Listen up. Apparently brass, percussion, strings and woodwinds have come a long way in the last couple of decades. From the sound of it, these instruments and the notes they produce are no longer just for concert goers and musicians, but for those looking to heal through music.
I had never really heard anything about this until I happened to sit next to a CSU student on a flight out to Chicago who was majoring in music therapy. She brought up music as a potential aural elixir for chronic pain, painful childbirth, devastating brain injuries, and even Alzheimer’s. Consider my curiosity piqued.
It turns out that Colorado State University offers a unique music therapy degree, which mandates courses on everything from music history to performance to psychology to physiology. Graduates must amass a total of 120 credits and complete a six-month clinical internship, which only then qualifies them to sit for the National Board Certification Examination. It also provides eligibility for admission to the National Registry which is maintained by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). CSU’s site says that students are not qualified to work as professional music therapists until they’re registered by the AMTA.
So what do these graduates do with their degrees? Well, music therapy is defined as the “therapeutic use of music in the restoration, maintenance, and improvement of mental and physical health.” It’s used as a tool across the health and wellness spectrum to improve all sorts of different things: communication, motor development, emotional growth, social skills, academic performance.
Take Alzheimer’s and the cognitively impaired who suffer from dementia, for example, an area that is a focus of The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy at CSU. It seems that music is pre-verbal and pan-cultural, and is processed by many parts of the brain vs. just one center, as with language. Studies have shown that various elements of music — rhythm, pitch, melody — are processed differently and that music touches on human emotion, activating the limbic system. It also arouses our muscles, as well as our brain stem and can help with beneficial changes in facial expression, increased eye contact, better vocal activity, and improved physical movement.
For something that has traditionally been considered a form of entertainment or a means to soothe the savage beast, music is proving to be much more than that.