Music Therapy A magic beyond words

Music Therapy A magic beyond words
We are at an age when education is increasingly aiming to include children with special needs and emotional disturbances in the mainstream education system. With rising complexities in relationships and the breakdown of the joint family system, incidents like bickering parents, death of a close relative, divorce, accidents, take a greater toll on children due to the absence of emotional cushioning provided by other senior members of the family. 

Parents and teachers often report a child suddenly becoming withdrawn, depressed or aggressive. Fall in academic grades goes hand in hand. Similarly, children with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, or other learning disabilities also face such problems. Helping these children, while allowing them to remain in the mainstream education system becomes a daunting task. It is here that Music Therapy can be used very effectively at regular schools.

Let’s take the case of Rohan Khanna of New Blooms School (names changed). Rohan is a slow learner. His academic grades are always below the passing mark. He often feels ill at ease in classes where other students perform well. To cope with the anxiety, he over eats and has gained weight, which is yet another embarrassment for the boy. But Rohan is a brilliant guitar player. During any function at school he leads the school band. The class teacher encourages his interest and invites him to play something in class. Rohan plays ‘Hotel California’ with élan which is met by roaring claps. 

Instantly, the boy’s sagging self esteem rises. His classmates bond with him and even offer to help him with his home work.

Though we are all aware of the universal appeal of music, we often underestimate the power of music as a therapy for young minds. As we saw in Rohan’s case, music is intertwined with memories and provides a sense of security and comfort in the minds of children. It affects all students irrespective of their age, academic performance, cultural back ground or state of mind.

Another advantage of Music Therapy is that it is non invasive, cost effective and available at every place. One can make music without any instrument, with just claps, rhythmic words, and simple melody.

As the world is leaning more towards alternative methods of healing like Yoga or Meditation, music can be used as a tool of regular learning as well as an effective way of healing disturbed minds.

Take Avantika (name changed), for instance. Avantika, a class 6 student witnessed a car accident which tremendously affected her emotional well being. She sunk into extreme depression and started to hallucinate. The trauma was so extreme that she often forgot her own name. Her teachers found it extremely challenging to deal with this situation. After a lot of reasoning the class teacher took the help of the music teacher to enliven her mood. She was allowed to spend as much time as she liked in the music room. The sound of music comforted her and cheered her up and there was noticeable change in her behaviour.

Just like in Avantika’s case, music affects our life at every stage. Studies suggest that even prior to birth, babies may respond to music while in the womb. Lullabies are used to comfort babies all around the world and put them to sleep. Gentle tunes and rhythm makes the baby secure allowing him/her to drift to sleep.

In our everyday life, we listen to music for relaxation. Simply listening to music can influence our emotions and can even be seen in changes in brain-wave patterns. In fact, quite a few doctors prefer to play soothing music while performing difficult surgeries.

Listening to music helps develop the brain. Research conducted by neuroscientists on college students in the United States found that listening to Mozart increases spatial-temporal reasoning. This even led to a proposal by the governor of Georgia to provide every baby with a CD of classical music, due to the positive effects on brain development and spatial and mathematical skills.

At school, music can be used to improve communication skills. Music incorporates rhythm, pitch and words, which are all part of speech and language. Both sides of the brain are used with music, so information can be learned through music and eventually transferred into speech and language.
At play-schools popular songs are used to teach children different skills. For example, children are taught how to spell a 5 letter word by changing the words to the song “BINGO”.  For example: “There is a boy who has black hair and Tiger is his name TIGER (repeat).” Most children learn the alphabet by singing the alphabet song.

Music Therapy has also been successfully used at Royal Children Hospital, Melbourne where music therapists work with children and adolescents using targeted therapy sessions to enhance their hospital experience. 

Music Therapy aims to use the experience of music to help the patients develop all areas of health and well being. Based on the child’s medical needs, music is employed in structured ways (songs, song-writing) to help in healing.  Otherwise, it is used in the form of non structured music playing – as an expression of emotion. In these ways, the music therapists help to deal with tension and anxiety and assist in pain control through distraction or relaxation.

Having dealt with the all pervading influence of music in our lives we can safely conclude that music therapy can be used successfully at school for decreasing anxiety, fear, sadness and agitation. 

Music can increase bonding with peers in the form of group work like song writing, jingles etc. Music alleviates stress and helps students relax and feel comforted. In cases of subjects which require repetitive exercises, music can be used to make the task more interesting. Songs involving mathematical formulae is a very creative way to break the monotony of study.

Dr Jonaki Mukherjee

Dr Jonaki Mukherjee

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