About Music Therapy

What is music therapy?

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

The American Music Therapy Association, 2010

Who can receive music therapy?

People of all ages, diagnosis and abilities may benefit from music therapy.  Music therapists work with babies in the NICU, in senior care facilities, medical facilities, public and private schools, hospice/palliative care facilities, military active duty and veterans, private clinics and in patient’s homes.   

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Music Therapy in Action

Music and the brain

1. Frontal Lobe

The Frontal Lobe is the largest of the 4 major lobes and is associated with higher complex cognition including reasoning, planning, problem-solving, personality, judgment, abstract thinking, initiation, expectations, managing emotions, impulse control, and motor skills. Cortices on the frontal lobe associated with music are the prefrontal cortex, motor cortex, and Broca’s area. The prefrontal cortex is active when processing rhythms. The stimulation of the neurons in the motor cortex is what causes ones toe to tap along with rhythmic music, often without intention. Additionally, the speed, frequency, and structure of music can affect the flow and organization of motor movements, such as walking. Lyrics are the aspect of music that triggers a response to Broca’s area as well as sight-reading, which is associated with language production in this region of the brain.

 

2. Parietal Lobe

The Parietal Lobe is a vital area for sensory perception and integration.  More specifically, the left parietal cortex is used when analyzing rhythms. This region controls the tactile feedback when playing an instrument and dancing. It functions in processing sensory information regarding the location of parts of the body in an environment as well as interpreting visual information and processing language and mathematics. The parietal lobe also deals with orientation, recognition and perception.

3. Temporal Lobe

The Temporal Lobe contains the amygdala, which processes the emotional reactions to music, as well as the auditory cortex. Information from music is taken in through the ear and is processed in the auditory cortex. The auditory cortex plays a major role in assessing pitch and volume of sound that enters the ear. The ear translates the sound it hears to responses that the auditory cortex can analyze. Just posterior to the auditory cortex is Wernicke’s area for speech comprehension and production, which works together with Broca’s area, located in the frontal lobe, for many facets of language as well as analyzing lyrics when listening and reading music. Coordination of specific functions including visual memory such as facial recognition, verbal memory, understanding language, and interpreting the emotional reactions in others are also processed here.

 

4. Occipital Lobe

The Occipital Lobe, which contains the visual cortex, is associated with interpreting the information that is transmitted through the retinas of the eyes. Music can trigger activity in the visual cortex when reading music, watching oneself or others in movement to music, or playing an instrument as well as following visual directions. The visual cortex can respond to music by conjuring up images associated with a piece of music when memories from that piece of music are triggered to produce these images.

 

5. Cerebellum

The cerebellum plays a vital role in virtually all physical movement.  It carries out basic voluntary human functions such as balance, posture, coordination, equilibrium and some speech. This part of the brain helps a person drive, throw a ball, or walk across the room. The cerebellum also assists people with eye movement, vision and emotional reactions to music. This area of the brain receives information from the sensory systems like the spinal cord and other parts of the brain and regulates motor movements such as fine motor. The cerebellum helps the body to learn movements that require practice and fine-tuning. For example, the cerebellum plays a role in learning to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument. The right cerebellum is involved with analyzing rhythms and more mechanical aspects of music. The more complex the rhythm, the more areas of the cerebellum are involved.   

 

1. Frontal Lobe

The Frontal Lobe is the largest of the 4 major lobes and is associated with higher complex cognition including reasoning, planning, problem-solving, personality, judgment, abstract thinking, initiation, expectations, managing emotions, impulse control, and motor skills. Cortices on the frontal lobe associated with music are the prefrontal cortex, motor cortex, and Broca’s area. The prefrontal cortex is active when processing rhythms. The stimulation of the neurons in the motor cortex is what causes ones toe to tap along with rhythmic music, often without intention. Additionally, the speed, frequency, and structure of music can affect the flow and organization of motor movements, such as walking. Lyrics are the aspect of music that triggers a response to Broca’s area as well as sight-reading, which is associated with language production in this region of the brain.

 

2. Parietal Lobe

The Parietal Lobe is a vital area for sensory perception and integration.  More specifically, the left parietal cortex is used when analyzing rhythms. This region controls the tactile feedback when playing an instrument and dancing. It functions in processing sensory information regarding the location of parts of the body in an environment as well as interpreting visual information and processing language and mathematics. The parietal lobe also deals with orientation, recognition and perception.

3. Temporal Lobe

The Temporal Lobe contains the amygdala, which processes the emotional reactions to music, as well as the auditory cortex. Information from music is taken in through the ear and is processed in the auditory cortex. The auditory cortex plays a major role in assessing pitch and volume of sound that enters the ear. The ear translates the sound it hears to responses that the auditory cortex can analyze. Just posterior to the auditory cortex is Wernicke’s area for speech comprehension and production, which works together with Broca’s area, located in the frontal lobe, for many facets of language as well as analyzing lyrics when listening and reading music. Coordination of specific functions including visual memory such as facial recognition, verbal memory, understanding language, and interpreting the emotional reactions in others are also processed here.

 

4. Occipital Lobe

The Occipital Lobe, which contains the visual cortex, is associated with interpreting the information that is transmitted through the retinas of the eyes. Music can trigger activity in the visual cortex when reading music, watching oneself or others in movement to music, or playing an instrument as well as following visual directions. The visual cortex can respond to music by conjuring up images associated with a piece of music when memories from that piece of music are triggered to produce these images.

 

5. Cerebellum

The cerebellum plays a vital role in virtually all physical movement.  It carries out basic voluntary human functions such as balance, posture, coordination, equilibrium and some speech. This part of the brain helps a person drive, throw a ball, or walk across the room. The cerebellum also assists people with eye movement, vision and emotional reactions to music. This area of the brain receives information from the sensory systems like the spinal cord and other parts of the brain and regulates motor movements such as fine motor. The cerebellum helps the body to learn movements that require practice and fine-tuning. For example, the cerebellum plays a role in learning to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument. The right cerebellum is involved with analyzing rhythms and more mechanical aspects of music. The more complex the rhythm, the more areas of the cerebellum are involved.   

 

Music Facts

Listening to music first involves subcortical structures like cochlear nuclei, the brain stem, and the cerebellum. It then moves up to auditory cortices on both sides of the brain.  And when you hear music, listening also involves the memory centers in the brain, such as the hippocampus and lowest parts of the frontal lobe. Tapping along with the music gets your cerebellum involved. Reading music involves the visual cortex, and listening to or recalling lyrics will involve language centers in the temporal and frontal lobes.  If you actually perform music, your frontal lobe, for planning, and your motor and sensory cortex will activate as well.  

Did You Know?

  • Listening to, playing, reading, and creating music involves practically every part of the brain. 

  • Music provides an optimal learning environment and organizes information into smaller chunks that are easier to learn and retain.   

  • Music captivates and maintains attention.  Research indicates that attention is necessary before learning can take place.

  • Research indicates that music is often successful as a mnemonic device for learning new concepts, such as learning academics and life skills through task analysis put to song.  

  • Music is highly motivating and engaging and may be used as a natural reinforce for desired responses.  

Did You Know?

  • Music is processed in all areas of the brain and the elements of music have the ability to access and stimulate areas of the brain that may not be accessible through other modalities.

  • Research shows that music enhances and optimizes the brain, providing better, more efficient therapy and improved functional tasks.

  • Research supports parallels between non-musical functioning and music-assisted tasks, which provides a scientific rationale for the use of music in therapy.

  • Speech and singing are closely related in function and proximity in the brain. Speech naturally incorporates musical elements such as meter, rhythm, and the melodic contour of prosody, and research shows that music enhances these speech/language functions.

Did You Know?

  • Research supports parallels between rhythm and movement. Rhythm can be used as an external timekeeper to organize, coordinate and improve movement.

  • Music provides an optimal learning environment and organizes information into smaller chunks that are easier to learn and retain.   

  • Music therapists can use music to facilitate more functional, organized, coordinated, and higher quality movements in fine motor and gross motor skills including motor planning, motor control, motor coordination, gait training and body awareness.

  • The brain is highly responsive to all elements of music including rhythm, tempo, melody, harmony, etc., and rhythm is particularly organizing for the brain. These auditory stimuli ascend to the higher cognitive processing areas of the brain and optimize and enhance performance of cognitive skills.

Did You Know?

  • It is now known through research that music is cortically distributed, meaning that it is processed in multiple areas of the brain simultaneously. Therefore, processing music is a whole brain activity, while most other daily activities are not. Thus, adding music therapy as a treatment modality to a clinical team enhances and optimizes the treatment effect of each of the other therapies.  
  • Within the brain, perception and production of music shares cortical pathways with similar non-musical tasks. This means that musical processes can be maintained despite the loss of similar non-musical tasks.  
    • For example, after a stroke, patients are frequently left without speech but may still be able to sing. This musical behavior (singing) can be generalized to the non-musical behavior (speech) through the shared pathways and eventually some speech can be regained.
  • Additionally, research has shown that the brain that is changed by intentional engagement in music remains changed by that engagement. This means the generalized behaviors remain even after the musical stimulus has been removed.

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