We often misunderstand the concept of music therapy. Some people think listening to the right kind of music can cure cancer. Some others believe music therapy to be as scientific as an Ouija board. The truth lies, as it often does, somewhere between the two extremes. The term usually means the use of music to help with physical, emotional, social or cognitive needs. It should be a clinical and evidence-based practice.

When used with proper medical care, music therapy has been shown to help people who have suffered brain injuries. It has helped with strokes, or as they try to re-learn language. Many people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries suffer from aphasia, which means that speaking, reading and writing, overall language and communication, become affected. This usually happens because of damage to the left part of the brain, which deals with language processing. Researchers have been studying how singing, which is a right-brain activity, can make up for loss on the left side of the brain.

The science and history of music therapy

Of course, this is not a new discovery; the firstreported case was in 1736. Olad Dalin, a Swedish physician, saw a man, who had lost the ability to speak, sing in church. The use of music therapy to treat aphasia is based on the concept of neuroplasticity – that the brain has the power to form new connections and pathways. In simple words, singing can bypass the injured left hemisphere, and use the right hemisphere of the brain to produce speech.

This is done under the care of a trained professional. Words are layered on top of melody and rhythm to help people regain part of their ability to speak. And while singing primarily uses the right side of the brain, music in general uses both sides of the brain. So, music therapy can activate both sides of the brain. And although this sort of therapy can take years, and may not bring people back to their pre-injury communicative abilities, it is definitely a useful tool.

Read the original article (in The New Indian Express) here.

The SaPa blog has articles on every musical topic – from songwriting tips to conquering stage fright. Check it out here.

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