I am a music therapist. Music therapy is the use of music to attain non-musical goals. Yes, it is a real job and yes, I get paid to do it. So do several thousand other music therapists across the United States and even more across the globe. We are nationally board certified, licensed in some states, and many insurance companies even reimburse for our services. I may be partial, but I think I have the best job in the world.
Having said this, I do have a pet peeve when it comes to my profession. Many music therapists will tell you that they are annoyed when people assume that we are “just volunteer musicians” or that we play our “iPods for sick people”, or that we “provide therapy to musicians”. I was even once asked if I would play music for someone’s cat.
While those misconceptions about our profession are certainly less than savory, I want to tell you about my real pet peeve. It’s when a parent or family member of a potential client calls and says “I think music therapy would be good for my child or loved one because they really LOVE music”. Now you might be asking yourself, “what’s wrong with that?!” Let me tell you….
Who doesn’t love music? Seriously, I want you to think about this. Do you know any one that says, “Man, I really hate music! It’s so melodic, motivating, relaxing, inspiring, and joyous. It’s so annoying.”
So, when a parent or caregiver calls and says “Here is a child who can’t see. Music must be THE THING!” I say “Ugh.” It’s the same thing I hear everyday. Here is a child who can’t walk. Music must be the thing! Here is a child who can’t speak. Music must be the thing! Here is a child with emotion/behavior disorder. Music must be the thing! I’ll let you in on a little secret. Music IS the thing!
Every culture since the beginning of time has used music in healing, as a way to communicate, and as a way of bringing people together. Humans use music to celebrate life and death. We use music in politics, war, religion, sports and recreation, love and heartache (you know you have your go to break up song or your feel good summer jam). We sing lullabies to our newborn babies and we celebrate the lives of those passed on by playing music at their memorials. We memorize lyrics and post them to our Facebook pages because no words we could ever write ourselves could possibly encompass our feelings so completely. The songwriter must have known my story!
The fact is research has shown that music has a profound effect on the human body and psyche. Music is one of the ONLY activities that activates, stimulates, and uses the ENTIRE brain. Biomedical researchers have found that music is a highly structured auditory language involving complex perception, cognition, and motor control in the brain and therefore it can effectively be used to retrain and reeducate the injured brain. Brain imaging techniques have revealed brain plasticity (its ability to change) and research clearly shows that music learning causes the auditory and motor areas in the brain grow larger and interact more efficiently.
Stroke patients are able to walk faster and with better control over their bodies by following rhythmic cues. Adults with from Alzheimer’s are able to recall memories and feelings through the use of familiar and preferred music. Children with Apraxia of speech are able to recall and complete phrases when given a melodic cue. Premature infants increase their sucking rates 2.5 times when exposed to music, helping to improve nutritive sucking and increase their weight. Studies show that music-making improves test scores in standardized tests, as well as in reading proficiency exams.High school music students score higher on the math and verbal portion of SAT, compared to their peers. Yet we wonder why our students math and science grades continue to decline after we have removed music programs from our schools. An education in the arts promotes abstract and creative thinking, but we don’t really need to be able to extrapolate information to form new and innovative ideas, do we? Let’s cut it.
So, I apologize if I sound like a smarta**. But no, your child is not special. We ALL love music. Music therapy is not good for them because they love music, it is good for them because music is the thing. And while there are those who are much more gifted at music than others, we as humans can always share our love of music with the world. You know why? Say it with me now… “Because music is the thing.”
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Image credit: Flickr user basykes