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Neurobiological Aspects of Neurologic Music Therapy

Making music is a powerful way of engaging multisensory and motor networks, inducing changes within these networks and linking together distant brain regions. These multimodal effects of music making together with music’s ability to tap into the emotion and reward system in the brain can be used to facilitate therapy and rehabilitation of neurological disorders. In this article, we review short- and long-term effects of listening to music and making music on functional networks and structural components of the brain. The specific influence of music on the developing brain is emphasized and possible transfer effects on emotional and cognitive processes are discussed. Furthermore, we present data on the potential of music making to support and facilitate neurorehabilitation. We focus on interventions such as melodic intonation therapy and music-supported motor rehabilitation to showcase the effects of neurologic music therapies.

Humans are “wired” for music. Until recently, scientists did not know how music affected the brain. The advancement in technology allows scientists to actually “see” brain activity via PET scans and MRI imaging scanning the blood flow in the brain.

Our brains are “wired” with neural pathways. Most activities only cause a portion of the brain to “light up” with activity; thus, the saying, right brain/left brain, etc. But there are actually four parts to the brain and music makes ALL of the areas “light up” and creates new neural pathways as a person is listening and playing an instrument.

Those neural pathways remain intact and can be used for other things besides music. Norman Doidge, in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, shares case after case of people forcing their brain to change and adapt either voluntarily with discipline, or involuntarily due to odd incidences. Studies confirm that our brain has plasticity. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is proven to be a case of “can’t want to,” rather than too old to change.

Daniel Levitin passionately explores the connection between music and the brain in his book This is Your Brain on Music. Google his name, watch video clips on YouTube, or go to his website. It’s an exciting time of discovering how little we know and how much there is to learn. There is definitely enough evidence to recognize it is not in a music teacher’s imagination.

Music has a huge impact on activity in the brain. You can physically/visually see the growth and changes that happen inside the brain. The possibilities are endless. The implications for music therapy and music education are profound.

Just check out PBS video “The Music Instinct.” Neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks relates a true story from his book, Musicophilia.

But even if you are still skeptical about music making kids smarter, let’s look at the other benefits. Socially, music is an ageless hobby creating interaction with great people.

There are many benefits of being involved in making music, but the neural pathways drives home the point and gets our attention.