Music Therapy: Music as Medicine


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Music Therapy – it’s been around for some time…let’s say as long as we’ve had music. As a credentialed profession, it’s still relatively new. The first program to award a degree in music therapy began at Michigan State University in 1944. The American Music Therapy Association came into being in 1998. To many, the profession is still a mystery. It isn’t simply singing someone to sleep or teaching a person how to play a few chords on an ukulele. From the AMTA’s website:

Music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses; design music sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs using music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music; participate in interdisciplinary treatment planning, ongoing evaluation, and follow up.

In a recent article over at Science Times, writer Jezreel Smith detailed the use of music therapy’s use in reducing pain.


A Natural Analgesic

“Music therapy should be added to postoperative pain treatment as it been found to decrease pain in patients recovering from spine surgery.”

– Jezreel Smith

The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine conducted a study which explored the effects of music therapy on pain levels in 30 post-operative spine surgery patients. In addition to standard post-operative care, 30 minute music therapy sessions were included.

You’ve probably seen a version of the Visual Analog Scale (VAS) for pain in your doctor’s office or at a hospital. The subjects of the study were asked to rate their pain using the VAS before and after music therapy was introduced. Members of the group which received music therapy had a reduction of more than a point on the pain scale, while the control group, 30 subjects who only received regular post-operative care without music therapy, saw a rise of just over a half point.

Pain Scale
The Visual Analog Scale used in many medical settings.


The Power of Music

What does this study tell us? It confirms the power of music, its impact on the brain and how it processes pain, and and music therapy’s value in helping patients comfortably recover from surgery. This is only one area in which music therapy has been successful applied. You’ll find music therapists in a wide range of settings: in schools working with differently abled students, such as kids on the autism spectrum; in nursing homes, helping residents maintain or even increase mental, physical and emotional functioning; in mental health facilities, aiding patients as they process emotions and work to resolve conflict.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

For More Information on Music Therapy…

Interested in learning more about what music therapy is or what music therapists do? Check out the American Music Therapy Association’s website. It is full of wonderful information regarding the profession. There’s a great FAQ page than answers many questions and an entire section on research.

We have been using music as medicine as long as music has been around, and like many ancient practices, it continues to be refined as we learn more. Music Therapists are becoming more common in a host of settings. We are a musical people, and the greater connection we have to the art form, the larger the positive impact it can have on our lives.

I’ve said it before friends, music is magic.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Music Therapy for Babies

Music Therapy

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]What has been one of the most effective treatments for babies born prematurely? You guessed it – music!

In fact, Shanghai’s Children’s Hospital of Fudan University regularly uses music therapy “…to help premature babies to speed up nerve cell repairing and development…“, more proof of the power of music to activate and enhance brain activity and development.

Various clinical trials have recently revealed that the sound of mom or dad singing can stabilize the breathing and heart rates of babies born prematurely.  And there’s benefit for mom and dad too who report that their own stress levels were lowered as they sang to their little ones, promoting greater bonding and attachment between parents and preemies.

Other music therapy interventions, specifically the use of live music, have been found to “…increase a premature infant’s capacity to feed, sleep, and self-regulate…”, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If music has this kind of power to affect premature babies who are at their most vulnerable, think of the impact music can have on a little one who is not facing the challenges that come with being born prematurely!

Your child doesn’t have to be a preemie to benefit from music, and you don’t have to go to music therapy to benefit either.  You can just enroll in Kindermusik classes!  It’s all about opening the window of opportunity early, when the brain is most receptive to learning and growing and when little hearts can be most affected by the powerful combination of music, movement, and a whole lot of love from some really special people – engaged parents and a nurturing Kindermusik educator.  

Shared by Theresa Case, Kindermusik Educator & director of Piano Central Studios in Greenville, SC[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Universal Language: Music Therapy

Music Therapy

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Prof. Laurie Fox, Board Certified Music Therapist, takes us on a brief journey, and explains her field along the way. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]It’s been said that, “music is a universal language.” And while I would amend that to, “music is universal”, nonetheless, I must concede that music is a communicator, a connector of persons with diverse backgrounds. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the use of music by children.

Having just returned from trips to Kenya, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic, I was blessed to share music with children with whom I could not otherwise engage. We made music together using “found sounds”, body percussion, singing and rhythmic chanting. In addition, we helped the children in creating and utilizing shaker instruments in call/response activities and as accompaniment to pre-composed songs.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Immediate Music/Immediate Connection

The immediacy of the joint music-making did not come as a surprise, because that is typically what we can expect from children in the States. What WAS different was how the children naturally embodied the music, using their entire bodies in their music-making, whether it was dancing as they played or fully engaging with the instruments, staying mindful and present with their music-making endeavors, as opposed to perseverative behavior. For me, as a musician, a music therapist and music educator, it’s the embodiment of music that is of vital importance in exploring and experiencing one’s self as a musical being. This belief has been the foundation of my use of music with clients in music therapy.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]And so, first, what is music therapy? Here’s how the American Association of Music Therapy defines it:[/vc_column_text][blockquote cite=” AAMT”]Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.[/blockquote][vc_column_text]This definition leaves many questions unanswered because of the variety of possible musical interventions, along with the vast array of clientele groups, as well as the training, skill and personal style of each individual music therapist. So, what follows are a couple of examples of my own work in re-purposing music education approaches as therapeutic interventions in order to assess, support and aid childhood development.

Music education approaches from pedagogues such as Jaques Dalcroze, Zoltán Kodály, Carl Orff, and Schinici Suzuki emphasize the value of experiencing music (through singing, moving, rhythmic activities) as a means of learning musical concepts. While not yet thoroughly explored for use in music therapy, these developmental music approaches and philosophies align with the humanistic framework in which many music therapists work.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Music Therapy in Africa
Experiencing embodied music making in Africa – look at those smiles! photo credit – Jen Seniuk

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Therapeutically, embodied music-making experiences allow children to explore their own resources, all the while remaining in their world of play. The value of their music-making comes not only from the aesthetic virtues of music as art, not only from cognitive benefits, but also, and maybe most importantly, from the music as being a vehicle through which children can build their sense of self and strengthen self-mastery. To those ends, common goals in music therapy could include the following:[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

To improve awareness of self, others and environment

Utilizing the Dalcroze concepts of “time-space-energy”, children are encouraged to walk the quarter note beat at the tempo of what the therapist improvises on the piano; they are to attend to the music and respond by walking faster or slower when they sense the shift in the tempo. In addition, they are encouraged not to walk in a circle (which often happens naturally!) but rather to make use of the entire space. For older children, you can encourage them to use their upper bodies by “conducting” the music and also to explore the space above and below them (arms waving overhead; knees bending to explore closer to the ground)[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

To increase and/or improve social skills (sharing, turn taking)

Using Orff instruments, children are partnered together on various instruments, all arranged with the pentatonic scale (or five notes, each instrument utilizing the same five notes). The larger (or lower pitched) instruments keep a simple ostinato (repeated musical pattern), in which client A plays one note and client B plays another, and together, their notes form the ostinato. Other clients on medium pitched instruments can be given a simple melody that repeats (again, shared by two clients). And then maybe one xylophone gets passed around to those who do not yet have an instrument, and these clients can (one at a time) create something on the spot to go with the “accompaniment” of the medium and lower pitched instruments. The clients would then all switch roles so that everyone has a chance to “solo”.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Other goals might include:

  • To increase and/or improve communication skills (receptive skills, expressive skills)
  • To improve autonomy (decision-making, problem-solving)

Perhaps I can share more ideas about music experiences to target these goals in a future post, but the main thing I hope to convey is that children need to explore music in its (and their!) fullness. Happy music-making![/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Laurie Fox Music Therapist

Laurie Fox, MMT, MT-BC, LPC, is the Coordinator of the Music Therapy Program for Seton Hill University. She has practiced music therapy since 1994, focusing primarily on working with older adults with dementia and children, adolescents, and adults with mental health issues. Additional clinical work has included corrections, oncology, and neurology, and she maintains a private music psychotherapy practice. Laurie has recently joined the team at Heritage Hospice, Indiana, PA, marking a return to her love of hospice music therapy.

Laurie continues to be an active performer in her community and is passionate about bringing people together through music making endeavors. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, which includes a few cats![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Music therapy and early childhood special education

Source: American Music Therapy Association

With more than 30 years experience of using music to reach children of all abilities, we experience every day the profound impact of music, including how music can be used in early childhood special education. Last year NPR’s Talk of the Nation featured a discussion with licensed music therapists who use music to treat stress and speech disorders. In addition to highlighting personal experiences in practicing music therapy, these music therapists discussed the latest research that showed music therapy can:

  • Decrease anxiety levels in cancer patients and people with heart disease
  • Improve quality of life in cancer patients and patients at the end of life
  • Reduce heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure
  • Help people who have lost expressive language communicate through singing

Children with autism and music therapy

One of the callers, a parent with two children with autism shared her family’s experience with music therapy:

My son, my 6-six-year-old son, basically did not speak. He would string maybe two words together. That was his idea of a sentence. I walked into a pet store one day, and he sang from beginning to end the song “Slippery Fish.” It had seven stanzas. And I—my jaw hit the floor—and I went back to his access liaison with the state, and I said he doesn’t speak, yet he sang this song. She goes he needs music therapy….

We have had eight different music therapists now…my child, my nonverbal child, the one that spoke like two words together with his sentence, he speaks, he communicates, he can give us his wants.

I mean, he’s not talkative. He’s not—but the music therapist, she comes twice a week. This has made such a huge difference to our family, to our life, his ability to be educated, to provide self-care.”

To hear the show, Talk of the Nation: “Treating Stress, Speech Disorders with Music,” in its entirety or to read the transcripts, go here.

Early childhood special education curriculum uses music to teach children

Our special education curriculum, ABC Music & Me, uses music to teach children of all abilities early literacy and language, social and emotional skills, and to strengthen fine and gross motor skills, and more. ABC Music & Me is not a therapeutic program, however, many music therapists use or recommend ABC Music & Me or Kindermusik curricula to families whose children experience physical, emotional, cognitive, or social challenges. Students with special needs who use our early childhood special education curriculum show gains in literacy and language skills.

Special needs teachers appreciate the supplemental strategies guide, Meeting Special Needs, organized unit-by-unit and lesson-by-lesson, that suggests activity adaptations for children with particular needs or impairments. Plus, our exclusive customer website includes the tools teachers need for students’ IEPs, including IEP objective descriptors for easy cut-and-paste and IEP skills booster index.

For more information about using ABC Music & Me as an early childhood special education curriculum, email us at

Meet Luke. You’ll be glad you did.

The following post was graciously shared with Minds on Music from Studio3Music. We all agree: it’s what Kindermusik is all about!

This arrived in my inbox the other day from one of our Kindermusik moms, Melissa. I read it, and by the middle of the email, I had tears streaming down my face. I have never had a story about one of our Kindermusik children touch me quite as much as Luke’s. Enjoy!

My child is special.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking, ‘your child is special too’, but my child is REALLY special.  Luke is a special needs child. In short, he was born with brain damage.  He has developmental, fine and gross motor, and significant speech delays.  One thing that Luke is not delayed in is his love for music!

We started Kindermusik with Luke when he was 2. As we sang during Luke’s first class his teacher, Beth, explained how holding the different sized egg shakers encouraged different motor skills.  I felt a pang of emotion shoot like lightening through me.  “This is perfect for Luke”.

We played with items with different textures, something Luke’s physical therapist had suggested just weeks earlier.  We drove cars on different body parts, played games, and of course sang and danced!  I knew right away that Kindermusik going to be great for Luke.

After that first class I buckled Luke in his car seat, drove about a quarter of a mile down the road and began to sob. I was (and am) SO thankful that Luke has this opportunity to nourish and support him in such a fun way.  I immediately turned my car around and went back to the Kindermusik class.

Miss Beth saw my tear stained eyes and gave me a big hug before I could even share anything with her.  Once I found some composure I briefly shared Luke’s condition with Beth and told her what her class means to us.  Here she is, just doing her job, like so many other Kindermusik teachers but she is actually helping to HEAL my child…and expand yours!

For most of Luke’s first round of Kindermusik he was typically just along for the ride.  He didn’t have the fine motor skills to play many of the instruments, his sensory issues made it difficult for him to transition from playing to being held quietly during cuddle time, he doesn’t have the ability to talk so singing along was out, he didn’t make any sounds at all for that matter, also, he couldn’t sit still for story or rolling a ball back and forth, and he didn’t mimic so he wasn’t quite developing thru watching either.  I pretty much held his hands, literally, throughout every exercise and activity, manually supporting his hands and fingers in participation.

Despite all this, Luke LOVED Kindermusik.  He began to get excited when we’d pull into the parking lot for Kindermusik, squealing, smiling, and kicking his legs in excitement!  Then one day, as we left class I put Luke in his car seat.  I sat my keys in his lap while I buckled him in and he took my keys, put them between his legs, and put his arms up and out to his sides.  Luke was mimicking!  Luke was trying to play!  Luke was thinking in his sweet little brain:

Jingle, jingle, jingle, go the car keys.
Jingle, jingle, jingle, go the keys.
Lost them, lost them, where are the car keys?

I couldn’t wait to tell Miss Beth…and everyone else for that matter!

Luke is now three and in his second week of his second round of Kindermusik.  Now Luke zips around the room yipping and squealing.  He had class this morning and did 6, count them 6, new things in those precious 45 minutes.

First, Luke attempted hammering his rhythm sticks!  He switched his grip around until he was able to hit the top of one stick with the other like he was hammering in a nail.  No hand-over-hand, he just did it!  He knew he did it too!  He made sure I saw him and I could see the pride in his smile.  I felt that lightening bolt of emotion shoot through me again.

Next, he noticed that I had put the top of the tone bar back on upside down.  Noticing this is huge. Next, he tried to problem solve by turning the bar over.  Of course his logic was flawed, but for a little boy without a frontal lobe, attempting to problem solve is huge!

NEXT, Luke allowed me to hold, embrace, and rock him during the cuddle part of class!  I think he even enjoyed it!  After this we played with balls.  Luke still couldn’t sit still or roll the ball but he did something unexpected, he caught the ball, a few times!!!  I’ve never seen him do this before and, since he has an older brother, balls are big things in our house!

Also during ball time, he saw a classmate sitting on her ball and bouncing on it…what did Luke do?  He mimicked!  He put that ball under his little tush and tried to sit on it!  He couldn’t balance well enough to do it but he tried…I almost cried!

Lastly, when class was over, Luke “eagerly awaited” his hand stamp.  His version of eager waiting is standing up an inch from where I’m sitting and pointing with a limp wrist at Miss Beth stamping the other kids.  I escorted him up front and he got his stamp.  That’s not new, what is new is what happened next:  he pulled up his shirt up, along with the sensory leotard top he wears, stuck out his belly, and gently patted his stomach.  HE wanted to have his tummy stamped like some of the other kids and, in his own way, he TOLD me this!  Talk about leaps and bounds!

Another thing we’ve noticed since starting Kindermusik is that if Luke is “playing” a musical instrument with his hands he may, on rare occasion, vocalize. In a sweet, soft, broken, purposeful whisper we’ve heard him sing:  “ahhhhhhh”,  “oooooooooh”, and “ooouuuuuuu”.  He is always the first to notice that music is playing: in the car, at the mall, on a commercial, anywhere.  He is drawn to it.

If Kindermusik can have such an impact on my special needs child, just imagine what it is doing for your child!

If you ever get the chance to meet Luke you will know immediately that he’s special. You may not even notice that he is handicapped because you’ll be so mesmerized by his hugely gregarious smile and his eyes shooting darts of love at you more accurately than one of Cupid’s arrow.

-posted by Melissa, Momma to Luke, who says that there is indeed something special about Luke, and her family is SO thankful that he has the musical therapy of Kindermusik harmonizing with them to help heal him.

Special thanks to Studio 3 Music for allowing us to share this great post from the Studio 3 Music blog. Studio 3 Music in Seattle, Washington, the world’s largest Kindermusik program.