I grew up in a very musical household. My dad is a musician, specifically a drummer and a singer, so my house was never really quiet. As a young girl, we’d listen to everything from The Beatles to Frank Sinatra. It had a very big influence over my life and even though I tried learning to play an instrument, I wasn’t as musically adept as my father was. However, even though I couldn’t actually compose anything, I did apply music to other aspects of my life. For example, my fourth grade science fair. My hypothesis was that music could affect the development of plants- whether it be negatively or positively. It was a controlled experiment with 3 groups of the same type of plant receiving music therapy from 3 different genres of music: classical, rock, and reggaeton. After a week of playing out the experiment, from my results I concluded that the plant with most growth was the plant who was played classical music everyday (the least was reggaeton). This process of growth and flourishing in plants stemming from music made me wonder if music goes farther than that; what if music can actually heal people?
Music therapy was created by The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), whose goal is to bring patients an advanced form of therapy through music and make this accessible throughout the world. Music therapists are professional musicians who play music with patients and, sometimes, even teach them how to play certain instruments in places like hospitals, psychiatric centers, and nursing homes, among many other places. They are people who have earned bachelor’s degrees in one of more than 70 approved academic institutions. Besides a bachelor’s degree, in order to be certified as a musical therapist, they must obtain a MT-BC credential (Music Therapist-Board Certified). Music therapists’ and the AMTA’s goals are to improve patients’ lives by helping them manage stress, soothe pain, and enhance communication skills through the incorporation of music in their daily lives.
Music therapy is evidence-based, with lots of cases showing patient recovery and reported findings. Even so, a person doesn’t necessarily have to be a certified doctor to practice music therapy; people like parents can do so as well. In a study conducted by Joanne Loewy, Director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine, researchers studied the behaviors of 272 premature babies at neonatal intensive care units after being exposed to music therapy. At random intervals throughout 2 weeks, parents and music therapists would expose the babies to music (by either singing a lullaby or simulating a mother’s heartbeat) and found that babies’ heartbeats would drop after 2 minutes of listening to the music. However, because there was no control group (in other words, a group of babies that wasn’t exposed to music), researchers didn’t have complete evidence and couldn’t compare the 2 groups.
Nevertheless, we don’t need an experiment to tell us that music does influence our body and how we behave. Listening to a heavy-metal song will pick up your heart rate and stimulate all your senses, whereas listening to the slow lull of classical music will calm you down and lead you to a state of relaxation. This isn’t just based on anecdotal evidence, it’s based on studies and experiments conducted by scientists. The AMTA conducted an experiment and found that patients with schizophrenia who had been exposed to music therapy showed advanced improvement over patients who had received standard care. Thus, leading to conclude that music therapy is superior than standard care.
You don’t necessarily need to have a music therapist in order for music to heal you, it’s not mutually exclusive. Music therapy is used in places outside of hospitals and care facilities. It can be used in many different environments and situations; for example, in schools to stimulate the development of children in a learning environment or in a yoga session to relax the body and erase some of the effects stress has in our daily lives. From experiments conducted, we have evidence to say that music can potentially heal people physically and mentally.
*If you’re interested in music therapy, visit the AMTA website to learn more!