Afinando. Turcios. de

Music as Therapy for Society

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, comfort during sadness, life and happiness to everything (Plato)

By Yesica Torres

In Latin the origins of the word music are derived from the Greek term mousike referring to the education of the spirit under the protection and patronage of the Muses of the Arts.  The origins of how music was created or initiated are unknown, but many agree it began through the prolongation of language sounds. Music is an art form that has made its mark on various cultures and societies.  It has been a distinct and unique form for us to communicate with one another, to express what we feel, think and desire.

Music is present in our day to day life but usually we are not conscious that we are taking it in.  Besides its relaxing value, music has contributed in other ways, for example, as in the area of health.  And so music therapy emerged, and in 2011 redefined by the World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT as it is known by its English acronym) as “the professional use of music and its elements as an intervention in medical settings, educational settings and the daily, usual activities of individuals, groups, families, or communities looking to optimize their quality of life and improve their physical health, social well-being, communication, emotions and intellect and general well-being.  Research, practice, education and clinical instruction in music therapy are based on professional standards according to the cultural, social and political contexts.”

As María de los Ángeles Estrada, a physical therapist who lives in Quetzaltenango and works with music vis-a-vis physical health, mentions, music therapy can be utilized in different aspects of people’s health and also during different phases of life:  in babies (from the first month of pregnancy), in children, teens, adults and elderly patients.

Deep From Within

Estrada explains that music can be a key factor in the proper development of a baby, from the first month of pregnancy because through this medium and through spoken language, an emotional bond can be developed, and as such, a very suitable connection to the outside world and the people in the surroundings (of the woman carrying the baby).  Through each phase of development, the baby’s ability to hear and to feel increase especially from the fourth month onward.  Music therapy during pregnancy is not only beneficial for the baby.  It also influences the mother in positive ways.

Listening to music reduces the mother’s physical and emotional tension.  It gets rid of anxiety and fear of giving birth.  Newborns grow better and are more receptive to the mother’s milk, besides eating and sleeping better, crying less, developing better concentration, coordination and creativity.  The ideal situation would be that the professional prescribe suitable music for the mother as well as for the baby so they both can receive the full benefits this therapy can provide.


During Childhood

There are a number of children in Guatemala suffering from attention disorders, problems concentrating, behavioral issues, among others.  Sadly, many teachers and parents argue that these attitudes and behaviors are simply due to the child missing out on learning to be respectful, or the child is lazy or doesn’t want to learn or he/she does it merely to annoy others.

Allan Ortiz is a psychologist and the director of the Happy Faces Association, who works with children to keep them away from gangs, street crime and other influences like drugs and alcohol.  He says it’s difficult for the children (he works with) to listen to music, dance and follow rhythm because they are more concerned with joking around or by what they are going to say to the other kids. So culturally they are not familiar with music as a learning activity or an activity for developmental.

For this reason the association has utilized music as therapy because they have seen that through music, children are free to learn to manage their emotions and so have more self- confidence while having fun and playing during the process.  Quality implementation of music therapy during childhood improves the ability to memorize, concentrate, pay attention, and learn.  It stimulates creativity and imagination, re-enforces self-esteem and personality.  It is good for motor coordination, speech development and pronunciation, among other benefits generated by its use.

During Youth

Music is important for youth.  It’s quite common to see that they make music their companion while walking, driving, exercising, including while studying.  With all the communication media, they are up-to-date on the latest artists and their favorite music genre.  They download the music they like most from the internet and even show interest in learning to play an instrument.

Commonly during this phase difficulties such as showing emotions and sometimes communicating with others present themselves.  The Association of American Music Therapy affirms that music used in a therapeutic manner allows people to be more aware of their feelings, to connect more with their emotions and to try on positive changes in their mood and state of mind.

Development of physical activity, like music, is another characteristic of young people. Often injuries, broken bones or pulled muscles occur during the practice of physical activities causing discomfort and pain.  Estrada comments that music is often very helpful as part of the patient’s  physical recuperation.  Over time patients become accustomed to doing rehabilitation exercise with music.

Tuning. Photo:

Adulthood and the Elder Years

When one becomes an adult stress and illness occur with greater intensity.  Most have family and work responsibilities and because of that one’s physical and mental health deteriorates more easily with recuperation times being slower.  Cristina Fernández-Cabaleiro, psychologist, yoga and dance therapy instructor suggests that a good activity for mental and spiritual health is listening to music that one likes, putting aside whatever else one might be doing, and feeling what we are attentively listening to.

In an article published by the blog of the Institute of Religions in San José de Gerona, Spain, it’s noted that music can have an major impact on any person, but even more so on the elderly.  It has the capacity of full release of a flood of memories.  For this reason music therapy is one of the most effective remedies for older adults who suffer from specific illnesses or disorders, e.g. Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s disease, autism, head injury, strokes, etc.

Fernández-Cabaleiro adds that music can be present in our lives on a daily basis.  Participating in activities such as yoga, dance therapy, playing an instrument, singing or composing music will be of benefit in various aspects of our daily lives because when we listen to music and the sounds are pleasing to us, serotonin levels increase.  Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our mood and state of mind including dreams, inhibiting negative emotion and assisting us in being happier.