This series of articles has been adapted from [Mind Matters in Children] by Dr Kenneth Lyen. It delves into both the normal as well as the abnormal functioning of a child’s mind, and gives practical advice on how to manage children’s mental health and problems like ADHD, dyslexia, autism and depression.
The eardrum can sense the pitch and melody of music, and the signals are transmitted first to the two auditory centres which are located in the temporal lobes on both sides of the brain. This first step is important because it evokes an emotional response.
The signal is then further transmitted to other areas of the brain. The lyrics of a song are processed in the left frontal cortex. The rhythm and timing of a piece of music is done in the frontal and parietal cortex, the cerebellum as well as the basal ganglia.
A signal is also sent to the nucleus accumbens which is located deep in the brain and is part of the basal ganglia. This nucleus releases dopamine, the chemical that makes a person feel good. This is the biochemical mechanism of the soothing effects of music.
Another signal is sent to the amygdala which is attached to the basal ganglia, and when activated, sends a nervous impulse to the skin, so one can feel chills, goosebumps, or the hairs standing up in the back of the neck.
Then if a person starts singing, plays an instrument, or goes dancing, then the motor cortex is activated.
Reaping the benefits of music through music therapy
Music has a whole spectrum of positive effects, as listed in the previous article. As such, music has been used as a form of therapy to supplement and assist other treatments or therapies.
We can define music therapy as the discerning use of music to maintain, promote and restore emotional as well as physical health. It enhances the following:
- Auditory discrimination
- Fine motor skills
- Speech vocabulary
- Non-reasoning skills
Music is currently being used as adjunct therapy for a variety of disorders, including the following:
- Pain relief
- Pregnancy and delivery
- Parkinson Disease
- Stroke rehabilitation
- Slowing down dementia and Alzheimer Disease
- Cancer therapy
In the case of childhood autism, it appears that music improves social interaction, communication and social adaptation skills. Music also improves depressive symptoms as well as anxiety. In the case of surgery and intensive care, music therapy has a beneficial effect on anxiety, thereby reducing the need for medication. Pain relief is somewhat more controversial and the results are mixed.
How music therapy works is currently being explored using the newer methods of evaluating brain functions. To date, music therapy is thought to take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity by rewiring neural connections. In young children, it might also help by pruning some of the “redundant” nerves. There is evidence that music therapy increases blood flow and increases dopamine in certain areas of the brain, resulting in helping not only in music activity, but also enhancing speech understanding.
Indeed, music can change our lives. That is the power of music.
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Written by Dr Kenneth Lyen
Illustrated by Lee Ai Cing