Music Therapy


Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowableLeonard Bernstein

Music can help us feel energized or relaxed, it can make us feel happy or help us think about sad times in our lives. The power of music has been recognized for centuries, by philosophers including Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. Music has great potential for allowing humans to connect and communicate with one another beyond using language, and to express human experiences. In this article, we’re going to explore our relationship to music, how music can help or hinder us when studying, and the weird and wacky ways in which music can, and has been used.

Music & Me Quiz

To start us thinking about how music can help us, try completing this quiz, which might be fun to do with a friend or relative. It can help you think about your relationship to music, how music has helped to support you in difficult times, and how listening to music might have helped to boost your mood or energy levels. Try writing your answers to the questions in a notebook or diary.

  1. Have you ever shared or wanted to share a song with someone? What was special about this song?
  2. Which songs do you like? Which songs don’t you like? Why do you think this is?
  3. Can you think of a time when a piece of music has made you want to move or dance?
  4. Which pieces of music bring back memories for you?
  5. Can you think of a piece of music that has expressed exactly how you feel?

Believe it or not

    • Some farmers play classical music to their crops in fields to encourage them to grow . However, they may not be crazy to do so as recent research suggests.
    • A German sewage centre in Treuenbrietzen is reported to play the music of Mozart to speed up the breakdown of sewage! Ewww but true!
    • Heard of the Mozart Effect? Mozart was an 18th century composer, whose music has been researched a lot recently for its effects on the brain.
      Mozart’s music has been claimed by some to improve performance in subjects such as in mathematics (and tasks requiring spatial temporal performance). Mozart’s music (and other ‘classical era’ music) is thought to help stimulate learning and enhance concentration. Research has claimed that students improved in performance in spatial and linguistic processing after listening to the music of Mozart.
    • Recently published research from PLOS has shown that listening to sad music can help to make you feel happier. “Music-evoked sadness…plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as by regulating negative moods and emotions.” Therefore, when going through difficult times, sad music may help you to process sad events and feelings. Examples might include the music of artists like Sam Smith, or pieces including Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Mozart’s Requiem.

Music and Study

Like most people, I love to listen to music while I’m studying. It can make the process of studying feel more enjoyable and fun. However, before you turn up the volume and start listening to your favourite tunes, whether they’re songs by Pharell Williams, Florence and the

Machine or Justin Timberlake, it might be worth thinking about the effect it is having on your studying, as research suggests it might not be doing you (or me) any favours.

Research from the University of Wales shows that listening to music can impair studying, making it harder to retain information and taking longer for the brain to learn.

So generally, it is best to try and:

Listen to music before you study, and study in silence.

Music can help motivate you before you study, so pump up the volume for a few minutes before you settle in to studying in a quiet room. It can help boost your mood, energy levels and attention (in what scientists call the ‘mood and arousal effect’ ) so go ahead and make the most of those feel-good vibes!

Although most research seems to agree with the advice above, there are some people who feel able to listen to music quietly and still find they can work well. So, if you are one of these people, why not try conducting your own experiment on whether working in silence or working with music work best for you?

For people who don’t want to put the headphones away just yet, try sticking to the following research-based advice from the University of Dayton:

When studying, consider: Listening to music without lyrics quietly, such as jazz, instrumental music or classical music.

This is particularly important if you’re learning languages or reading a book, as songs can be really distracting as your mind is likely to wander to the song lyrics! Pieces that you might find helpful include:

Beethoven’s Fur Elise
Mozart’s The Magic Flute
Mozart Piano Sonatas
Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos

Generally, music is well documented to have positive effects on mental health and wellbeing. However, due to the individual nature of how our brains respond to music, and conflicting findings in recent research, it would be best to err on the side of caution regarding how you use music when you are studying.

Wishing you all happy listening, playing and studying!

About Author:

Nadya Larsen works as a Music Therapist at Sensation Station, a private therapy centre for young people in Dubai. “Music Therapy uses musical experiences and the relationships that develop through them to enable people to relate to others, to communicate, and to share feelings.”