Music is so effective that scientists now use it to reshape the brain.
Laurel, 11, had a massive stroke that caused permanent damage to her brain and left her unable to speak a single word.
Through music based melodic intonation therapy, however, she was able to rewire her brain and draw on the undamaged regions to speak again. As a report in Scientific American Mind put it, “she found her way back to language through music.”
After he underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor, surgeon R.B. Fratianne, MD, lost much of his motor skills, and his speech was slurred. A music therapist urged him to try to play the piano again, says the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).
Slowly, Fratianne recalls, he regained his ability to play by ear, forcing his brain to respond through the coordination of sound and motor skills. The ability of the brain to reform lost connections through music allowed Fratianne to return to surgery at his pre-operative level in a hospital burn unit.
Laurel and Fratianne’s cases were examples of neuroplasticity, the unique ability of the brain to bypass injured areas and teach undamaged areas to serve as a surrogate.
Their cases illustrate the edge of a new frontier that uses music-based treatments “based directly on the biology of neurological impairment and recovery,” the Scientific American report says.
This is substantiated and replicable science, an evidence-based layer of proof that supports what you have probably believed all along: music heals.
“I believe music therapists play an important, but often overlooked, role in helping patients cope with the effects of illness, pain, loneliness and fearful apprehension about the future of their health,” Fratianne says.
His story is one of many told by the AMTA to support its mission. “There are so many remarkable stories about that “exquisite musical/clinical moment when art and science come together to create an awareness, an accomplishment, a breakthrough,” the AMTA says.
In the Scientific American report, the authors present example after example of neurological breakthroughs accomplished through the applied use of rhythm, beat, and melody to help patients with brain disorders.
Is what they are doing new? Yes and no. The Egyptians used music to enhance fertility in women 6,000 years ago. Impossible to substantiate scientifically, but it makes the point. Shamans in the mountain forests of Peru still use chanting as a primary tool for healing. The Ashanti people in Ghana do the same with drumming.
“Sound has been used as a healing force for thousands of years,” says Simon Heather, founder of the College of Sound Healing, a non-profit organization in the UK dedicated to promoting sound healing.
“All ancient civilizations used sound for healing. Traditional cultures still surviving today understand the remarkable healing power that lies in sound.”
Perhaps you do too if you simply play some soothing music at the end of a long day and let yourself slip into its calming effect, letting it take you to that rain forest where your everyday issues are irrelevant. Maybe you just step out back, grab a chair, and listen to some of Earth’s original music – birds.
Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks writes in his book “Musicophilia” that “music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears — it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear… We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one.”
Psychologist Michael Friedman says, “music matters. That’s what Pete Seeger showed us.” A clinician in Manhattan, Friedman notes in Psychology Today that Seeger is primarily remembered for his catchy, sing-a-long social consciousness and protest songs. But his primary legacy obscures the legendary folk singer’s equally emphatic quest for simple healing.
“When Seeger said, `This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender,’ he was throwing down the gauntlet. Music heals,” Freidman asserts.
He cites the widespread use of music to treat mental illness, emotional suffering, increase positive thought, and encourage empathy and “helping” behavior. Friedman says that Seeger’s constant emphasis on the sing-a-long was his way of connecting people like you and building community.
When you are connected and supported, many of your ills, such as loneliness and isolation, and can melt away. That may take your stress, anger, and depression with it.
Mark Neikrug, a composer of contemporary classical music over a 30-year career, took a side road two years ago with “Healing Ceremony.” The album was influenced by his more than two decades of living on a Pueblo reservation in New Mexico. The values the tribe places on ceremony and music to remain grounded and maintain community well being are a central theme.
Originally created for cancer patients, “Healing Ceremony” began to circulate within a broader audience, including people dealing with a wide range of problems, stress chief among them.
The key, he says, is to be in tune with why you’re playing the music. Have an intent and be conscious of the power the music has. The more mindful you are, the deeper it goes and the more healing it will be.
April 21, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN