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What is music therapy?

Ageneral introduction to the increasingly popular technique of what music therapy is.

The benefits of music therapy in relieving stress and improving relaxation are widely accepted, as is its value in the well being of children and the elderly. Some studies have shown that music can affect the rhythm of breathing and heartbeat, and can alter blood pressure.

As we enter the 21st century, we are all aware of the pressures of daily life - home, family and work combine to increase levels of tension, and finding your own personal cure for stress becomes more important. Finding time to relax, however, can be hard when you`re always on the go; people today are spending more time working and less time on leisure activities, which directly impacts on their levels of stress. Music is a great antidote to the demands of life today - whether you play a favorite CD, attend concert recitals or play an instrument - the therapeutic benefits of music can calm even the most troubled mind.

Music must be as old as language: speech is basically musical, and rhythm and phrasing are even more fundamental to language than the meanings of the words themselves. The use of music as therapy therefore probably predates the appearance of any written records. It is known that the ancient Egyptians and Greeks thought highly of the curative powers of music - in Greece, Apollo was the god of both music and healing. It was also in Greece that Pythagoras formulated the rules of harmonics and used them as the basis for a school of philosophy and medicine. Similarly, musical cultures evolved in ancient civilizations such as those in China, Persia and India as well as Europe. It has long been used for self-expression and as a healing remedy, and there are numerous accounts of the healing properties of music in the Bible.

What is music therapy?

At the simplest level, music has the power to soothe and calm, and to enhance or alter moods. Media advertisers, shopping outlets, film moguls and many others exploit the power of music for one purpose or another. Hospitals are increasingly using music as a means of creating a peaceful atmosphere in which treatment can be carried out more easily and with greater success. In addition, many practitioners of music therapy use passive music - simply listening to music - in treating patients who suffer from emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression, autism and other developmental disorders. Such therapists believe that music promotes healing through the vibrational energy of different tones or pitches of sound, and that exposure to music can help to bring the tissues and organs of the body into harmony. Active music therapy, on the other hand, is mainly used in the treatment of those who have difficulty in expressing themselves and relating to other people. It may also be valuable in the care of those suffering from Alzheimer`s disease. It can help the elderly and disabled to maintain healthy mind and body coordination.

Consulting a Therapist

Therapy usually involves group sessions at least once a week, each session lasting an hour or longer. You will be encouraged to participate in the group in playing musical instruments or singing. It is not important if you are not musical - rhythmic shaking of a tambourine or beating a drum can be just as satisfying as playing a flute or viola. Music sessions - under the leadership of the therapist - are geared to the needs of the individual patient.


Music therapy is ideal for self-help. You can enrich your life if you can spare the time to learn a musical instrument; or listen to special therapeutic tapes or choose music from your own collection that accurately reflects your current mood or the mood you want to experience. For instance, if you want to feel confident, listen to brisk, cheerful music; if you want to feel romantic, choose something soft and melodic. However, this technique is not just to alter your mood, but also an avenue to explore and examine a specific, usually adverse, frame of mind. For instance, if you are feeling irate, it may be therapeutic to play "angry" music, which will allow you to look for the roots of your antagonism and exorcize them. You may also want to try a technique known as "toning", which involves singing at the most primitive level, using grunts and groans, and cries and sighs, as a way of venting and releasing pent-up emotions.

Popular string pedagogies and teaching methods

Four different ways to teach string instruments and some pros and cons of each.

There are many approaches to teaching string instruments. Most teachers use a combination of different approaches. Here are some of the most common methods:

Suzuki method: This was developed by Shinichi Suzuki in the mid 1900 s. It is a method used mainly in private instruction. A parent and child enter private lessons and begin learning to play a string instrument together. Neither learns to read music until well into their lessons; typically, a student is one book behind in reading music from the music he is playing. The student learns to play by ear through watching his teacher and mimicking his movements and sound. The parent, too, does the same thing. Suzuki also uses a number of movements in order for the child to understand where his hands must be placed on the instrument and how he must move his hands and arms in order to play the instrument adequately. At home, the student is supposed to be surrounded by music at all times. The parents are given recordings of the pieces the student is playing, and the parents are told to play this (or other classical music) at nearly all times. Students are encouraged to get their instruments out and play at any and all times of the day.

This method is advantageous because students are immersed in music, so they learn very fast and very well. However, they can struggle to read music later, and it s hard to get students to commit to such an all-encompassing method in today s busy world.

Paul Rolland method: This method primarily deals with the physicality of playing. Rolland recommends ways to move, based on how the body works, in order to make string playing more natural. His method does not deal as much in specific music as it does in ways to teach playing, feeling, moving, and thinking about the violin and viola. He reasons that if you show a student how his body should move and why, that he will move it more correctly and learn to play better.

This method is better suited to students who already know how to play somewhat, rather than real beginners. Beginners don t have a real sense of what they re doing, and young ones won t understand the intellectual explanations anyway.

All For Strings Method: This is a series of books that are often used in classrooms. They are written by Robert Frost. The method teaches students to read letter names first, not music on a staff. It also recommends starting off with pizzicato (plucking the string) with the instrument held in rest position (across the lap) rather than with bowing. Once students have grasped the basic hand position, it moves students on to reading music and to bowing. It concentrates on using the first finger first and building up to the second and third fingers.

This method is ideal for a classroom setting, particularly for violins and violas. It teaches the base between the thumb and the first finger necessary for these chin instruments. It also doesn t move too fast to accommodate a classroom with differing ability levels.

Essentials for Strings Method: This is a series of books that are used in classrooms, written by Michael Allen, Robert Gillespie, Pamela Tellejohn Hayes, and John Higgins. The method is very similar to the All For Strings Method, except that this series concentrates on introducing the third finger first. This is because the authors of the book believe that if one starts with third finger, one will learn the shape of the hand properly and quickly.

This method is ideal for cellists and bassists, for whom the hand shape is very important. It is less appropriate for violins and violas because of their different technique with the left hand.

There are, of course, many other methods out there. Every teacher has his or her own hybrid method of teaching strings, based on his or her experiences as a player and as a teacher. Typically, all of these methods are used to some degree, both in the classroom and privately. All potential string teachers should check out these methods as well as reading about others before deciding what to use. It also helps to talk to experienced string teachers.

Written by Catherine Hillard -

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