Music Therapy: A Peaceful Revolution

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You’ll be in trouble with the law if you play your music too loudly in Rochester, New York. Anyone found violating local and state noise ordinances by means of overly loud �boom boxes,� stereos, motorcycles, automobiles or loud partying will be ticketed.

New York City has also begun to oppose the bombardment of noise. Its Department of Environmental Protection has a Quality of Life Hotline. 70% of the calls received concern noise. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has established a Council on the Environment. There is a citywide group (with a somewhat unfortunate acronym) called Friends Against Noisy New York. On April 25th, there were observances of International Noise Awareness Day. The mayor also established Operation Silent Night, a citywide quality of life initiative to combat loud and excessive noise in New York City.

It’s not that the state of New York is less tolerant than the rest of us. It’s that they’ve realized something a lot of communities don’t know yet.

We all know that we’re exposed to more excessive noise today than at any other time in history. Modern life can seem like an ongoing struggle to rise above the din. Home life fills our ears with barking dogs, air conditioning units, televisions, boom boxes and the kitchen vent-a-hood. When we leave the house or office, we yell to be heard over construction projects, car alarms, traffic and other people’s music. The list goes on and on. The US Census Bureau has reported that noise is Americans’ top complaint about their neighborhoods and their main reason for wanting to move.

What New Yorkers have found and the rest of us need to know is that noise pollution is more than just annoying; It can be dangerous. One Rochester police officer explains that when blasting music in neighborhoods goes unchecked, it indicates that respect is not required.

”This type of environment is friendly to other, more serious types of crimes,” he says. That’s why police officers and neighborhood residents have decided to crack down on excessive noise in their community. Police and concerned citizens have been walking the streets together, knocking on the doors of noisy neighbors and warning them about possible fines and legal action.

Noise is not only a health issue for communities, but also for individuals. Research has shown dramatic physiological effects from exposure to excessive noise. In addition to its damage to the ears, Dr. Luther Terry, former U.S. Surgeon General identifies a host of other negative health effects due to noise. A partial list includes Cardiovascular constriction, elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, more labored breathing, measurable changes in skin resistance and skeletal-muscle Tension, digestive system changes, glandular activity that alters the chemical content of blood and urine, vestibular effects, balance sense effect and changes in brain chemistry. It bears repeating that this is just a partial list. Terry details the negative effect of noise on fetal development, as well.

The Surgeon General echoes the voices of many health professionals. Researchers have found that after extended exposure to high noise such as aircraft flyovers or workplace noise, blood pressure rises as much as 30%. Increasing the negative impact is the fact that blood pressure stays at that elevated level for a significant period after the exposure ends. So if you�re close enough to a landing plane that your blood pressure rises, it stays up and affects your body long after the airplane noise is gone.

You don’t have to live near an airport to be affected by traffic. Even noise that we might consider moderate has its effect. A German study found that those living on busy streets were 20% more likely to have a Heart Attack than those living on a quiet one.

Studies have also linked learning problems to noise. It affects the ability of children to learn to speak, to read, and to acquire knowledge in schools. These effects have been documented near airports, train tracks and major roadways. The inability to hear and understand all that a teacher is saying can translate to poor grades and could even lead to a higher dropout rate in schools.

Moreover, noise pollution has impact on the behavior of both children and adults. One study looked at how passers-by responded to a person in need in the presence of noise. While a noisy lawn mower roared nearby, a woman with a broken arm dropped some books and tried to pick them up. No one stopped to help her. When the lawnmower was turned off and the scene repeated, several people stopped to help her retrieve her books.

With all that being said, it’s no wonder that Americans have more problems with sleeping, concentrating and dealing with Stress in our noise-polluted environment. Fortunately, there is more to sound than the negative effects of noise. The opposite of noise is music. The ability of music to repair and encourage health and harmony is as powerful as noise�s ability to destroy them. So powerful, in fact, that there is an entire field called Music Therapy.

The full benefits of Music Therapy are still being studied, but we know of quite a few already. Studies in mental health, for example, have shown that Music Therapy is effective in relieving anxiety and Stress, promoting relaxation and Treating Depression. Music therapy allows people with emotional problems to explore feelings, make positive changes in mood, practice problem solving, and resolve conflicts. It has been used successfully by mental health institutions during group therapy sessions.

The healing effects of music therapy are not limited to mental health. They have been observed in hospitalized patients with Burns, Heart Disease, Diabetes and cancer. As a complement to rehabilitation care, music therapy seems to strengthen communication and physical coordination skills, as it improves the physical and mental functioning of those with neurological disabilities or developmental disorders. Those with learning, speech and hearing problems may also find music therapy helpful.

Music therapy reduces the need for medication during Childbirth and complements the use of anesthesia during surgery and dental work, especially when children undergo medical and surgical procedures. It is useful in Newborn care of premature infants. Aside from these acute situations, music therapy helps ease Chronic Pain.

Music therapy can also improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients and enhance the well-being of the elderly, including those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of Dementia. It has been used to complement the treatment of AIDS, stroke, Parkinson’s and cancer. At the same time, music therapy is useful in the support of the families and caregivers of such patients.

Most of the reviews published on the subject have been published by the American Music Therapy Association. The broad applications of this tool warrant more formal reviews. We still don’t know just how many conditions could be helped by music therapy. Still, changes are that you could enhance your mental and physical health with music therapy.

If you consult a music therapist for a particular condition, the therapist will first talk to you about your symptoms and needs. In addition, the therapist will assess your emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities and cognitive skills. Using this information, your therapist will design an appropriate treatment plan that would probably include playing and listening to music, analyzing lyrics, composing songs, improvising and/or using rhythmic movement.

During your regular sessions, the therapist may participate in these activities with you or simply guide you. You may also be encouraged to talk about the images or feelings that are evoked by the music. You and your therapist will select the music used for your therapy according to your needs and tastes. You can choose any kind of music, from classical or new age to jazz or rock. You do not need previous musical experience nor any musical ability to benefit from music therapy.

Some music therapy is conducted in a group setting. You might perform music with others who have the same condition as you, or you may just interact and relax with others as music plays in the background. If you are in the hospital for surgery or to give birth, your music therapy might simply entail listening to your favorite songs to help you relax and reduce pain.

As you may have guessed by now, the presence of a professional is not always required in music therapy, though you may need help in getting started. Westerners are only beginning to use music as medicine, though it has long been used successfully in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. To encourage you to create your own music therapy sessions, I will share with you the basics of my own brand of music therapy. Take what you like and leave the rest.

When I practice music therapy, especially for relaxation, the first thing I do is to find a calming environment, where I won’t be disturbed or interrupted. Next, I light Incense or a scented candle, as I find that aromatherapy helps to calm my body.

Next, I choose the music, which becomes easier the more you learn about your body’s response to different kinds of music. I then sit on the floor, in an upright position with my legs crossed. I breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling very slowly through my nose.

As the music plays, I listen intently to the instruments as if the players were right there in the room playing to me. Often I position myself directly in front of the speaker, so I can feel the vibrations as well as hear the music being played. Some people use headphones. This is fine, but I recommend you feel the sound coming into your body, and not just into your head.

Visualize the Sound Waves coming from the speakers and going through you. Not only should you position yourself physically to catch the sound energy in your body, but you should also focus your mind. Focus on where you want the healing vibrations to go. Listen as you visualize the Sound Waves beaming through your body and replenishing your cells, tissues, and internal organs.

As you practice music therapy you will develop the method that works best for you. Once you know how your body responds to certain instruments, timbres, and musical styles, you can design sessions in the sequence you find most beneficial to you.

Ideally, you practice music therapy for at least 30 minutes to an hour per day, although even a 20-minute daily session would yield positive results. It can take 10 minutes just for your mind to unwind, so I recommend 30-40 minute sessions.

Those are the basics. As you can gather from all of the above, music therapy can be as involved or as simple as the situation warrants. The main thing is just to get started. In this world of noise pollution, practicing music therapy may well be the way to start your own peaceful revolution!


American Academy of Audiology (Consumer guides)

World Council on Hearing Health (In the news)

Friends Against Noisy New York (2005 Newsletter) National Campaign for Hearing Health

About the author

Sam Pasco is founder and director of He is also a Practitioner of music therapy, as well as a Composer and Performer who has performed at some of the largest health and wellness expos in the US. He frequently leads workshops on the vast benefits of music as therapy.

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