The intersection between music and health occurs on a continuum of care ranging from the personal use of music to “feel better”, to professional music therapy work. While music therapists may work more often in the professional end of the continuum, our experiences and knowledge as clinicians and scholars provide us a unique perspective on the overall role of music in health.
Thus, I asked experts in the field to share their top suggestions for how you can incorporate music in your life to promote your own physical, social, spiritual, emotional, or mental health.
Melita Belgrave, Ph.D. MT-BC, Associate Professor at Arizona State University, studies the impact of intergenerational music therapy on older adult well-being and suggests:
1. Listen to music for validation Listen to specific music throughout the day to validate your current feelings. Create your own music playlist and use it as a guide for the entire day or different parts of the day. Try actively engaging with the music, whether it be singing, clapping your hands, tapping your feet, dancing, or specific movements that match the lyrics of the song.
2. Experience new music Find a new favorite song by listening to unfamiliar music by a preferred artist or within a preferred genre. Listen to the song on repeat. Identify the music elements that you enjoy about the song—are you drawn to the instrumentation? The background singers? The harmony? Learn the words if there are lyrics. Notice how you feel when listening to the new song. Learning something new in music can provide an extra spark of creativity and provide a break from daily tasks that have become monotonous.
3. Use music for rediscovery Often times, music holds strong memories for us. We can hear a song and be instantly transported back to a memorable period of our life. Sometimes in life we find ourselves not feeling as courageous or fearless as we did when we were younger. Identify a time in your life when you felt most courageous, fearless, or brave. What age were you during that time? What were your musical preferences? Locate three songs that you listened to during that time that you associate with these feelings. While listening to the songs, reflect on why you felt courageous during those times. What aspects of the music matched your past feelings—is it a bass line? The instrumentation? The lyrics? Select one of these songs to be your theme song for when you need to feel courageous, fearless, or brave.
Suzanne Hanser, Ph.D., MT-BC, Professor at Berklee College of Music and author of Integrative Health through Music Therapy: Accompanying the Journey from Illness to Wellness, recommends the following:
1. Find your power song Everyone needs to be empowered sometimes, particularly when you are not feeling confident or motivated. Look through your music playlists or ask friends if they know songs or pieces of music that provide an empowering intention. Play the song, listen deeply to its message, and take it all in.
2. Compose a personal jingle The repeated chanting of “mantra” has been applied through centuries of spiritual practices to bring harmony to the soul, or to connect with the divine. In contemporary translation, a personal jingle is a chant or song that sets an affirmation or message to a catchy tune. Think of something that you wish to remind yourself today, like “I can do it!” or “Everything’s going to be all right,” or “Let peace begin with me.” As you begin to chant your message, emphasize the intonation until the chant becomes a melody. Repeat as often as you like. Chanting your special personal jingle is useful to focus your attention, especially when you find that your mind is busy with negative thoughts.
3. Sing a lullaby When you are feeling stressed, it might help to soothe yourself with music. Is there a tune that relaxes you? Is there a memorable song that was sung to you by a loved one? Do you find certain music comforting or peaceful? You can try listening to these selections, and if it feels right, hum along, or sing them yourself.
Meganne Masko, Ph.D., MT-BC, Assistant Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis who explores music therapy and spiritual care writes:
There are disagreements about this in the literature, but the vast majority of end-of-life researchers describe spirituality as including connections to one’s self (intrapersonal experiences), to others (interpersonal experiences), to and with time, to the natural world, to something larger than one’s self (e.g, traditions, institutions, rituals), and/or to a higher power. It’s important that people have access to spaces where they can express their spirituality, whatever it might be, or whether or not it’s associated with a particular religious tradition.
With that background information, people can enhance these connections by using music for meditation and self-reflection, spending time with others, creating sacred spaces, and/or establishing new traditions. This can occur through:
- Singing school, club, or team songs
- Singing, playing, or listening to songs from a particular region of the country or world
- Listening to recorded music while meditating or engaging in mindfulness
- Participating in musical groups like choirs, community bands, or garage bands
- Creating soundtracks of their lives
- Listening to music about nature, or music that is meant to reflect nature
- Creating visual art, journaling, or writing poetry while listening to music meaningful to the person
- Listening to music, or engaging in live music making, as a religious practice. This usually involves singing, playing, or listening to music associated with a particular religion.
Featured Image Credit: field, wheat, grain, crop and tree by Vladimir Malyutin. CC0 Public Domain via Unsplash.