Music Therapy Intervention and Techniques

There are many ways that music can be used to improve health and wellness, and address areas for improvement. Music therapy interventions are different depending on how they are delivered, for example live or recorded music; whether or not the therapist teaches you how to do an exercise and then lets you do it on your own, or if the therapist is present during the entire experience. Another way an intervention can be different is whether or not you are listening to and talking about your experiences with music, or if you are making music. Listening to music and talking about your experiences is sometimes referred to as a receptive intervention. Making music, either by singing or playing music that is already written, or creating new music through composing or improvising, is referred to as an interactive intervention.

Some common receptive interventions include:

Music-assisted relaxation

Using music for relaxation seems very natural, and many people do it instinctively. Listening to “Cool Jazz” or “Classical Pops” music is an easy way to unwind from a hectic day. Do an online search for music and relaxation and notice the multitude of compact disc recordings “specially compiled” to decrease stress and increase wellness. Certainly, music and healthcare research has demonstrated many benefits from listening to music and relaxing, such as decreasing stress and anxiety, regulating breathing, decreasing heart rate, and improving mood.

When teaching music and relaxation strategies, music therapists will begin by determining what music you find most preferable and relaxing. S/he will then have you either sit or lay down in a comfortable space. It is important to eliminate as many distractions as possible, so that your attention can be on the music and on the way your body responds to the relaxation exercise.

The music therapist will monitor the music to make sure it is effective in relaxing you. She may also pair music with relaxation instructions. Popular relaxation exercises include progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), which involves tensing and releasing major muscle groups. This relaxation is especially useful if you are so tense, you have forgotten what it feels like to be relaxed! There is some variation in PMR in that the muscle groups may change based on you current level of stress and the desired level of relaxation. It is possible to tense very small groups (for example hands and fingers) instead of larger groups of muscles (for example, arms to fingers).

Music and imagery

Another popular receptive music therapy intervention is combining music and imagery. Imagery is a process that uses the mind and imagination. It is much like daydreaming. There are many ways to combine music and imagery. Some music therapists use music as a backdrop to spoken imagery directions. Other MTs ask the patient to create imagery based on what they hear in the music, much like a movie soundtrack. Using music during imagery experiences help make the imagery more vivid. It also makes imagery easier to do.

Exercise/movement/dancing with music

Music therapists who treat individuals suffering from the after effects of stroke, head injury, or other neurological or physical disorders use rhythm in music to assist patients to speak and improve walking by making gait steadier and more even. At Colorado State University and Poudre Valley Hospital in Colorado Springs, music therapists and neuroscientists are using music to rehabilitate individuals with Parkinson’s disease and the after effects of stroke with amazing results. These music interventions are often carried out in tandem with physical therapists and occupational therapists. These same clinicians and researchers are looking at ways to help children with physical disabilities walk and become more independent.

Music Making

There are multiple ways to make music aside from formal performances in an auditorium. Matter of fact, it is not uncommon for people to become nervous at the mere thought of performing music in front of others. No worries though. Music making in music therapy isn’t necessarily about sounding good or the final product, many times it’s the process of making sounds reflective of feelings and struggles that are important in the therapeutic process.

Improvisation, or making up music as you go, is common in Jazz and some earlier periods of music. However, improvisation within a music therapy session will rarely sound like a Charlie Parker or Miles Davis improvisation. A majority of people who seek out music therapy don’t have extensive musical training, and none is needed.

During an improvisation session, the music therapist will often ask the client to consider a scene or emotion and then try to represent that scenario with sounds. The music therapist’s role is to support the client musically, by playing along. The instruments that are used in improvisation sessions vary greatly, but don’t be surprised to see drums, keyboards (pianos, xylophones and other mallet instruments), smaller hand held rhythm instruments, and the like.

Drumming, a specific type of improvisation has become popular in some areas of the country as a way to build community. There are some corporations that encourage drumming as a way to build solid management teams and increase work productivity. Some communities hold outdoor drumming sessions to encourage a sense of togetherness. Music therapists may also use drumming sessions for groups of individuals for similar purposes.

Singing is a wonderful way to improve several areas of being. If you consider what it takes to sing correctly (a good deep breath, good posture, relaxed jaw and shoulders) it makes sense that singing can also be used address therapeutic goals. Singing within music therapy sessions can take many forms. Private vocal lessons can help with correct speaking mechanics, relaxation, and self-confidence. Group singing can help with sound discrimination, team work, and improving overall quality of life.

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