The Benefits of Music and Music Therapy For Children With Special Needs

Music can be a motivating and fun way to teach all children and in particular children who have special learning needs. It is unquestionable that through the medium of music many essential and enabling life skills can be learned and the benefits that playing and learning music can have on a child’s growth and development are immeasurable.

All children have the same need to express themselves and playing a musical instrument can provide an outlet for creative and emotional expression. When we think of music we don’t often think of it as therapy. But it can be.

The playing of good quality percussion instruments during music therapy sessions can be of inestimable value for children who have difficulties in hearing, seeing, moving, thinking or responding; each can experience the music in their own unique way. The music is not the goal of music therapy. Cognitive stimulation, self-expression, self-awareness, or increased motor movements are some of the goals that music therapy can focus on and the music itself is simply a tool to achieve these goals.

Listening to music for enjoyment is very beneficial but active participation is even better. For children and adolescents with cerebral palsy, playing music may be an effective way to stimulate speech development and communication skills, express emotions, develop a sense of rhythm and provide opportunity for physical, cognitive and motor development whilst creating an environment for socialisation and fun.

Every child can be helped to learn to enjoy and to become involved in music to some degree and instruments tuned to a harmonic pentatonic scale which produce a soothing sound straightaway, makes playing them an instantly gratifying experience.

Playing music and music therapy has proven to be a very effective method in dealing with autism and aspergers syndrome. Most children diagnosed with Autism or Asperger’s lack the social skills that enable them to participate fully in play and other social situations. Interestingly, many children with autism show a heightened interest in music. While they may be unable to easily communicate verbally with others, music is an avenue for many autistic people to express themselves and communicate in a non-verbal, non-threatening manner. Playing music puts the individual at ease, allowing for strides in social interactions to follow.

Easy access to musical instruments may provide an outlet that encourages children to use music to deal with emotional issues, especially when they are unable to express them through speech. Where words fail, music may be a medium through which to explore one’s inner world and experiences. Often people with developmental delays and learning disabilities such as Down’s syndrome will respond to music. The easy, non-challenging way in which pentatonic instruments can be played offers opportunities for response and expression to children and adults with such developmental delays.

Musical instruments in the classroom or playground offer blind or partially sighted children the opportunity to explore and musical sound and awareness. Instruments, which are simple to play and enable creative experimentation and tactile exploration, encourage the use of motor skills, thus developing coordination whilst stimulating the imagination.

Music is a tool that is used in pain management and healing for children undergoing medical procedures and as a comfort for those who have suffered a traumatic experience. Music can be a powerful distraction, turning the patient’s attention away from pain and promoting relaxation as well as to help ward off depression, promote movement and ease muscle tension.

The use of music in group therapy has long been advocated and practiced in the music therapy profession, in addition to the purely musical benefits, playing in an ensemble is useful for working on concepts such as cooperation with others, coordination, and a sense of accomplishment. Making music and singing songs together in a group can build a harmonious cooperative spirit of support and encouragement for everyone. Children who experience severe obstacles in forming relationships with other children, adults and their environment can achieve security and joy in making music. Music making involves many of the fundamental elements of social interaction; turn taking, listening and responding to another person can all be augmented in music therapy.

To see, hear and play musical instruments at school or in community programs is an important cultural experience for every child. While music therapy is an important discipline, you can also achieve benefits from making music on your own. Successful projects include sensory or music gardens where musical instruments have been installed outdoors, making them accessible at break times as well as for use with the curriculum. Playgrounds and outdoor spaces should be viewed as therapeutic settings and an outdoor music centre or garden could enhance learning and development for both children with and without special needs.

ADHD Natural Treatment – Music Therapy

Most children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder go through traditional cognitive and behavioral therapy so they can readjust to the social world around them. However, behavioral therapy is not the only program that can rehabilitate children with behavioral disorders. Consider giving your child music therapy, a creative and popular approach that uses the therapeutic power of music to teach children appropriate behavior, mental skills, and avenues for expression.

It seems rather unconventional, but music therapy is a legitimate health profession backed up by scientific research and practice. Since it was first developed by Michigan State University in 1944, music therapy has helped a host of individuals overcome conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ADHD. Children with ADHD and similar disorders have been able to harness their creative energies and skills to make positive changes in their behavior and overcome their symptoms. Music therapy can help set these changes because it uses a very effective medium – music. Music is a recognizable, non-threatening language that can establish a familiar environment conducive to learning, expression, and change. Children hardly expect to enter a doctor’s office to find out that they’ll be playing with music. The medium easily captures and sustains their natural curiosity, and they will start working on improving themselves without being aware of it.

Aside from making children more open and receptive to therapy, the approach itself can rehabilitate the brain. Both hemispheres of the brain work together to process auditory stimuli, and the mental activity involved facilitates cognitive functioning and corrects speech or language deficits. Depending on the program, music therapy can even re-train your child’s auditory receptive processes. The rhythmic component of music will also give the child a structure that organizes movement and participation, which will improve focus, impulse control, and group cohesion.

One of the misgivings parents have about music therapy is that they fear a child can only benefit from it if he or she is musically inclined. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Most children who succeeded with the help of a music therapist cannot play a single note on the piano or carry a tune. Aside from the benefits outlined above, this type of therapy gives children an avenue for creative expression when they have difficulty expressing themselves through verbal language. As for ADHD children who do have hidden musical abilities, music therapy can bring these out and encourage these children to develop their talents. But hidden talent for music or no, every child can benefit from music therapy.

Music therapy for ADHD can be done in one-on-one sessions with a therapist, or in small groups. In both instances, a music therapist will use song, instruments, and other music activities to engage a child in a structured, systematic manner. The structure of the program is important to cultivating the desired behaviors, responses, and goals. While this is happening, the program gives your child a familiar environment that encourages positive interpersonal reaction and expression. Consider using music therapy to help your child overcome ADHD naturally.

How Music Therapy Helps Those With Dementia

Studies support the power of music therapy as a proven way to engage and improve dementia patients’ lives. Remarkable changes in behaviour are documented, where severely handicapped people suffering from memory loss suddenly burst into song remembering the words and melodies of tunes from the past. Some patients with severe dementia who no longer remember who they are have been reported to respond to the miracle of music.

Music Therapy and Loneliness

Dementia is a progressive disease that leaves patients unable to communicate. This causes sufferers to feel isolated and unable to communicate basic needs. According to Kimmo Lehtonen Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Turku, “music can actually make the mind move.” Music is believed to conjure up memories through an emotional connection that ultimately makes human interaction possible again.

The Proof that Music Therapy Helps Dementia Patients

One case study documented by Lehtonen was recorded with a video camera. Working as a music therapist, Lehtonen recorded a session with an 80-year-old patient suffering from dementia. The treatment administered in this case was the singing of folk songs in Finnish. In response, the patient sang old romantic songs in Italian. Many of these songs were very difficult. Lehtonen noted that the older patient’s expressions and voice were filled with authentic emotion that truly moved him. What made this patient’s singing so remarkable is that his history indicated that he barely remembered his name. Another noteworthy fact about this case that supports the idea that the emotion of musical memories is what breaks through the symptoms of dementia is the fact that the 80-year-old patient had spent the prime of his life in Florence.

A Brief History

There are documented uses of this therapy as far back as 2000 years ago. In the 20th century, musicians were requested to play for the WWI and WWII soldiers wounded in hospitals. Doctors realized the emotional and physical benefit of music for healing patients in both psychological and physical ways. The first official music therapy program started in 1944 and was offered at Michigan State University. As evidence that the acceptance of music therapy has grown, 75 educational institutions now offer degree programs in music therapy.


According to the Aging Well online site, there are seven main benefits derived from this type of therapy that positively impact dementia patients. The benefits listed below are the reason music therapy has been accepted as a positive approach to dementia treatment. Musical therapy promotes the following changes:

  • A sense of well-being
  • Improved memory
  • Opportunities for social engagement
  • Improved motor skills
  • Pain management without drugs
  • A complementary addition to physical rehabilitation that employs continuous movement and vocal activity
  • A renewed feeling of control over one’s life


As more is learned every year about dementia; it becomes obvious why music therapy is working to improve these patients’ moods and sense of well-being. Clinical case studies indicate that music affects learning, language skills, memory, expressing emotion and motor responses. Even people with severe dementia respond to music. Based on the undeniable results, music therapy is expected to continue as a viable treatment for dementia sufferers in the future.

Music Therapy Research Breakthroughs

In the aim to establish more concrete evidences that music therapy can be part of any treatment approach or technique, research was conducted to take a closer look on the positive reactions that patients exhibit when expose to it. Music therapy has always been associated to be useful in many sicknesses and concerns related to all aspects of living. It was determined that music therapy has all the entitlement to be given credit as a sensible element of health care management.

The research carried out covers different health care fields demonstrated a clear picture of the direct results of music therapy in the relief of many hard to treat problems. These patients responded positively and have shown remarkable improvements in their conditions.

Alzheimer’s disease manifests symptoms including faulty cognitive skills, great alterations in social behavior, and motor skill discrepancies. The research makes available three kinds of music therapy treatments in the hope that they can stimulate cognitive function enhancements. These are musically cued reminiscence, verbally cued reminiscence, and musical activity; music therapy treatments that have been proven to be effective in inducing the memory recollection of persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

In the evaluation, it was distinguished that musically and verbally cued reminiscence helped in the improvement of specified brain functions. It was recorded that significant increase in language abilities was observed in some patients who have been subjected to the aforementioned musical therapy treatments. However, those who have been opened to the elements of musical activities have shown greater substantial improvements in all the other areas most especially with social behavior concerns. The most effective approach used is by means of using songs that enhances memories and conversation.

The benefits of these methods are more noteworthy in patients afflicted with distressing chronic pain. Music therapy research was carried out to establish a link on how this treatment can alleviate the pain suffered by chronic pain patients.

Based on the chronic pain studies, music therapy can be helpful because the perception of the brain for both music and pain are equal. This means the brain receives sensation on both concerns within the same level. This developed the theory that you can use music therapy at the same time that a person is under bouts of chronic pain; this is because the brain’s part that is sensitive to music will react and cancel out the pain throbs, thus decreases the level of pain that is actually felt.

Different medical conditions can benefit from this type of therapy like Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and other unending illnesses. Music can also play a great part in lowering the level of pain felt during labor and child delivery, momentary and transitory pains, and other kinds of pain twinges.

Music therapy is also of assistance in the pain management plan and treatment plans for cancer patients. Children suffering from cancer are often subjected to music therapy treatments like singing, which has proven to create remarkable improvement in their immune system. The immune system is always the first to be given enough emphasis so as to prevent the occurrence of other complications.