Music therapy has a multitude of benefits that are often unknown! Each client’s needs are different, so their experience with music therapy will also be individualized to meet those needs. Read on to discover some of the foundational or “basic” benefits of music therapy:
1). Fine Motor
A lot of musical instruments and materials are small or require finger dexterity to hold, maneuver, and play. The development of fine motor is highlighted in music therapy by using these more complex instruments to help strengthen clients’ finger dexterity! The instrument itself serves as both the motivator and the reward – motivator in that the client wants to make a sound with it, and reward in that when the client performs the necessary fine motor task, they are positively reinforced by the musical sound they’ve created. So of course, they’ll want to do it more! When you give a mouse a cookie…
2). Impulse Control
Have you ever had a drum in front of you? If so, then you know how hard it is to resist playing it! Music therapy is a great place to work on impulse control. Using instruments that are motivating for the client, the music therapist can work on concepts like cause and effect, first/then strategies, delayed gratification, turn taking, start and stop, and more! Music itself provides extra structure and containment than verbal demands alone. Rhythm is incredibly grounding for the brain, so it makes following directions, waiting turns, and delayed gratification easier when there is a starkly rhythmic musical accompaniment!
3). Social Skills
Making music together is a great way to introduce, teach, and develop social skills with clients. With just the client and therapist, music therapy can focus on understanding social cues and begin teaching how to interact with others. In music therapy groups, clients engage in music-based interventions together that foster appropriate interaction, teamwork, eye contact, turn-taking, collaboration, and other key social components.
4). Gross Motor & Gait
Music and movement is one of the most engaging interventions used in music therapy and is a great asset for developing gross motor skills! Musical components such as volume, speed, and style/genre can imitate or elicit movements a client is instructed to perform. Hear short, bouncy rhythms to symbolize hopping. Hear quiet or loud music and watch the client tip toe or march in response! High notes and low notes can mirror a client reaching up or bending down. Additionally, there are specific music therapy techniques and specializations that can assist with gait training, working on goals like walking, hopping, running, and marching.
5). Speech & Language
I would like to preface this one by saying that I am in no way a speech therapist or speech language pathologist, have not had the training in their interventions, and do not intend this to say that music therapy is more effective than speech therapy. Every client seeking therapeutic intervention for developing speech and language is different, and therefore will see different levels of effectiveness from the therapies they pursue. For one example, in my undergraduate education, I learned the story of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who suffered a gunshot to the head and lost her ability to speak. She relearned speech first by relearning singing and rhythm, using a music therapy technique called Melodic Intonation Therapy. The foundations presented by melody and rhythm can help a person understand their voice’s capacity for movement and sound production, and discover a comfortable rhythm of speaking through following a steady beat. Personally, I have seen how music can motivate clients with underdeveloped speech skills begin to vocalize and try words and phrases, and the results have been astonishing. A goal of mine is either to pursue a degree in speech pathology one day or to co-treat with a speech language pathologist! I am truly fascinated by teaching and learning speech and have been moved by the experiences I’ve had in my own work.
6). Identifying & Expressing Emotions
The phrase “where words fail music speaks” is cheesy, yes. But it is true! Sometimes it is so difficult to put into words the things we feel. Emotions are complicated, and talking about them is a vulnerable and daunting thing. When a music therapist assists a client with working through emotions, talking is not always the method used. Talking can be involved, but it usually comes later after making music, listening to songs, processing pre-written lyrics, and other music-based interventions. Often times it is easier for clients to express their emotions and feelings through the act of improvising music. With an instrument like a drum, the possibilities are endless for “how to play”. Sometimes expressing emotions through instrument play, specifically drumming, can lead to a catharsis and help the client gain a deeper understanding of their feelings and experiences. When guided by a music therapist, this process is effective and supported in helping the client work through their emotions.
Sequencing can be such a huge challenge! Whether it’s remembering items in the right order, following multi-step directions, or working on a morning routine, music therapy can help set these sequences in a client’s brain. When a client works to master sequencing through music first, it can be much easier for them to remember what’s involved in the task. Music has a definitive structure with “forms” that help establish patterns and sequences. They say we remember a lot of what we learned at young ages because it was set to music. There are reasons for that! This is possible throughout life and across the age spectrum, with any kind of task or routine!