For nearly eleven years, I have been associated with West Music Company from Coralville, Iowa. I remember how impressed I was when I first got on board here and read our mission statement:
ENRICHING PEOPLE'S LIVES THROUGH PARTICIPATION IN MUSIC
At the time, I had no idea how much truth there is in that statement. Since then, I have many times witnessed how participation in music can and truly will enrich anyone’s life. I have demonstrated guitars to kids with low self esteem and witnessed their faces light up when they play that first “G” chord I have just taught them as they shop for their first guitar and realize that “WOW, I Can Do This!” It’s been fun to watch them as they progress in their skills and see how their individual personalities change and how much pride they exhibit just from learning to play a musical instrument. But, whether you are a music maker or not you “participate” in music simply by listening. Music could very well be one of the most powerful and influential forces we encounter in our lives. Every year, Doctors and Therapists are uncovering more and more benefits that participating in music can bring to our lives.
Music can be and has been used as an effective way to teach different subjects in school. How did you learn the alphabet? You sang “A-B-C-D-E-F-G” and in a day or two you knew the alphabet. How did you learn to count to 10? You sang “One little, two little, three little… etc.” until you were able to count to 10.
THE BENEFITS OF BEING A MUSIC “PARTICIPANT”
Studies have shown that elementary school students involved in regular music programs really do “do better” in school. Their basic mathematic skills and reading abilities improve along with their self confidence and self esteem. By being involved in a group activity, a youngster will become more disciplined in their behavior and their creative nature will be inspired.
Teens at the Middle and High School level that are involved in Band or Vocal Music programs are more likely to get involved in other extra- curricular activities. They seem to better connect socially with their peers. They also seem to be a more active participant in the day to day classroom environment.
As an adult or senior, listening to music has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Playing music “exercises” the brain and fights memory loss as well as stave off depression and loneliness.
Music can be very influential in our overall decision making process. Think about your day to day life for a minute. Have you ever wondered why a lot of retail stores have music playing? In a grocery store environment, customers relax more when there is music playing in the background. If a customer is relaxed, he/she will take more time shopping in the store, and more than likely will purchase more. The background music can serve as a reminder for an upcoming holiday.
The type of music playing in a store can be an indicator of what the store is selling. In a shop selling girls “junior” style clothing you can bet that the current “pop” music will be coming through their sound system. A “western store” will no doubt be piping in some country music, while an electronics store will most likely be blasting out something loud and up-tempo in an attempt to show off their products and entice you to buy. Studies have shown that store employees are happier and more efficient when there is music playing in their workplace.
The field of Music Therapy has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years as we find more and more evidence of the therapeutic value of music participation. Children with developmental and learning difficulties, as well as children and adults with autism spectrum disorder or special needs along with elderly. Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers have all been shown to benefit from music therapy. Even completely non-responsive dementia patients have been known to react to music by tapping their feet to the rhythm and even singing the lyrics when hearing an old favorite. Some patients even manage to sing entire songs, even though they are not typically capable of communicating in other situations. Alzheimer’s patients often experience improved levels of functioning during and after music therapy sessions often showing better interactions with their families afterwards.
Music has been shown to offer huge benefits when used by nursing homes. Overall alertness and social functioning of elderly residents improves. Some studies have shown that elderly patients in nursing homes have better appetite and improved mood when music is played during meal times.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, at the Hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled “Forever Young: Music and Aging,” stated: “The power of music is very remarkable… One sees Parkinson patients unable to walk but able to dance perfectly well or patients almost unable to talk, who are able to sing perfectly well…I think that Music Therapy and Music Therapists are crucial and indispensable in institutions for elderly people and among neurologically disabled patients.”
Music Therapy has also been most effective when used in Hospice facilities. Music therapy has been shown to offer pain relief. Studies found that chronically ill patients in Hospice care who received music therapy experienced a significant reduction in pain intensity and required less pain medication. Music also helps to improve their overall psychological state by reducing depression among music therapy participants.
MUSIC’S HEALING POWERS
The healing power of music goes beyond just helping those patients with special needs. It can also have a positive impact on their families as well. The American Music Therapy Association in Silver Spring, Maryland reported that during a Music Therapy session an Alzheimer’s patient who had been deteriorating for five years that danced with his wife. The wife said “Thank you for helping us dance. It’s the first time in three years that my husband held me in his arms.”
In another case, the wife of a man with severe dementia said “When I was encouraged by a Music therapist to sing to my husband who had been lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s disease for so many years, he looked at me and seemed to recognize me. On the last day of his life, he opened his eyes and looked into mine when I sang his favorite hymn. I’ll always treasure that last moment we had together. Music therapy gave me that memory, the gift I will never forget.”
In both of these cases, the healing power of music helped them cope with and survive an unfortunate time in their lives.
Music plays a big role for those of us left behind when we lose a close friend or family member. Many people who have lost a loved one find great comfort with music. A specific song can remind us of a certain event during the time that was lived. Words to a specific song can often make us feel better than anything that anyone can say. Some families will have certain songs that were a favorite of or important to the deceased played at Funerals or Memorial Services. For some people, music can have a soothing effect while they are dealing with their grief. Any way that someone can heal during the grieving process is important and using music can be most instrumental in their healing process.
As you can see, music can and does impact our lives in many positive ways regardless of our age. You don’t have to play a musical instrument for this to happen, but it is so much more enjoyable if you do. Kids… get involved in school band or start a garage band!! Adults…if you played as a child, keep doing it. Play music with your children!! Baby Boomers and Seniors…dust off those guitars, pianos, drums and horns and make some noise!! Do yourself a favor and get involved in a local music program like Weekend Warriors or New Horizons Band. Your children and grandchildren will love it and you’ll be their inspiration to follow in your footsteps. If you don’t play an instrument, that’s OK, too. Just keep the music playing on your radios, CD players and iPods…we’ll all benefit from it!
My close friend, Jon Baumgartner, summed it up best when he said “Music is like air…it’s all around us so we take it for granted. But what would we do without it?” Very profound JB…very profound!!
 Source-Clair, A.A. Therapeutic Uses of Music With Older Adults Baltimore MD: Health Professions Press
 Source- Longfield,V. (1995) The Effects of Music Therapy on Pain and Mood in Hospice Patients. Unpublished Master’sThesis:Saint Louis University U.S.A.