Category Archives: reference

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

What’s your biggest guitar issue?

ATTENTION GUITAR FRIENDS!

This is a call for submissions!

One aim of my blog is to offer guitar & music-related advice and for the next few posts, I’d like to pass the power in dictating the topic of discussion to YOU. So tell me: what is the is the biggest issue you face in learning the guitar?

I’m happy to examine any relevant queries which have been bugging you. They could be technical (finger tapping, getting the right tone out of an amp), or more vague (who do you feel the best guitarists to listen to when learning Afro-Cuban jazz, etc). You might want to ask about bass guitar, ukulele or band performance/management in general. Feel free!

You can message me here, leave a comment in this post, or drop me a DM/tweet via my Twitter account: @tim_guitarist.

I look forward to hearing from you & talking your queries over the next few weeks!

Tim x

Albêniz’s ‘Leyenda’- open to interpretation

Interpretation is key to making music more than the robotic sounding of written notes on a page. It plays a large part in ensuring music remain an art, rather than a means of sequencing sound (this too can be a form of art, when done well, but that’s another article altogether).

I was recently asked to perform Spanish guitar music at a friend’s wedding service. Amongst other choices was Leyenda (meaning ‘legend’), one of the ‘big’ pieces classical guitar repertoire. Originally written by Spanish composer Isaac Albêniz (1860-1909) for piano, but transcribed for guitar within Albêniz’s lifetime.

The most famous transcription of this piece is by Andrés Segovia. Hear the great player performing it himself on this YouTube video. You may notice that Segovia’s interpretation is slower than more recent recordings. I’ve had some pretty interesting discussions with guitarists in the last few weeks and months regarding artistic interpretation. In almost all of these chats, the focus has been on the interpretation of the performer

However, what we hadn’t considered is the interpretation of the composer, or the arranger. When I say arranger, I mean one who transcribes music for other musicians to perform, rather than a player making interpretive changes solely for their own performance.

I came across a great article by composer & arranger Stanley Yates about this piece, which I wholeheartedly recommend you read here. In this article, Yates not only provides a large (and most welcome) amount if background information on the piece, but explains why his new arrangement differs more from Segovia’s than you might expect. The chief differences for me are the absence of sixteenth triplets in the opening section, which was Segovia’s invention (be honest, how many of you knew that?!) and a few differences to the interval of certain ‘grace notes’.

You can download Yates’s arrangement of Leyenda for free via this link to his website. I strongly recommend that you do this, in order to see these differences for yourself, and experience a very different side to a piece you thought you knew intimately.

The source for Yates’s arrangement is the original published piano work. He argues that he has attempted to stay true to the original piece without being pressured by the subsequent traditions of this piece which have grown over the last century. To say any more would be to rob Yates’s article completely – take some time to read it for yourself, and as always, please let me know your thoughts. Artistic interpretation has been a keen area of interest to me for a long time, and I am happy to open up a long-running conversation on the topic with readers & fellow music lovers. Get in touch!

Tim x

Ukulele Problems: Tuning

Ukulele beach(pic courtesy of ukulelemusichawaii.com)

So you’ve bought your first ukulele & learned a few chords. But now you’ve noticed that it’s gone out of tune. No matter, you have a tuner, you tune up. Done. But after a pretty short time, it’s out of tune again. Why?

I get this query a lot from my new ukulele students. Just as they are getting started with their first steps into music-making on this instrument, they become frustrated with it’s apparent lack of tuning stability.

New ukuleles come with new strings, which haven’t been ‘played in’. Just like a new set of strings of a guitar, they need to be ‘stretched’. As ukulele strings are made from nylon, which is a very flexible material, this is even more apparent.

The quickest way to to this is following these basic steps:

  1. Tune your ukulele
  2. Take a hold of the strings & gently pull them up, away from the fingerboard, repeating across a few different parts of the string (see an example video here)
  3. Re-tune the ukulele
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until re-tuning is no longer required

Hey presto! problem solved! Your ukulele should now not only remain stable after playing, but also hold it’d tuning better when travelling (though extreme changes in temperature will still cause the strings to expand and contract).

The video included via hyper link in point 2, above (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px0ds0T3ric) is one of many available online to help you better visualise what I mean by stretching the strings. It’s not as difficult as you might think!

Other things to remain mindful of:

While stretching the strings is by far the most common solution to fixing a consistently out of tune uke, you may still notice occasional tuning issues. Perhaps simple, mostly open chords sound correct, but those with three or four fretted notes, or barre chords, have one or two out of tune strings when played. More perplexing, this can happen when the open strings are still correctly tuned up.

The problem? In this case, it’s intonation.

Provided you have a decent instrument, where the frets are set up and spaced correctly (watch out for the false economy of the bottom range ‘budget models’), then this can easily be fixed by paying close attention to how you fret the notes. You may find, on new or more interestingly shaped chords, that you are pressing down too hard on certain strings, pushing that note slightly out of tune with the rest of the chord. Some positions might require you to stretch or bend a finger in a way which means it is not sitting behind the fret as per the standard method. This too, can be fixed with a little bit of practise, and a small amount of mindfulness. Happy Uke-ing!

Music & Wellbeing (Part 6): Music Therapy & Educational Wellbeing

Music and educational wellbeing

So far, we have investigated the value of music in physical and mental wellbeing. As previously discussed, a better education leads to greater feelings of wellbeing, particularly in later stages of life (Merriam & Kee, 2014). With that in mind, if we are to consider the value of music on our physical and mental wellbeing, we must also discern its role in our education.

There have been recent arguments for the evaluation of wellbeing in the school system, examining what good practice is already in place, and also discussing ways to implement further measures (Aggleton, Dennison & Warwick, 2010). A recent study by McFerran & Rickson (2014) also highlighted the positive effect of music and music therapy in educational wellbeing. Both of the above studies allude to the wider benefits in the community and later on in the child’s life, once they reach adulthood. In this chapter, I aim to examine current thinking on the effects of music on improvements in children’s learning.

The act of participating in musical activities, or playing musical instrument, is seen by many to be of great importance to children’s development (Scripp, Ulibarri, & Flax, 2013; Swanwick, 1988, 1994;). As well as teaching self-discipline and providing feelings of achievement, it acts as ‘a powerful therapy for all sorts of childhood conditions. It develops body, brain and soul in balance’ (Ben-Tovim, 1979, pp. 15-16). Music has been considered to share many similarities with language throughout our history (Thaut, 2005, p. 171). It has long been used as a method of communicating new ideas and concepts to children in a classroom environment (Welch, 2005, p. 254; Barrett, 2005). The use of music in teaching pre-school children acts as both an ‘aid in language development while promoting musical development at the same time’ (Wiggins, 2007, p. 55). Recent studies, such as those carried out by Rickard et al (2010) noticed significant improvements in the verbal memory of primary school children who had spent time studying and playing music.

Such improvements, however, stop a little short of the now famous ‘Mozart effect’. This term is derived from an experiment in which students who listened to at least ten minutes of Mozart’s music performed better in special awareness tests (Rauscher, Shaw & Ky, 1993, quoted in North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 346). The popularity of these studies allowing the idea that certain genres of music can increase intelligence has since filtered into popular assumption. However, the theory that listening to music increases intelligence quotient (IQ), excluding any other factors or stimuli, is in itself a ‘massive oversimplification and overgeneralisation of the original scientific findings’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 346). I agree that there are too many additional factors to be considered when taking into account music as stimulation for learning. I find it unreasonable to rely on an almost magical ‘Mozart Effect’ for better results in a classroom environment. I believe music needs to be employed intelligently as a communicative and participative tool in teaching practice. Student engagement will be increased through activities they regard as ‘fun’ and consequently topics can be digested more effectively. In my opinion, the musical method should stimulate creativity in the children, and better equip them for future learning in other subjects (Scripp, Ulibarri, & Flax, 2013).

While Wiggins (2007) conducted her research in the United States of America, there is an emerging global consensus to collaborate her view surrounding music as an effective tool in teaching. A similar study undertaken in Australia investigated the effects of shared music activities in pre-school children at ages 2-3 years old. The researchers then successfully linked these to a positive range of skills by the time the subjects reached ages 4-5 years old. The children demonstrated higher abilities in ‘vocabulary, numeracy, attentional and emotional regulation, and prosocial skills’. (Williams et al, 2015). The children in these tests proved to be more developed in terms of numeracy, literacy and prosocial skills, than children who had not partaken in shared music activities at a young age; more, even, than children who had participated in shared reading activities at the same age as part of the same research (Williams et al, 2015). This builds upon previous research in Germany, which suggests the level of skills such as numeracy in children may be largely down to the home environment of the child, not to mention other factors such as the educational level of the mother (Anders et al, 2012). Williams et al (2015) use the studies of Anders et al (2012) as one of the bases for their own research. While the German studies are not music-specific, they do not preclude the theories on which the Australian study was conducted. Similar investigations on older children by Hille & Schupp (2015) demonstrated not only an improvement in school performance, but greater conscientiousness and improved social awareness.

So what about children with special educational needs? ‘Special educational needs’ (SEN) is a term which encompasses a wide variety of physical and mental circumstances which might impede learning, experienced both within and outside of the educational system. In the classroom environment, examples of SEN include children with speech, sight or hearing impairments, dyslexia, dyspraxia, delayed cognition, Down’s syndrome and those on the Autistic spectrum (ASD). Studies carried out by Dieringer & Porretta (2013) have shown that the use of music during lessons improves concentration in children on the autistic spectrum. The data returned by their research showed significantly less propensity on the child’s part to diverge into off-task behaviours. They showed higher levels of concentration when music was used as part of the learning process. They reasoned that ‘music can act as an extra auditory stimulus providing additional environmental structure, thus prompting children with ASD to stay on task.’ (Dieringer & Porretta, 2013, p. 8). Dieringer & Porretta (2013) also conclude that looking into this area of study further could lead to improvements in other aspects of life for children with ASD, not least enhanced inclusiveness with other children.

While Dieringer and Porretta (2013) demonstrate in their study that off-task behaviours are reduced when music is used, they argue that further research needs to be conducted into whether or not ‘improved performance or learning actually took place’ (2013, p. 9). However, similar research by Gerrity (2013) focused specifically on improved learning in children with autism during music lessons. The findings of this research conclude that improvements in musical ability and understanding did in fact occur.

What is interesting about the studies carried out by Gerrity (2013), and those undertaken by Dieringer & Porretta (2013) is that they both focus on children with varying levels of autism inside the regular public school system. However, research by (Sandiford, Mainess, & Daher, 2013) has shown how music is of enormous help to teachers in specialist schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), including the most severe cases of autism. My caveat to this would be that such improvements depend on a number of interlinking circumstances. This is similar to the findings of Anders et al (2012). These include, amongst other factors; teaching style; available resources (learning support and funding, for example); environment (at home and school); and parental support.

REFERENCES

Anders, Y., Rossbach, H., Weinert, S., Ebert, S., Kuger, S., Lehrl, S., Von Maurice, J. (2012) ‘Home and preschool learning environments and their relations to the development of early numeracy skills’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 27, pp. 231–244. Available From http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.08.003.

Barrett, M. (2005) ‘Musical communication and children’s communities of musical practice’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 261-280.

Ben-Tovim, A. (1979) Children and music. Great Britain: A. & C. Black Ltd.

Dieringer, S. & Porretta, D. (2013) ‘Using music to decrease off-task behaviours in young children with autism spectrum disorders’, Palaestra, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 7-9.

Dennison, C., Warwick, I. & Aggleton, P. (2010) ‘Evaluating health and well-being in schools’, in Aggleton, P., Dennison, C. & Warwick, I. (eds.) Promoting health and well-being through schools. United States & Canada: Routledge.

Gerrity, K. (2013) ‘Conditions that facilitate music learning among students with special needs: a mixed-methods inquiry’, Journal of research in music education, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 144-159. Available from: 10.1177/0022429413485428.

Hille, A., & Schupp, J. (2015) ‘How learning a musical instrument affects the development of skills’, Economics of Education Review, Vol. 44, pp. 56-82. Available from: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2014.10.007.

McFerran, K. & Rickson, D. (2014) ‘Community music therapy in schools: Realigning with the needs of contemporary students, staff and systems.’ International Journal of Community Music, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 75. Available from: 10.1386/ijcm.7.1.75_1.

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.

Rickard, N., Vasquez, J., Murphy, F., Gill, A., & Toukhsati, S. (2010) ‘Benefits of a Classroom Based Instrumental Music Program on Verbal Memory of Primary School Children: A Longitudinal Study’, Australian Journal of Music Education, No. 1, pp. 36-47.

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

Sandiford, G., Mainess, K., & Daher, N. (2013) ‘A Pilot Study on the Efficacy of Melodic Based Communication Therapy for Eliciting Speech in Nonverbal Children with Autism’, Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 1298-1307. Available from: 10.1007/s10803-012-1672-z.

Scripp, L., Ulibarri, D., & Flax, R. (2013) ‘Thinking Beyond the Myths and Misconceptions of Talent: Creating Music Education Policy that Advances Music’s Essential Contribution to Twenty-First-Century Teaching and Learning’, Arts Education Policy Review, Vol. 114, No. 2, pp. 54-102. Available from: 10.1080/10632913.2013.769825.

Swanwick, K. (1988). Music, mind, and education. USA & Canada: 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.

Welch, G. (2005) ‘Singing as communication’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D.J. (eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 239-259.

Wiggins, D. (2007) ‘Pre-K Music and the Emergent Reader: Promoting Literacy in a Music-Enhanced Environment’, Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 55-64. Available from: 10.1007/s10643-007-0167-6.

Williams, K., Barrett, M., Welch, G., Abad, V., & Broughton, M. (2015) ‘Associations between early shared music activities in the home and later child outcomes: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 31, pp. 113-124. Available from: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.01.004.

Music & Wellbeing (Part 4): Music & Movement

This blog is a continuation of my mini-series examining the value of music on our overall wellbeing. The next two instalments will look at the physical benefits of music as a means of healing and rehabilitation.

As always, if you have any comments, suggestions or would like any further information regarding any of the research provided below, please do not hesitate to drop me a line! Music therapy is still a relatively new field (especially when looking at the wider sphere of medicine), and a lot of this might be new information to some. However, there exists a huge array of prior research and reading material on the subject. If reading these articles has sparked an interest in learning more about music therapy, but unsure about the best place to start, I would be more than happy to point you in the right direction!

I got rhythm: Music & Movement

Levitin (2006, p. 174) states that the cerebellum, as one of the earliest parts of our brain to evolve, is responsible for motor functions, including timing:

The Cerebellum is the part of the brain that is involved closely with timing and with coordinating movements of the body…From phylogenetic studies – studies of brains of different animals up and down the genetic ladder – we’ve learned that the cerebellum is one of the oldest parts of the brain, evolutionarily speaking. In popular language, it is sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain. Although it weighs only 10 per cent as much as the rest of the brain, it contains 50 to 80 per cent of the total number of neurons. The function of this oldest part of the brain is something that is crucial to music: timing (Levitin, 2006, p. 174)

As one of our oldest brain functions, our propensity for rhythm is therefore hardwired into us. Combine these automatic functions with the reward-centre activation we experience when listening to music (Salimpoor et al, 2015), and it goes quite some way to explaining our natural need to set things in order; an ‘unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 264).

Sacks (2008) discusses studies which demonstrated that the motor cortex and subcortical motor systems were activated when listening to music, or even merely imagining it. He argued that keeping time, in both a mental sense and as a physical act, depends ‘on interactions between the auditory and the dorsal premotor cortex’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 262). The human mind is unique in its ‘functional connection between these two motor activations’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 262) which are so intricately integrated with each other. Further to this, when listening to music is coupled with a physical activity, such as finger-tapping or any other movement in the body, several more areas of the brain are utilised. These include the cerebellum and the areas of the frontal lobes commonly associated with ‘higher perceptual and cognitive control’ (Thaut, 2005, p. 179).

According to Thompson (2015), utilizing music’s effects on the brain has yielded a positive response in stroke patients with impaired motor skills:

Patients who engaged in this intervention, called music-supported training, showed greater improvement in the timing, precision and smoothness of fine motor skills than did patients who relied on conventional therapy. The researchers postulated that the gains resulted from an increase in connections between neurons of the sensorimotor and auditory regions…the hope now is that active music making-singing, moving and synchronizing to a beat-might help restore additional skills, including speech and motor functions in stroke patients (Thompson, 2015)

Thaut (2005) has also recorded positive results when using ‘rhythmic auditory stimulation to facilitate walking’ in patients who have been partially paralysed following a stroke (Sacks, 2008, p. 276). Again, we see rhythm at play here to increasingly useful effect. Similar research carried out by Jun, Roh, & Kim (2013) investigated the benefits of music therapy in rehabilitating stroke patients. They discovered that better results, and improved mood, were increased by providing music-based movement treatments on a more regular basis (Jun, Roh, & Kim, 2013, P. 29).

Parkinson’s Disease is another condition in which music has been proven to help in alleviating symptoms. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological condition (www.parkinsons.org) caused by the ‘degeneration of cells in the midbrain that feed dopamine to the basal ganglia, an area involved in the initation [sic] and smoothness of movements’ (Thompson, 2015). These symptoms worsen as the disease progresses (Ross & Singer, 2014). In later stages of the disease, it is not only movement which is slowed down, but also the ‘flow of perception, thought, and feeling’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 274). This highlights the roots of the disease in the brain rather than in other parts of the body, much in the same way that the body can be affected after a stroke. Most studies conclude that music supplants a rhythm where the patient’s brain has stopped carrying out movement functions automatically (Jun, Roh, & Kim, 2013; Sacks, 2008; Thaut, 2005; Thompson, 2015).

As we saw when looking at musical interventions on stroke patients, one of the key factors to the success of music therapy in patients with Parkinson’s Disease is down to timing. In regard to Parkinson’s Disease, there are particular observations to be made about the patient’s own perception of timing:

‘An observer may note how slowed a parkinsonian’s movements are, but the patient will say, “My own movements seem normal to me unless I see how long they take by looking at a clock. The clock on the wall of the ward seems to be going exceptionally fast.”’ (Gooddy, 1988, quoted in Sacks, 2008, p. 276)

Regarding this example of relative time, using music has a positive effect because it ‘imposes its own tempo’, effectively overriding the impulses to speed up or slow down that Parkinsonion patients experience (Sacks, 2008, p. 276). Sacks (2008) continued that for as long as the music lasts, the patients’ rhythms returned to pre-illness speeds of movement. In other cases, where one side of the body is operating at a different speed to the other, getting the patient to play on an organ brought his limbs back into synchronicity again (Sacks, 2008, p. 277).

In many of the case studies provided by Sacks (2008), he mentions that the patients ‘come alive’ and in some examples shake off all visible signs of Parkinson’s Disease; walking more fluidly; singing; and even dancing energetically. In one case, an especially motionless patient is seated at the piano and not only frees up in her movement, but plays beautifully from memory; the act of imagining the music has the same effect as physically hearing it (Sacks, 2008, p. 278).

The phrase ‘come alive’, to me, suggests a happier state of mind when music is present in these patients. This is similar to the stroke patients in Jun, Roh, & Kim’s (2013) study that experienced an ‘improved mood’. While music is being applied here seeking physical improvements, it is simultaneously improving the patient’s mental wellbeing. Therefore, music can be seen to have an overall positive effect on the patients’ combined wellbeing. I agree with the research in these chapters, and believe that further implementation of music-based interventions within the National Health Service will show quicker recovery times in patients. This, in turn, should lead to a greater overall mental wellbeing in the patients as their health improves. As for the National Health Service, they are optimistic about the positive use of music as a means for treating stroke and Parkinson’s patients. However, they wish to see larger studies with more varied groups of patients. (National Health Service, 2008).

REFERENCES

Jun, E., Roh, Y., & Kim, M. (2013) ‘The effect of music-movement therapy on physical and psychological states of stroke patients’, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Vol. 22, No. 1/2, pp. 22-31. Available from: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04243.x.

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

National Health Service (2008) Music aids stroke recovery. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2007/January08/Pages/Musicaidsstrokerecovery.aspx (Last accessed: 07/05/2012).

Parkinson’s Society (2015). Available at: www.parkinsons.org

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

Salimpoor, V., Zald, D., Zatorre, R., Dagher, A., & McIntosh, A. (2015) ‘Review: Predictions and the brain: how musical sounds become rewarding’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 19, pp. 86-91. Available from: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.12.001.

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.

Thompson, W. (2015) ‘The Healine [sic] Power of Music’, Scientific American Mind, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 32-41.

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).

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