You know how when you’re having a rough day or you need to get motivated to work, putting on your favorite music can transform your entire mood? As anecdotal as that sounds, research shows that music is useful as a therapeutic tool. In fact, music therapy has been used since the early 20th century as medical professionals observed positive patient reactions to music as a way to cope with both physical and emotional trauma resulting from fighting in World War II.
Much of that has to do with the mind/body connection. In order to address a symptom, be it mental or physical, it’s important to treat a person holistically (mind and body). There is an intrinsic connection between the mind and body, which means that in order to improve one, it is best to take care of both. Music has a potent effect on our emotions and thoughts. The right song can change a mood drastically. By using music to make a person feel more positive or relaxed, they are better able to heal their body as well.
Music Therapy and ADHD
Music therapy has a personal connection for me because I’ve seen it work wonders for my son Drew, who has ADHD. I’d like to share what I have learned through my experiences with Drew in hopes that this information might be helpful for other children too.
Learning to play an instrument combines the emotional benefits of music while helping to instill discipline and self-esteem. Plus, it gives children a creative outlet where they can express themselves, improve hand/eye coordination, and broaden their minds. While a child with ADHD doesn’t need to learn to play an instrument to benefit from music therapy, it’s a great hobby and eventual school subject for them to become involved in if they are interested. The “if they are interested” part is pretty crucial.
Music therapy can also be used to help a child concentrate. Classical music has been proven to help both while studying and then residually when focus is needed in class. For my son, the best music was jazz and classical. It helped to reroute all those impending thoughts and helped him keep his focus on the task in front of him. This method works great in the school environment too, and with permission from his teacher, Drew uses earphones while completing assignments. I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, but the positive remarks from teachers and the attitude I’ve observed at home speak for themselves.
One of the reasons music therapy is so effective for children is because it is non-threatening and enjoyable– forcing your child to participate kind of negates those aspects. Drew seemed interested when I mentioned the idea of learning how to play a musical instrument, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the music store that his eyes really lit up. Needless to say, we came home with a guitar that day, and it has been a great source of stress-relief for the both of us.
If your child wants to learn to play in instrument, here is some helpful advice.
- Introduce your child to a number of instruments they can possibly learn. Some music schools offer complimentary introductory courses where they can experience the sounds and feel of an instrument before committing. Let your child pick one they are comfortable with so they are naturally inclined to play.
- In addition to multiple types of instruments, allow your children to become well versed in the different genres of music. Your child may not be as in to classical as, say, jazz or pop. Knowing that there are other musical options out there for them will encourage them to stick with it and make it their own.
- Pick an instrument that is acceptable for your child’s skill level and abilities. For instance, many young musicians pick up and learn the clarinet before attempting to move on to a saxophone. A clarinet is easier to handle and carry around, but it still teaches them how to read music and fingering fundamentals that they can then apply to the saxophone when they are ready.
- When it is time to buy an instrument, don’t invest in the most expensive, highest level version. For instance, if your child wants to learn the trumpet, there’s no need to buy an intermediate instrument with slide hooks and adjustable slide stops. A student trumpet is more affordable and has all the tools necessary to learn the instrument. As they grow and become more serious regarding their playing, you can trade their student instrument in for a more advanced model.
Music therapy is a proven method that helps people improve both the mind and body. Children with ADHD can especially benefit from music therapy and learning to play an instrument in particular. If they are interested in it, they learn discipline, improve their hand/eye coordination, and have a creative outlet that helps broaden the mind. When picking out an instrument, find one that appeals to their interest and allow them to start out with a small, student level model they can trade in as they grow.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers.