college, I was a tour guide for my school, and I constantly had high school students asking if they could join any of the music groups without being a music major. Absolutely! Go for it! Never stop playing.
I also see this a lot with music therapy, and I've busted that myth previously. I can't tell you how many times I meet a parents of a child with special needs who tells me "Oh, she used to do music therapy, but she's way too old for it now." Not a chance! As children become adolescents and adults, the goals for music therapy change, and the methods for addressing these goals change as well. We don't sing "The Wheels on the Bus" with 56-year-olds. We sing classic rock songs! You don't "age-out" of music therapy (though hopefully you make such extreme progress on your goals that there's just nothing we can work on with you anymore!)
Got some music therapy myths of your own we can bust for you? Let's talk!
Photo credit: Flickr user lucyfrench123