Music therapy

“Where words fail, music speaks.” —Hans Christian Andersen


Music is found in every known society and has been with us since prehistoric times. It has the power to elevate our emotions in ways few other mediums have. How often have you been going about your daily life and suddenly heard a song come on the radio that totally shifted your mood? How often do you find yourself humming along to your favorite song in the car or singing at full volume in the shower? Music can leave us feeling calmer, happier, and on occasion, sadder, but whether you are listening to music or creating it yourself, its power cannot be denied. As an expressive arts therapy modality, music can be used to help regulate our emotional state by allowing us to express thoughts or feelings that may be hard to put into words, but feel more easily accessed and expressed when sung. Music also releases endorphins in the brain, i.e. the “feel-good chemicals,” that calm our minds and bodies and make us feel happy.


Creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music all have enormously positive effects on our psyches, particularly in times of stress, as music connects with the automatic nervous system (brain function, blood pressure and heartbeat) and the limbic system (feelings and emotions). As is the case with all expressive arts modalities, one does not need to be a professional singer or musician to experience these benefits. Simply listen to what feels good to you, explore instruments freely, and make whatever sounds you feel you need to make in order to experience an emotional release. Remember, it doesn’t have to sound good to feel good! 


For a more structured way to use music therapeutically, Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. As mentioned above, one of the benefits of music therapy is that it provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Music-based therapy is based on two fundamental methods – the ‘receptive’ listening based method, and the ‘active’ method based on playing musical instruments. Music therapists are trained professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved college or university program.  


Some ways in which music can be used therapeutically (or just for fun!) are the following:


  • Drumming

  • Listening to live or recorded music

  • Learning music-assisted relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing

  • Singing songs with live or recorded accompaniment

  • Singing songs acoustically 

  • Playing instruments, such as hand percussion

  • Improvising music on instruments or just using your voice

  • Writing the music and/or lyrics for original songs

  • Learning to play an instrument

  • Creating art with music

  • Dancing or moving to live or recorded music

  • Writing choreography for music

  • Joining a chorus and singing with others

  • Discussing one’s emotional reaction or meaning attached to a particular song or creating an art piece in response to music


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