Monday, April 24, 2017

Drumming Helps Special Needs Children

This article was originally written for PediaStaff, a provider of pediatric therapy services: A friend of mine, and fellow music therapist, Kat Fulton shared a story with me recently: I utilized drumming at a camp for kids who have parents with cancer. We sang, chanted, and drummed. At the end of it all, I invited each child one by one to come to the center whenever they wanted. When they got to the center, they could cut off the drumming and share something they are thankful for. Then we'd continue drumming. After drumming and singing, and playing rhythm games for an hour, you can imagine how supported and safe these kids felt among their peers. One little 6-year-old girl came to the center and said "That my mom can still be happy." Her father had passed from cancer. This little girl experienced what many other children and adolescents have experienced before: group support and the feeling of safety that allowed her to share a big feeling. All facilitated through drumming. Drumming isn’t an experience that “only” music therapists can use. In fact, many professionals with a little bit of training can use drum and percussion experiences to help children with special needs in the areas of motor strength and control, speech and communication, social skills, emotional expression, and cognition. But what exactly is drumming? And how can it help children with special needs? Let’s explore...

What is Drumming?

When I first approached Kalani, a professional percussionist, Orff-certified music educator, and music therapist, and asked “how do you see group drumming used as a therapeutic tool?”, he responded with “how are we defining the term ‘drumming’?” Kalani then shared with me an article he wrote with music therapist Bill Matney called “A Taxonomy of Drumming Experiences.” This article outlines various type of drum-based experiences: Drum Play, Traditional Drumming, Guided Interactive Drumming, Drum Circle, Musical Improvisation, Clinical Improvisation, and Technique-Oriented Play. Whew! When they envision "drumming," most people think of the Drum Circle, which the taxonomy on the Music Therapy Drumming (MTD) website describes as an interactive group process that utilizes a variety of drums and percussion instruments. Although drum circles can be used for recreational purposes, they can also be used to target other goals. The drum circle facilitator, or leader, need not be a formally trained musician, but s/he should have some musical skills and some sort of training in drum circle facilitation. However, "drumming" can include any number of experiences, from traditional playing to improvisation to "drum play." For the purposes of this article, "drumming" will refer to any type of group drumming experience--the exact type of which will depend on the goals of the group.

Does Drumming Work?

The evidence seems to say "yes." In December 2010, a research study was published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This study looked into the effectiveness of a drumming program in LA called "Beat the Odds" This program is geared for low-income youth and integrates drumming activities with counseling to help foster student growth and development. What did the study find? That participating in drumming activities led to significant social and emotional improvements for the students involved. This wasn’t the first study to look into how drumming helps children. One of the earliest studies, published in 1976 in the Journal of Music Therapy, investigated how a percussion “game” improved social behaviors for children with mental retardation. Since then, research has provided support for the positive effect of drumming experiences on social behaviors, grief, self-expression, self-esteem, group cohesion, depression, behavioral issues, bimanual coordination, and learning for children and adults both with and without disabilities (you can find a short bibliography at the end of this article).

How Does Drumming Help Children?

This is all well and good, but what exactly can drumming do? And, more specifically, how can it help children with special needs? Music therapist Bill Matney shares that there are many reasons why drumming can be useful as a therapeutic tool. Drums and percussion instruments are progressively accessible, physical, sensory, portable, socially interactive, expressive, cultural, and offer a unique aesthetic experience. Someone who has never played a musical instrument in his/her life can pick up a shaker and participate in a drumming experience. For children with special needs, drumming can be a powerful tool to help them address:
  • Social Needs. Drumming often occurs as a collaborative, interactive process. If facilitated correctly, participating in drumming experiences can help a child work on skills such as turn-taking and sharing, as well as help them feel they are part of a group contributing towards a group process.
  • Communication Needs. Playing a drum or percussion instrument can be a useful way to communicate nonverbally and to “listen” to another person’s nonverbal communication.
  • Fine and Gross Motor Skills. This may almost seem self-evident, but different playing techniques can be used to help work on different fine and gross motor skills. This can even be true for developing lower extremity strength (e.g. imagine standing and playing a large conga drum).
  • Emotional Needs. As with the girl Kat Fulton worked with, participating in a drumming activity can help a child feel safe enough to express his/her feelings. Additionally--and speaking from experience--there’s nothing much better for releasing anger than banging on a drum.
  • Cognitive Needs. By participating in a drumming experience, children can be working on attention, impulse control, and decision-making skills.
As with many interventions, there are contraindications involved. Kalani notes that too loud a volume, playing with poor technique, and using instruments with a high vibrotactile response can potentially pose problems. This is why getting trained as a facilitator is important. References Brakke, K., Fragaszy, D.M., Simpson, K., Hoy, E., & Cummins-Sebree, S. (2007). The production of bimanual percussion in 12 to 24-month-old children. Infant Behavior and Development, 30 (1), 2-15. Gunsberg, A.S. (1991). A method for conducting improvised musical play with children both with and without developmental delay in preschool classrooms. Music Therapy Perspectives, 8, 46-51. Haines, J.H. (1989). The effects of music therapy on the self esteem of emotionally disturbed adolescents. Music Therapy, 7, 43-53. Jorgenson, H., & Parnell, M.K. (1970). Modifying social behaviors of mentally retarded children in music activities. Journal of Music Therapy, 7(3), 83-87. Kennedy, R. (2008). Music therapy as a supplemental teaching strategy for kindergarten ESL students. Music Therapy Perspectives, 26(2), 97-101. Lehrer-Carle, I. (1971). Group dynamics as applied to the use of music with schizophrenic adolescents. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 3(2), 1971, 111-116. Montello, L., & Coons, E.E. (1998). Effects of active versus passive group music therapy on pre-adolescents with emotional, learning, and behavioral disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 35(1), 49-67. Currie, M. (2004). Doing anger differently: A group percussion therapy for angry adolescent boys. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 54(3), 275-294. Ringenbach, S.D., Allen, H., Chung, S., Jung, ML., (2006). Specific instructions are important for continuous bimanual drumming in adults with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome: Research & Practice, 11(1), 29-36.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Music Teaches Children Skills in Childcare

Music and Thinking Skills
Music is a tool that helps children learn new thinking skills. When children play with musical instruments, they explore cause and effect. They can see that pressing a key makes a sound. Additionally, they learn to pay attention to changes in sound, noting for example that certain keys sound deeper than others. Exploring musical instruments also helps children learn how different instruments work and the sounds they create. Inviting guest musicians to the child care program is an effective way of introducing children to unfamiliar musical instruments.

Music and Language
Singing songs is a powerful way for young children to practice language. When children sing, they practice pronouncing words and putting together sentences. Learning the lyrics to songs is also an effective way to remember information. How many people first learned the alphabet by singing the ABC song? Our brains remember language better when it is set to music. 

Music and Motor Skills
Songs with motions help children practice fine-motor coordination. Doing the finger motions of a song like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" or a finger play like "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" helps children practice their hand and finger control -- a skill necessary for writing and handling small objects. Dancing to music also helps children perfect their control of their arms and legs. Music and dance are fun and help children be playful with each other and with their child care providers. 

Music and Emotions
Listening to music can help children learn about emotions. Music can also be soothing and comforting. Remember how babies love lullabies. Child care providers might play classical music and help the children label the sounds as scary, sad or happy. Children can also connect music with emotions by drawing or painting a picture of their feelings as they listen to a certain musical selection.

Music and Routines 
Music and singing can help children follow the routine of the child care program. Clean-up songs alert children that it's time to put away their toys and move to another activity. Child care providers can use songs to signal a transition from one activity to another, or to keep children interested and occupied while they are waiting for the next activity. Playing quiet music is a clear signal for nap time. Loud, energetic music can get children up and moving or help them use up energy before they settle down to a quieter task. Music is not just an "extra" in child care. Listening to music, singing songs and playing instruments provide learning opportunities and make both children and child care providers feel good. Look for creative ways to include music in child care programs for children of all ages.

Original Article Here

Monday, April 10, 2017

Optimize Your Brain with Music

Neuroscientists are discovering multiple ways that musical training improves the function and connectivity of different brain regions. Musical training increases brain volume and strengthens communication between brain areas. Playing an instrument changes how the brain interprets and integrates a wide range of sensory information, especially for those who start before age 7. These findings were presented at the Neuroscience 2013 conference in San Diego.

In a press briefing on November 11, 2013 Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD—who is an expert on music, neuroimaging and brain plasticity from Harvard Medical School—summarized the new research from three different presentations at the conference. These insights suggest potential new roles for musical training including fostering plasticity in the brain; have strong implications for using musical training as a tool in education; and for treating a range of learning disabilities.
Playing a musical instrument can cause fundamental changes in a young person's brain, shaping both how it functions and how it is physically structured, researchers say. "Listening to and making music is not only an auditory experience, but it is a multisensory and motor experience. Making music over a long period of time can change brain function and brain structure," Schlaug said. 
Three Brain Benefits of Musical Training:
  1. Musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight.
  2. The age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact.
  3. Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain.
"Music might provide an alternative access into a broken or dysfunctional system within the brain," said Schlaug. Adding, "Music has the unique ability to go through alternative channels and connect different sections of the brain."
Three New Studies on the Brain Benefits of Musical Training
The first study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, asked trained musicians and non-musicians to respond to sound and touch sensations at the same time. Two sounds were delivered at the same time a person received one touch sensation, which was intended to create the perceptual illusion that the person actually had received two touch sensations. 
Since musicians have to simultaneously work their instrument, read sheet music and listen to the tones they produce, the researchers predicted that they would be better at differentiating sound from touch. Their hypothesis was correct. Non-musicians fell for the perceptual illusion, but musicians did not, according to researcher Julie Roy from the University of Montreal. "Musicians are able to ignore the auditory stimuli and only report what they are feeling," Roy said, adding "that this is solid evidence of an improved ability to process information from more than one sense at the same time."
The second study involved brain scans of 48 adults aged between 19 and 21, who had at least a year of musical training while growing up. The researchers discovered that brain regions related to hearing and self-awareness appeared to be larger in people who began taking music lessons before age 7.
These findings seem to indicate that musical training can have a huge impact on the developing brain, since brain maturation tends to peak around age 7, said lead researcher Yunxin Wang, of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University. Specifically, these areas tended to have more gray matter leading to a thicker cortex, which is the outer layer of the cerebrum.
The third study found that brain circuitry can be reshaped by musical training through neuroplasticity. For the study, Swedish researchers analysed brain function of 39 pianists who were asked to play a special 12-key piano keyboard while having their brain scanned in an MRI. Ana Pinho, the lead author of the study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, reported that systematic training actually helped improve brain areas related to music improvisation. The ability to improvise improved brain connectivity resulting in less dependence on working memory.  
“Pianists who were more experienced in jazz improvisation showed higher connectivity between three major regions of the brain's frontal lobe while they improvised some music,” said Pinho. “At the same time, they showed less activity in brain regions associated with executive functions such as planning and organizing, which could mean that trained improvisers are able to generate music with little conscious attention or thought,” Pinho said.
Playing an Instrument Before Age 7 Benefits Brain Architecture for a Lifespan
The findings presented at the conference are backed by multiple previous studies. In particular, a January 2013 study titled “Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period” published in the Journal of Neuroscience earlier this year reported that musical training before age 7 helped brain development. Children who started taking music lessons early had better connections across the corpus callosum which connects the left and right hemispheres of the cerebrum.
A variety of studies have suggested that early training might be related to greater amounts of white matter in the corpus callosum. This study compared white-matter organization using diffusion tensor imaging in early- and late-trained musicians matched for years of training and experience.
The researchers found that early-trained musicians had greater connectivity across the corpus callosum. Musical training and practice at a young age improved due to the sensorimotor synchronization required to play an instrument. They concluded that training before the age of 7 years results in changes in white-matter connectivity that may serve as a solid scaffolding upon which ongoing experience can maintain a well-connected brain infrastructure into adulthood.
My 6-year-old daughter is lucky to take bi-weekly piano and violin lessons. In addition to practicing a musical instrument, my daughter's daily activities include a broad range of athletics that bulk up the gray matter of both hemispheres of her cerebellum and improve motor skills. Schoolwork and making art increases brain volume and connectivity between both hemispheres of her cerebrum. This combination of activities strengthens the connectivity between all four hemispheres of her developing brain which optimizes brain function.
Some of the brain changes that occur with extensive musical training are reflected in improved automation of task—much as one would recite a multiplication table—and the acquisition of highly specific sensorimotor and cognitive skills required for various aspects of musical expertise.
Conclusion: Musical Training Increases Brain Volume and Connectivity
"Playing a musical instrument is a multi-sensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions—from finger tapping to dancing—and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time," according to Gottfried Schlaug. "As today's findings show, intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativitycognition, and learning," he concludes. 
"All these findings ultimately could lead to improved therapies for people with brain injuries or learning disabilities," Schlaug said. Adding, "Music might provide an alternative access into a broken or dysfunctional system within the brain. Music has the unique ability to go through alternative channels and connect different sections of the brain."

Original Article Here