Category Archives: neurology

How to practice effectively [video]

This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.

This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!

If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.

Enjoy! xx

New community music centre now open in Cumbria

Some of you may know I am involved with a few community music therapy projects in the north-west of England. Now think it’s time you met ‘me gaffer’, and had a wee peek at the new £2million centre which has recently opened its doors in Penrith, Cumbria.

Annie, Michael & the whole team at Sunbeams Music Trust have been working tirelessly for several years, and not just in fundraising for their brand new centre. Sunbeams Music Trust now provides community music across the region. Their ‘Music for Life’ & ‘Music for Dignity’ projects reach children and adults in schools, day centres, care homes & much more, bringing music (and improved wellbeing) to so many people who need & enjoy it. But there is always more work to be done and more communities & people to reach out to. This new centre will go some way to meeting that obvious need.

Featuring a large performance room, state-of-the-art digital recording studio and small music & therapy rooms, the new centre comes well equipped to meet the needs of the charity. A well-equipped kitchen & boardroom means they can also raise much needed revenue through conferencing & hosting events. The recording studio is also directly linked up to the performance hall, meaning the centre can also serve as a commercial studio capable of recording anything up & including a small orchestra!

Guitars laid out in ‘Lily’s Room’, at the Sunbeams Centre, Cumbria.

My only contribution to the new centre so far has been laying out the guitars on the floor (as above, however the remnants of which can also be briefly glimpsed in the video, via the link below). However, I hope to start leading a few of the projects there from 2017 and truth be told, I can’t wait! The new centre is, in a word, AWESOME!

Sunbeams runs entirely on donations & charity funding. If you haven’t yet chosen a charity to donate to for Christmas, or raise money for throughout 2017, please give Sunbeams some serious consideration.

Fundraiding information can be found on Sunbeam’s donation page.

Thanks, guys! xx

…And here’s the recent feature on the new Sunbeams Centre, courtesy of ITV News.

Where have I been?

As the late, great David Bowie sang, ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

Hi all, been a while! So where have I been?

In one respect, nowhere new. I have however been rather busy as wedding season came around & I took on a lot of additional limited-run teaching work about the same time. I’ve also been keeping busy preparing for the first big change to my work/life balance…

I have been successful in securing a place to study for a MSc in Music Therapy in Edinburgh. This means for the next two years I will be in Scotland for two days (one night) per week. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that qualifying as a music therapist has  been one of my long-term goals for a while now. I expect it to be a pretty intense period of study, but I will aim to keep this blog updated of my progress. I’ll also continue to post any interesting insights into MT that I discover on the way.

Using ‘bedsit research’ as an excuse to travel up to Edinburgh this week, my partner & I spent a few days enjoying the Festival Fringe. You can expect blogs reviewing the shows we saw showing up here very soon…

Any other ch-ch-changes?

Well yes, actually. Remember that new music project I’ve mentioned starting (or attempting to start) intermittently over the last year? Expect a new update very soon – new (heavier) sounds are on the way!

Tim x

Music & Wellbeing (Part 7): Final thoughts & additional reading

I hope you have enjoyed reading these extracts from my dissertation on the value of music on our overall wellbeing. I wanted to finish off this mini-series with a few final thoughts.

First of all, it goes without saying that a lot more research needs to be conducted in all of the areas I have covered. From music’s impact on the brain to it’s beneficial applications within the education system, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what could be possible. Music’s transformative power needs much more investigation and research than, unfortunately, we seem able to support financially in the country at the present. Having said that, there are a few great organisations out there, most of them charities, which are performing Stirling work even in these most difficult of economic times.

Nordoff-Robbins are the UK’s largest and oldest Music Therapy charity. Most of the MT courses on offer at UK universities are provided in conjunction with them, usually following their methods of practice. Another fantastic charity is Sunbeams. Working in the North-West area (Lake District, Cumbria) with a range of people, including children and adults with severe or multiple physical and mental difficulties, Annie Mawson’s organisation has won great praise and acclaim for it’s community music practice. I wholeheartedly suggest you check these guys out and donate if you can.

All the papers, texts and books I referenced in my mini-series were worth a greater look and I would encourage you to look through my references list at the end of each article, and read as many of the titles as possible. However, of all of these, may I humbly suggest Daniel Levitin’s astounding book on music and neuroscience ‘This Is Your Brain On Music’ and Oliver Sack’s ground-breaking tome ‘Musicophilia’.

As for the practise itself, get out there! Get volunteering! Use your hard-learned musical skills in the community to enrich the lives of those around you, especially those less fortunate, children, the elderly, disabled, ill and the isolated. Music is very much the world’s universal language – let’s use it to the best possible effect.

Music & Wellbeing (Part 3): Music Therapy

Music Therapy

As a practice, music therapy sits somewhere between art, therapy, healthcare, and psychoanalysis; it ‘invites the art, science and craft of music and healing’ (Pavlicevic, 1999, p. 141). Its practice has been proven as having a ‘huge impact on confidence, and therefore improved wellbeing’ (Therapy Today, 2011, p. 5). Besides more common associations with mental health and children with special needs (SEN), music therapy has also proved to be of benefit on a much wider scale, including, amongst other areas, ‘physical impairments, people with hearing and visual problems, the institutionalised elderly, and people in the criminal justice system’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 298-299).

Within the field of music therapy, there is a history of deploying music to ‘alleviate chronic psychological disorders and problems associated with long-term physical impairment’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 298). There is evidence of music-based practices dating back prior to the beginning of recorded history. Being centred on music makes it one of the most accessible forms of treatment in terms of engagement:

Everyone has the ability to respond to music, and music therapy uses this connection to facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication through the engagement in live musical interaction between client and therapist (British Association for Music Therapy)

The idea of creating music ‘out of thin air’ might seem like an alien concept to some. However, the process of music therapy sessions is to create something out of the patient’s feelings, situation and environment, with the assistance of the therapist (Williams, 2014). In the context of a music therapy session, there are ‘no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ notes: all are part of possibility.’ (Pavlicevic, 1999, p. 143) Improvisation between therapist and client is key to allowing the client to experience music as a positive means of therapy:

Music therapy allows people to discover for themselves what is going on underneath, as well as allowing them to express repressed emotions or memories. If verbal communication has shut down, as with autism or stroke, it has a huge impact on a person’s confidence, which in turn affects every aspect of their life (Angela Harrison, quoted in Therapy Today, 2011, p. 5)

Just as the act of talking, or indeed writing, about one’s personal experiences can be seen as therapeutic and empowering (Newham, 1999, p. 32), so too can singing about it (Stige et al, 2010; Harrison, 2006). Due to the connections music makes with the brain and emotions, singing as a means of therapy can be seen to be even more cathartic:

To fill our memories with emotion requires us to use the full range of our voice to express the full range of feelings. And nowhere do we witness such a use of the voice more intensely than in the art of singing (Newham, 1999, p. 59)

Community Music Therapy

Such feelings of catharsis and empowerment which music therapy can provide are also useful in the context of a community. One’s place in their community has an effect on their overall wellbeing (Venkatapuram, 2013). According to Feld (1994, p. 77), ‘music has a fundamentally social life. It is made to be engaged – practically and intellectually and communally’. I agree that the main purpose of music is as a shared form of communication, much as it has been considered a language throughout history (Thaut, 2005, p. 171). This language reaches us at a level of understanding deeper than verbal communication (Harrison, 2006).

According to the National Health Service (2006) there are five evidence-based steps we can take to improve mental wellbeing:

  • Get active
  • Connect with others
  • Keep learning
  • Be aware of yourself and the world
  • Give to others

(National Health Service, 2006)

I believe that the practice of community music therapy covers all five of these points, through a variety of styles. Modes of practice, including music workshops, which act to ‘foster active and collaborative music making’ are therefore an excellent way of fostering better community wellbeing (Higgins, 2012, p. 144). Harrison (2006) believed the power of singing lay in its power to move other human beings; its ‘transformative qualities’; the way it can allow others unable to sing to feel cathartic benefits through empathic listening (2006, p. 24). I am inclined to agree with this view. I believe this element of music therapy has in fact the most potential to affect overall wellbeing, through its inherently inclusive and group-based nature. Participants, in making music with others, can experience ‘one of life’s greatest pleasures’ (Green, 1986, p. 69).

Further examples highlight to me that community music therapy might be better thought of in more broad terms, such as ‘care’ and ‘service’ (Stige & Aarø, 2012, p. 14) Like Stige & Aarø (2012), I believe it represents a group musical ‘service’ which takes place outside of the private, confidential, one-on-one setting of the traditional music therapy session. It is a means of bringing the community, and neighbouring communities, together through local music-based activities, the kind of which I have witnessed throughout my life in one form or another, without ever having identified them as ‘therapy’. These activities can take place in ‘arts centers [sic], schools, prisons, health settings, places of worship, festivals, on the streets, and in a wide range of community contexts’ (Higgins, 2012, p. 174). They can be said to be having a beneficial effect on the wellbeing of the community, and therefore the individuals within those community groups (Choi, Lee & Lim, 2008).

Music Therapy & Dementia

The term dementia, generally associated with old age or degenerative neurological diseases, is displayed as memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s Society). Alzheimer’s is characterised by changes in nerve cells and neurotransmitter levels, as well as destruction of synapses (Levitin, 2006, p. 231). In many cases, short term memory is largely absent, creating frustration among patients (Pavlicevic, 1999, p. 130). However, music therapy has proven to be of enormous positive effect in improving the wellbeing of Alzheimer’s patients (Lee & Thyer, 2013; Stige et al, 2010). Levitin goes on to report an interesting observation in the musical memory of Alzheimer’s patients:

As the disease progresses, memory loss becomes more profound. Yet many of these old-timers can still remember how to sing the songs they heard when they were fourteen. Why fourteen? Part of the reason we remember songs from our teenage years is because those years were times of self-discovery, and as a consequence, they were emotionally charged; in general, we tend to remember things that have an emotional component because our amygdala and neurotransmitters act in concert to ‘tag’ the memories as something important (Levitin, D. 2006, pp. 231-232)

Music’s innate ability to hone in on these ‘tags’ seems to almost reverse the symptoms of dementia for a brief time; play or sing a song from their past and they are once again ‘present’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 377). The practise of community music therapy has also been seen to have a positive effect in regards to Alzheimer’s patients, due to the added social factor involved (Stige et al, 2010, p. 266).

Music as alleviation to anxiety and depression

The frustration experienced by many people with dementia can often lead to frustration and agitation (Clare, 2004). While research on the subject is limited, music therapy has been proven as a noticeably effective, low-cost, non-pharmacological intervention (Blackburn & Bradshaw, 2014). Music-based interventions have yielded positive results in easing depression among adults without dementia (Chan et al, 2012). Occasionally studies note reduced anxiety as a by-product of alleviating another condition (Hargreaves & North, 2008).

There has been found to allow improvements to self-esteem and reduced depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems, which were sustained over a prolonged period (Therapy Today, 2014, p. 6). One particular advantage of music therapy over talking therapies is that younger people seem more open to participation:

The most popular activity was song-writing or writing their own lyrics to music, which seemed to benefit their ability to communicate their feelings more generally, she said. Nearly all — 97 per cent — chose to write autobiographically about how they were feeling, where they were at. This age group tend to find talking therapies slightly more challenging but our psychology colleagues tell us that, as a result of the music therapy, these children are more open to engaging with them in their sessions and more able to express how they were feeling. (Therapy Today, 2014, p. 6)

The level of effectiveness music has in relieving stress varies ‘according to age, the type of stress in question, the means by which the music was used, the listener’s musical preference, and their prior level of music experience’ (Hargreaves & North, 2008, p. 307). This brief overview highlights to me that music therapy is of intrinsic value to our wellbeing. As well as the areas mentioned above, music therapy has seen measurable success relieving anxiety in a variety of settings (Hargreaves & North, 2008). It is also useful in treatment as therapy for drug and solvent abuse (Oklan & Henderson, 2014; Silverman, 2009).

REFERENCES

Alzheimer’s Society (2015) What is Alzheimer’s disease? Available at: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?categoryID=200171&documentID=100&gclid=CI_j59OHv8UCFYgIwwodCqUAPA (Last accessed: 06/05/2015).

Blackburn, R., & Bradshaw, T. (2014) ‘Music therapy for service users with dementia: a critical review of the literature’, Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, Vol. 21, No. 10, pp. 879-888. Available from: 10.1111/jpm.12165.

British Association for Music Therapy (2012) What is music therapy? Available at: http://www.bamt.org/music-therapy/what-is-music-therapy.html (Last accessed: 12/05/2012).

Chan, M., Wong, Z., Onishi, H., & Thayala, N. (2012) ‘Effects of music on depression in older people: a randomised controlled trial’, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Vol. 21, No. 5/6, pp. 776-783. Available from: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03954.x.

Choi, A., Lee, M., & Lim, H. (2008) ‘Effects of group music intervention on depression, anxiety, and relationships in psychiatric patients: a pilot study’, Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp. 567-570. Available from: 10.1089/acm.2008.0006.

Clare, M. (2014) ‘Soothing sounds: reducing agitation with music therapy’, Nursing & Residential Care, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 217-221.

Feld, S. (1994) ‘Communication, music, and speech about music’, in Keil, C. & Feld, S. (eds.) Music grooves: essays and dialogues. United States of America: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 77-95.

Green, B. (1986) The inner game of music. United States: Pan Books.

Harrison, P. (2006) The human nature of the singing voice: exploring a h basis for sound teaching and learning. Great Britain: Dunedin Academic Press.

Higgins, L. (2012) Community music: in theory and in practice. United States: Oxford University Press.

Lee, J., & Thyer, B. (2013) ‘Does Music Therapy Improve Mental Health in Adults? A Review’, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 591-603. Available from: 10.1080/10911359.2013.766147.

Levitin, D. (2006). This is your brain on music: understanding a human obsession. Great Britain: Atlantic Books.

National Health Service (2006) Wellbeing self-assessment. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Wellbeing-self-assessment.aspx (Last accessed: 11/05/2015).

Newham, P. (1999) Using voice and song in therapy: the practical application of voice movement therapy. United Kingdom: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

North, A. & Hargreaves, D. (2008) The social and applied psychology of music. United States: Oxford University Press.

Oklan, A., & Henderson, S. (2014) ‘Treating inhalant abuse in adolescence: A recorded music expressive arts intervention’, Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 231-237. Available from: 10.1037/pmu0000058.

Pavlicevic, M. (1999) Music therapy: intimate notes. United Kingdom: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain. 2nd Edition. United Kingdom: Vintage Books.

Silverman, M. (2009) ‘A descriptive analysis of music therapists working with consumers in substance abuse rehabilitation: Current clinical practice to guide future research’, The Arts in Psychotherapy, Vol. 36, pp. 123-130. Available from: 10.1016/j.aip.2008.10.005.

Stige, B., Ansdell, G., Elefant, C. & Pavlicevic, M. (2010) Where music helps: community music therapy in action and reflection. Great Britain: Ashgate.

Stige, B. & Aarø, L. (2012) Invitation to community music therapy. United Kingdom: Routledge.

Thaut, M. (2005) ‘Rhythm, human temporality, and brain function’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (Eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 171-191.

Therapy Today (2011) ‘NHS urged to pay for music therapy to cure depression’, 2011, Therapy Today, Vol. 22 (No. 7), p.5.

Therapy Today (2014) ‘Music therapy helps beat depression’, (2014) Therapy Today, Vol. 25, No. 9, p. 6.

Venkatapuram, S. (2013) ‘Subjective wellbeing: a primer for poverty analysts’, Journal of Poverty & Social Justice, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 5-17. Available from: 10.1332/175982713X664029.

Williams, T. (2014) ‘A journey to music therapy’, Exceptional Parent, Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 30-32.

Music & Wellbeing (Part 1): The Intrinsic Value of Music

The below article is an edited extract from my recent thesis for Sunderland University, on the benefits of music on wellbeing. Over the next few ‘chapters’, I shall investigate the aesthetic, holistic, physical and education angles of music as an aid to improving wellbeing.

But first, an introduction into the value of music within itself, or rather, the value we humans place upon it. I hope you enjoy reading this and the instalments to follow. If you have any comments please do not hesitate to contact me.

The intrinsic value of music

‘For humans, music is a means of expressing and experiencing ‘love, excitement, joy, sadness and even spiritual fulfilment’ (Green, 1986, p. 69). John Cage (1952) famously stated that ‘everything is music’. By contrast, Claude Debussy remarked that ‘music is the space between the notes’ (quoted in Green, 1986, p. 70). This does, however, imply that some organisation of notes is required, if only to determine the length and perceived colours of these spaces, and the impact they may have upon hearing them.

Nicholas Cook (1998) elaborates further on the meaning of music, maintaining that music’s value is paramount due to its presence at the heart of everything we are and do as a species:

Rather than being something apart, music is in the very midst of things. In fact it’s less a ‘something’ than a way of knowing the world, a way of being ourselves. (Cook, 1998, p. vii)

Some believe the meanings we take away from music will always be unique to us; that everything we feel from music, good and bad, exists solely ‘in the audience’ (Cage, 1968, p. 97). This further demonstrates a need for contextualisation or interpretation on the part of the listener. However, I believe it carries the same underlying message as Cook (1998): music is not only important to us, but the listener will apply some means of interpretation to it, whether by concentrated thought or subconsciously. What the listener may discern from these sounds is effectively up to the listener alone.

Of course, what music we chose to consume is in part formed and shaped by our social conditions, with some allowances for personal taste (Shuker, 2008, p. 173). Martin (1995, pp. 75-76) even suggested that some forms of music can be shaped based on the traits and characteristics of the society from with it originates. This sentiment is, to some degree, rebuffed by Matthew Kieran (2013), who believed certain pieces had more relevance to an individual than another might:

To value Bach’s Cello Suites just because they cheer me up implies that they are replaceable by something that performs the same function as well or better, whether it be a feel-good movie or a night out. However, to find intrinsic value in a work is to appreciate the imaginative experience it properly affords, which may be beautiful, moving uplifting, pleasurable, insightful or profound. But it is the particular nature of the work that guides our active mental engagement and responses to it. Hence there is something about the experience of a particular work, if it is intrinsically valuable, that cannot be replaced by another. (Kieran, 2013, p. 289)

Citing Barber’s Adagio for Strings as another example, Kieran (2013) made further interesting observations on the nature of music’s value to the individual as art:

In terms of technical musical complexity the piece is relatively simple and yet in terms of expressivity it is a great piece of music…It is no coincidence that the Adagio for Strings has been used for state funerals and as the thematic music for Oliver Stone’s Platoon. The piece of music may not be about anything in the strict representational sense, yet its expressive development moves between melancholy, grief and reconciliation. (Kieran, 2013, p. 289)

Kieran’s (2013) argues that while other pieces of music may express similar sentiments to Barber’s Adagio, due to subtle differences, they can never do so in exactly the same way. This implies the listener is investing emotions onto the music, rather than the other way around. This poses some difficulties in using specific musical pieces as therapy. While drugs have an overall blanket effect on the body, whether our minds will them to or not, ‘good artworks are not dispensable in the way drugs are…in the case of art the experience is a result of our active mental engagement with the work’ (Kieran, 2013, p. 290).

Stecker (1997, 2010), on the other hand, holds the view that art is instrumental in value. We value music because of the experience it affords; the ends it realises. Kieran (2013, p. 290) differentiates between Stecker’s (1997, 2010) viewpoint that art is instrumental in value, and his own belief that art has an inherent value. He argues that money, for example, has no value in itself, and is purely of instrumental value to gain materials or realise certain situations. However, the relationship of money to the ends it can supply is entirely external. The only way by which the outcome is affected by money is as means of its attainment. Meanwhile music, to paraphrase Lynn H. Hough (1920), is more about the journey than the destination. So to find inherent value in music, it can’t merely ‘be the means to a valuable end, but also the means must partly constitute and thus be internal to the ends involved’ (Kieran, 2013, p. 290).

To that end, Rycenga (1994) described how music, and her own compositional process, gave her the confidence and freedom to be comfortable and active in her own sexuality, thus highlighting the human value of music on an emotional level:

All of these summoned a strongly physical response from me. If it had not been for the ways in which music acted upon me, music acted in me, music touched me, it is unlikely that I would have been able to act as decisively in a physical sense as I did. (Rycenga, 1994, p. 276)

To be free to be yourself, comfortable in who you are, implies an improved state of wellbeing compared to a repressed individual. This is especially true in coming to terms with your sexuality (Tasker & McCann, 1999, p. 34).

So what is the value of music in relation to our own wellbeing? Can music, the planned organisation of pitch and rhythm be beneficial as an aid to our overall physical condition or improved mental health? In attempting to find the value of music in human wellbeing, I will look across three main areas. In chapter one, I will examine music’s effect on feelings of pleasure, followed by an overview of how music therapy is being used to improve mental health.

The following instalments in this blog series will feature the next chapter in my thesis, focusing on the use of music to improve physical health. This will include studies evaluating its application as a means of pain relief. Finally, following Merriam & Kee’s (2014) view that better educational wellbeing leads to an improved adult life, the following chapters will look at the application of music therapy in schools. This will include a case study, undertaken by myself, examining the benefits of music-based interventions for literacy improvement in children with special education needs (SEN). Relying on current thinking by the best practitioners and writers in this relatively new field of study, the following instalments will attempt to determine the value of music in our lives, beyond the ephemeral, beyond existing objectively as art.

REFERENCES

Cage, J. (1952) 4’33’’. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4 (Last Accessed: 12/05/2012).

Cook, N. (1998) Music: a very short introduction. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.

Green, B. (1986) The inner game of music. United States: Pan Books.

Kieran, M. (2013) ‘Value of art’, in Gaut, B. & McIver Lopes, D. (eds.) The routledge companion to aesthetics. 3rd Edition. USA & Canada: Routledge, pp. 289-298.

Martin, P. (1995) Sounds and society: themes in the sociology of music. Great Britain: Manchester University Press.

Merriam, S., & Kee, Y. (2014) ‘Promoting Community Wellbeing: The Case for Lifelong Learning for Older Adults’, Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 128-144. Available from: 10.1177/0741713613513633.

Rycenga, J. (1994) ‘Lesbian compositional process: one lover-composer’s perspective’, in Brett, P., Wood, E. & Thomas, G.C. (eds.) Queering the pitch: the new gay and lesbian musicology. Great Britain: Routledge, pp. 275-296.

Shuker, R. (2008) Understanding popular music culture. Third edition. USA & Canada: Routledge.

Tasker, F., & McCann, D. (1999) ‘Affirming patterns of adolescent sexual identity: the challenge’, Journal of Family Therapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 30-54.