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Music and Healing

Music and Healing


In very broad terms, music, as a tool, falls into three categories: therapy, practice and experience. I’ll explain each one for you, at least from my own understanding. See what you think.


Music Therapy

Recently I met a holistic health practitioner (certified and licensed) who shared with me that she has yet to encounter a music therapist who seemed to really be “lit up” from within. I have to concur. I know you’re out there, you amazingly wonderful enlightened and dynamic music therapists, and I’d love to hear from you!

Music therapy is a rewarding but difficult profession: rewarding because one can really make a difference for patients and difficult because, as a therapist, much depends on one’s ability to accurately diagnose and treat the symptoms a patient presents. There are rules — lots of rules — designed to make certain that the public — me, the patient — is cared for properly. It has to be this way for certifications and licenses to be issued. That’s the trade-off we permit ourselves so that the agencies that regulate such things can give us assurance that we’re not looking to some wingnut whacko snake-oil dealer for treatment. Sometimes those rules can bury the enthusiasm one might have originally brought to an enterprise, especially a healing enterprise; in rare cases, the healer’s skill still shines.

Like all health practitioners, music therapists depend on their education and skill for success. A couple of skills that make for a really excellent health care practitioner are intuition and creativity, that is, the ability to find an inspired connection to the patient for a healing purpose, and the inventive ability to tailor a treatment plan that draws the patient into a sort of magical willingness to work with the healer toward better health. I tend to think of musicians as fairly creative people, don’t you? The truth is, sadly, it ain’t necessarily so.

Healers — and anyone you really must hang out with for some reason or another — need to radiate energetic qualities that you (the patient) want to be around! Think of the health care professionals you know…am I right? Think of your close friends, or the people you really enjoy encountering in business, at the store, or wherever your daily walk takes you: do you spend a lot of time with folks who inspire you? If you do, huzzah! If you don’t…please change that!

So I really resonated when the holistic health practitioner began to talk about therapists who seem inspired — lit up — from within. And when I think of the music therapists I’ve met, they really aren’t. I wish they were. They do such incredible work! Isn’t that something to be lit up about?

If you seek out music therapy, take your time — just as you would to choose a physician or surgeon — to carefully select a therapist who seems to really “get” you, can “see into you,” and radiates the compassion you deserve. They must be out there. You deserve it.

With the “right” music therapist, your issues will be understood. You will feel the care and compassion I mentioned. You will work together using either musical instruments, drums, your voices, or a combination of all of these to achieve progress toward healing. Your therapist will be your guide — a sort of musical shaman — and give you musical exercises you can practice on your own as well as intensive, hands-on or voice-on one-on-one sessions, specific to your healing goals.

Music Practice

This broad term covers all the music you make on your own. If you’re in music therapy, this is what happens when you are not in session with your music therapist. It covers anyone taking music lessons, too, when they are practicing and not in a one-on-one with their teacher. Practice of music can mean just that: really working it out until you have developed a new skill.

Practice of music can also mean making music for fun, what some are beginning to call “recreational music making.” This could be a novice drum circle, a jam session with skilled players, or a “music minus one” experience of creating sounds — vocally or using an instrument — for the very first time to a musical backup track.

Music practice implies that you are the musician, that you are creating the sounds. When you create sound — music — you engage the most powerful use of music possible. Music and sounds you make actually vibrate through you, and the physiological response of your brain and body to music and sound is immediate. You can use this physiological response in so many ways: to help you heal, to recover from grief, to relax, to get pumped up, to let off rage, to fall asleep, to learn things and to remember them later. The beauty of it is that, while you can’t help your brain and body response to sound, you can become aware of the effect of the music you practice on your brain and body and then choose music that supports you in whatever your particular objective of the moment happens to be.

Music Experience

When I think about the experience of music, even as a musician and performer who really has to practice a lot, I tend to think of myself as a member of the audience in a concert setting, or just sitting still with headphones on. The experience of hearing and appreciating music without becoming involved in making is by no means passive. It has the same kind of effect that practicing music has on your brain and body, just generally not as intense.

I know plenty of people who really wouldn’t ever join a drum circle or spontaneous sing-along, but who are perfectly content to listen to music and can become quite moved when doing so. Nothing wrong with that! We Westerners are generally listeners; we gladly give kudos to the few among us who are actually brave enough to make music in public in exchange for experiencing that gift.

As you know, I offer a workshop on the topic of using music for maximum effect. I’ve recently expanded “Connected: the Workshop” into a full-day “Connected: the Seminar.” If you’re interested in experiencing the power of music first-hand, please contact me. You don’t have to “be a musician” or even be musical in any way to enjoy this workshop — a good many accomplished musicians I know haven’t experienced the power of music in the way I teach it — and I promise you it won’t hurt a bit.

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