“Where words fail, music speaks.”
Author and poet Hans Christian Andersen is responsible for the above quotation, which is quite interesting considering his profession and the fact that Andersen gave us what are some of the most memorable fairy tales ever written, including “The Princess and the Pea,” “Thumbelina” and “The Little Mermaid.”
Nonetheless, the power of music has long been noted and is something that all of us experience throughout our lives. Music is used to set the mood for a romantic dinner. It is used to stir deep emotions and prompt nations to war. We crank it up in our cars to provide a soundtrack for a long road trip.
While the exact mechanism that allows music to reach deeply into our minds may not be fully identified or understood today, that hasn’t stopped professionals from using it in powerful ways. Educators, health care providers and social workers are all using music to help those with whom they work, and they are looking for new ways to leverage the power of music.
Music and Autism
Watching the above video gives a quick taste of just how deeply even the emotionally impaired person can be touched and, in turn, touch others back through lyric and song.
Music therapy is well-known to have incredibly positive results. It is used liberally in autistic patients who go from destructive behaviors to focusing on the song and the effect the music has on them while they participate.
Music and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dan Cohen, social worker and director of the nonprofit Music & Memory, made some startling observations back in 2006. It was then that Cohen realized that virtually none of the 16,000 nursing homes in the United Stated had iPods for their residents. When he received some used iPods to distribute to residents, he found that the music could have remarkable effects on Alzheimer’s patients.
For years, caregivers have known that when those inflicted with Alzheimer’s have seemingly lost most of their ability to recall memories—even names and faces—they can still remember the words to songs.
Cohen noticed cognitive improvements even beyond the ability to recall song lyrics. He found that with some Alzheimer’s patients, music seemed to improve other mental faculties. For example, patients who had turned inward and stopped socializing would appropriately engage with others after having listened to the music of their eras on iPods.
The 2013 documentary Henry is reawakened when he is given the opportunity to listen to his favorite Cab Calloway tunes.
Music and Memory
In Alzheimer’s patients we see how music can be used to prompt the recall of memories that are otherwise long lost. In other words, in the elderly, music can be used to bring back memories. In youth, music is a powerful force that is used to create memories.
Talk to experienced elementary school teachers, and they will tell you that if they could set their entire curriculum to music, they could make “A” students out of all their children. Educational song writer Jean Feldman, Ph.D, better known in the elementary school world as Dr. Jean, receives treatment usually reserved for pop icons like Kim Kardashian when she speaks at educational conferences.
Continue your discussion with those experienced elementary school teachers, and they will also tell you that the children who have been regularly exposed to educational songs before entering the school system are the best prepared for the work ahead.
Videos from creators like The Giggle Bellies can help parents give their kids a head start as well as reinforce material covered in the lower elementary grade curriculum. PBS and commercial network programming such as Sesame Street and others have been taking advantage of the power of music for years.
Philosopher Emmanuel Kant called music, “the quickening art,” meaning that it arouses and stimulates our minds. We see evidence of that every day and can expect professionals to find even more beneficial applications in the future.
Music Therapy Going Mainstream
Ending this article with an example of what is a growing trend on YouTube will clearly dispel any illusion that we, as a society are growing more relaxed. People are self-medicating in a good way. There is a proliferation of relaxing videos available for free on the internet. Relaxing music, both classical and what is often called new-age, usually accompanied by video or images of nature are abundant. It is here that we will leave you.
About the Author: Carrie Thompson writes and truly enjoys working with children and the elderly, gaining wisdom from each.