What is music therapy?

You no doubt have heard the saying, “music soothes the savage beast.” And most of us know how relaxing and emotionally refreshing listening to music can be. It can help you cope with sadness and even help you fall asleep faster. Music can soothe crying infants and change an irritable toddler’s mood to a happier one.

As far back as the 6th century BC, Pythagoras believed that music and the right food could cleanse the soul and body. Later, in Christian Europe, the church used medicine and music together when they used chanting and prayer over the sick, as a means of therapy.

And primitive peoples throughout the world used music and dancing in their healing for thousands of years. In fact, that vigorous tribal dancing to music was very likely beneficial in a number of ways. Besides helping illnesses, it provided valuable exercise, inducing mental and physical relaxation, and bringing the participants together into a closer relationship.

Research into music therapy, these days, has concentrated on how it works with specific conditions. A Dr. Meyer B. Marks, who worked with children that had asthma, reported that junior high school-aged children that took up playing a wind instrument, like a clarinet or oboe improved the pulmonary function of asthmatic children, and reduced the progression of the disease.

A two-year study of 30 children with asthma concluded that the 15 children that were given wind instruments had a great improvement, both physically and emotionally, over the 15 that were not given the instruments. Both the lung and other pulmonary health were clearly improved.

A study carried out by the National Jewish Hospital, which had children partake in regular musical activities, showed they improved their physical endurance, developed muscle strength, and greatly improved their posture and breath control. And the study said that these chronically ill children on these programs, also learned that they can compete and accomplish despite their illnesses.

In the field of mental illness, music therapy has had great results. To the emotionally ill person, music can provide a safe and acceptable way of communication. Therapists use various methods with emotionally ill persons.

They may play an instrument, talk about the music, or even dance to the music. Many reports indicate emotionally ill people responding well to music therapy. Disturbed children, encouraged to play the drum, proved most helpful. Even autistic children seemed to respond to music therapy.

But just listening to music has also shown good therapeutic effects. Classical music helped frightened women relax and overcome the pain of labor during childbirth. And to combat feelings of fatigue, rhythmic music seemed to have helped.

Music even helps in the dental chair! They say that orthodontic patients, ranging in age from 10 to 22 years seemed to have less emotional tension with soothing background music. Low-toned, monotonous music-induced relaxation in these patients, and was very beneficial, compared to patients being treated without music.

Of course, we have known for ages that listening to music is relaxing, so it’s not surprising that music therapy is so effective in the many, various illnesses.

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