Treble clefs, half-notes, quarter-notes, flats and sharps. Don’t dismiss music as just marks on a page or background noise from the radio…
It would be hard to come by an adult who, at some point in their childhood, was not handed a musical instrument and a book of enlarged sheet music and ‘invited’ (read: required) to join the school band. What may be even harder to come by, however, is an adult who actually stuck with it.
The reasons for giving up on learning an instrument at school are manifold. Few children have the attention spans required for learning how to translate dots and dashes into a melody, and even fewer parents have the capacity to oversee (or ‘overhear’) this process. Even those kids whose parents were adamant about dragging them along, kicking and screaming to weekly piano lessons have since given up, coming away with years of piano lessons knowing only ‘Chopsticks’ and ‘Mary had a little lamb’. But it turns out we should all have been a bit more patient with that plastic recorder or hand-me-down clarinet because participating in music has tons of benefits – and a lot of them will surprise you.
Brisbane Registered Music Therapist Karen Richmond has spent the past 14 years using music to help people achieve different goals and improve certain skills. She specialises in the field of special education and early intervention.
“I have worked with children with varying disabilities aged between 0 – 18, taking class groups, playgroups with family members and individual private music therapy sessions in schools and community environments,” she explains.
Karen’s therapy can be as simple as getting participants to sing along to a well-known song or move to music, and focuses on them interacting with music through games and vocal or instrumental improvisation.
“Music is such a powerful tool,” she says. “It helps with maintaining cognitive skills – like memory and thought processing – speech skills, physical skills and even social skills.”
The benefits of listening to and participating in music range from developing fine motor skills to relieving stress, agitation and boredom. It can even help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“It’s motivating and all-inclusive,” Karen says. “Playing an instrument activates the entire brain in ways that no other single activity can, through this we can see how early music participation can enhance skills of literacy, numeracy, self-regulation, language and more.”
It’s little wonder then, that music is used as a learning and therapy tool for everyone from toddlers to seniors. But when it comes to learning, the earlier the better.
“If we can install the love of music in our young, it can only benefit them greatly in their development,” she says.
But if you’re regretting not giving that now-dusty old saxophone or violin a second chance, don’t despair.
“It is never too late to develop a love for music and let it help your health and wellbeing,” Karen says.
LET’S MAKE MUSIC
Music therapist Karen Richmond has developed a CD, Let’s Make Music, and additional resources for use in early childhood and for children with disabilities. Her products develop participants’ love for music and encourage active and purposeful music making to help achieve developmental goals including social, academic, communication and physical skills.