How Music Therapy Can Help Your Child

How Music Therapy Can Help Your Child

For thousands of years, music has been a central part of human cultures. It is even possible that music and language evolved from a single early communicative system or protolanguage. Music, and movement to music in the form of dance, have always played a vital role in rituals, celebrations, courtship, and religion. In the present day, music continues to permeate our daily lives. Current technology and streaming services provide unprecedented access to a variety of musical styles and genres. Music can be experienced virtually anytime and anywhere. A recent study by Vision Critical reports that Australians listen to an average of 3.4 hours of audio per day, not including incidental listening such as music played in shopping centres or other public places. So why is music so ubiquitous, and how can music be harnessed to improve your child’s life? Examining the impact of music in different human functional domains enables us to understand music’s power more clearly.

Physiological Impacts

Music can have a powerful physiological effect on the human body. The joint action of people making music together – whether children singing a nursery rhyme or jazz musicians improvising – involves entrainment, which refers to spatio-temporal coordination in response to a rhythm or beat. Music may have a strong effect on physiological arousal, also.

Cognitive Benefits

Actively engaging in music, such as by learning a musical instrument, produces a raft of cognitive benefits across the lifespan. This is thought to be due to the numerous, co-ordinated and time-sensitive tasks required to play just a single note, let alone a sequence of notes in a melody. Auditory skills such as speech processing are considered to be the most closely related to music-specific skills as they require perception of aural qualities such as timing, loudness and frequency. Musical training in early childhood can hone the brain’s processing of these auditory signals: it appears that time spent processing auditory signals whilst playing music, sharpens the abilities of the individual when listening to and producing speech. This can have knock-on effects for reading abilities, and ability to produce different sounds in first and second languages. Additionally, musically-trained individuals show broad enhancements to processes that regulate and control attention, memory and planning.

Social and Emotional Effects

Research has shown that children taking part in joint music making activities are more likely to demonstrate pro-social behaviours towards their fellow musicians than to other children  not in a music-making group. Adolescents often report that listening to certain types of music helps to both explore and communicate their identity to others. And finally, one of the primary reasons people report listening to music is to influence their moods and emotions. One of the most widely experienced benefits of music is simply that it provides a welcome distraction from stress or worrying thoughts. For many people, playing a musical instrument or listening to music is a highly absorbing pastime that both relaxes and engages the mind. Music enables a child or adolescent to take a break from the stressors of daily life and to be rejuvenated.

Music Therapy

Recent research is increasingly placing music at the forefront as an effective agent of change in human lives. Music Therapy is a research-based practice and profession in which music is used to actively support people as they strive to improve their health, functioning and wellbeing. Music Therapists work as allied health practitioners in a variety of sectors including health, community, schools, aged care, disability, early childhood, and private practice. The music therapist works with the client to achieve outcomes in social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Goals are personalised and the therapeutic supports are tailored for the individual.

What happens in a music therapy session?

Once a child is assessed by a Registered Music Therapist, a regular program of Music Therapy sessions may consist of any (or all) of the following activities:

  • improvising music along with the therapist
  • guidance in playing music using adaptive techniques
  • music listening and appreciation, and using music to relax and regulate
  • opportunity to use music of client’s own preference
  • using various instruments – most often keyboard, also drums, guitar, bass etc.

What are the outcomes of music therapy?

  • structuring activities and actions – through experiencing and understanding the time-based structure in music
  • maintaining focus and attention – music is a naturally attractive phenomenon and focussing on a song or piece of music from start to end may assist this to happen in other areas.
  • developing musical understanding
  • improving social interaction
  • improving fine- and gross- motor skills
  • improving motor co-ordination
  • enhanced self-concept
  • better decision making and faster cognitive processing
  • enhanced confidence
  • regulating emotions – because we attach emotions to certain music we can use it in learning to understand emotions and their natural variability

A program of music therapy is often co-ordinated with other therapeutic supports, such as psychology, occupational therapy and speech therapy, to achieve the best results.

How do I find out more?

The Australian Music Therapy Association ( has a wealth of resources. Registered Music Therapist Matthew Breaden at Sydney Children’s Practice is offering music therapy. To find out more, contact the friendly staff at Sydney Children’s Practice on (02) 9564 3758.