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MM#41 – The Musical Brain – Part I

During sessions at the Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured music therapists use the music from the client’s senior high school years as a means to stimulate long-term memory.

Connie, a 40 year-old female who sustained a head injury in the early 1990’s loves music from the 1980’s.  She will often close her eyes during reflective moments in the music and may cry to a lyric or melody that has particular meaning.  Although unable to speak she is able to blink once for yes and twice for no and identify the music that means the most to her.  She has also confirmed that crying is positive for her as she begins to heal.

Over many weeks and using Connie’s capabilities of reflection and communication (yes or no through her blinks) she has recently written a song  about the people, things and experiences that she loves the most.  When the song was performed by the music therapist during her weekly music therapy her family was able to hear her ‘voice’ through the music for the first time since her injury.

Music as therapy is becoming the new “it” discussion. With high profile books such as Oliver Sack’s “Musicophilia” and Daniel Levitin’s bestseller “This is Your Brain on Music,” music as therapy is making its’ way into mainstream media. Both books identify music as a very complex brain process while giving the reader a simple understanding of how music is useful and beneficial for our well-being and growth.

Levitin reminds us that music is a global process.  Therefore it does not just tap into one area, but in many areas of the brain at the same time.  Music transcends injury, often forging its way through our neuron circuitry and finding the roads that work (neuroplasticity). Mark Tramo, assistant professor of neurology at the Harvard Medical School started to study how different forms of brain damage interfere with normal perception of music and speech. One subject of a case study lost most of his auditory cortex to strokes. He could hear but complained that music and speech were hard to understand. However, the part of his brain that survived the impact could still recognize his favorite songs.

Jennifer Buchanan is a professional speaker, performer and happy owner of JB Music Therapy.  She is available to present at your next conference to inspire your audience with music that aims to make each moment more memorable.

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