Everyone knows that music influences people—that it holds a special power all its own.
But what are its "magical properties?

For years researchers have studied why and how music has such an enormous effect on people. Music has been found to boost athletic performance; soothe and heal injuries; help depression, autism, and Alzheimer's; and increase academic performance. It seems there is something more to those tunes that get our toes tapping and our fingers snapping.

Healing and Music

We've all heard miraculous stories of healing, some involving music and some not. But, no one can disagree that music is effective in healing the mind and body alike.
One of the amazing properties of music is that it can reach parts of the brain and evoke memories that speech simply can't reach. Therapists frequently use music from a patient's past to connect with them, often with significant results.

Jennifer Birchell of Utah, who works as a music therapist at Sunshine Terrace Foundation, a facility that assists the elderly with rehabilitation and assisted living, sees miracles of music healing almost daily in her work. "[One] man that I once worked with had dementia," she says. "We found out that he loved baseball and used to play professionally. So we played 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,' and it helped him connect a little bit. His family came in and played it with him, and they were able to reach him. They were thrilled."

Birchell describes another man who had a stroke, which caused him to lose brain and muscle function on one side of his body. Like many other stroke patients, he also lost the ability to speak. "When someone has a stroke, . . . we've found that [sometimes] they can't speak, but they can sing," she says. This man was particularly angry about his lack of success when Birchell was asked to visit him. "When I asked him to sing with me, he got really angry. He knew he couldn't sing. But I told him to just try, and I started singing 'You Are My Sunshine.' His eyes got really big and excited because the words were coming out of his mouth and getting clearer and clearer. From there, we took bits of the song and turned them into phrases he could use. His wife came in and he was able to sing to her, 'I love you.' I worked with him for only three weeks and then he was able to go home and live with his wife."

Music helps people learn and develop because there are so many different elements to it--voices, rhythm, harmony, all which are processed in different areas of the brain. "Exercising" the different parts of the brain by using music helps encourage growth and stimulates parts of the brain that may be damaged.

Often, when music therapists work with groups who have some kind of brain disease, such as Alzheimer's, many of the participants seem almost asleep and uninterested at the beginning. The therapists start with slow music, and then they gradually increase the beat. The body entrains itself with the rhythm and gradually increases in responsiveness. Eventually, the previously unresponsive patients are clapping and interacting in a way that they couldn't do without musical encouragement.

Music can make a huge difference in lives. Anyone who has listened to an inspired choir in a church meeting knows the effect that their simple harmonies have on people. Somehow music is able to connect with parts of us that speaking just can't reach. While research continues to be done, the whys behind the power of music have yet to be discovered. For now, the reason these joyful strains have such an effect on us will remain an amazing and wondrous mystery.


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