“She was able to sing a word before she could speak a word […]”
How music can heal the human brain
On 8th of January, 2011, Gabrielle Dee Giffords – an American politician and gun control advocate – was shot in the head during her first public meeting directly with representatives.i Since the bullet injured her left hemisphere, she lost the ability to speak. The process of healing started through music. And one month later she sang her first word. How exactly can music develop the brain and how you and your loved ones can benefit from making music?
The bullet wound her left hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere is responsible for language. As a result of this injury, Giffords was unable to speak.
A month after the shooting, she still hadn’t spoken. Her friend Brad Holland borrowed an electric piano from her music therapist. “This nasty-ass little Casio, three DD batteries,” he says. She had a favorite duet, so he tried it on the Casio. “I went, ‘Okay, girlfriend,’ ” he said, “and sang, ‘I can’t give you anything but love.…’ ”
He held his breath, and it wafted right out of her: “Baby.”
“Her first word!” Brad says. And the nurse in the corner collapsed against the wall and went, ‘Praise Jesus!’ii
As part of her recovery, Gabby Giffords underwent music therapy. She trained to engage the right side of her brain to bring her speech back. And she did it by pairing words with melody and rhythm.iii
“She was able to sing a word before she could speak a word, and the damaged areas of her brain were circumvented through music,” says Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function.
The neuroscience community confirms the ability of our brain to change and that musical stimulation can cause those changes.’”
If the brain has lost a pathway, it is able to exit, to go around and to build another pathway to reach its destination, for example the ability to speak.
The brain’s ability to pave new pathways around damaged areas is called neuroplasticity.
Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, associate professor of neurology and director of the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School states that an adult can relearn to speak – with the right training and a lot of practice.iv
Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music
“Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music,” said Dr. Oliver Sacks, professor of Neurology at Columbia University and author of the book, “Musicophilia.”
Through functional magnetic resonance imaging we can see that music activates visual, motor and coordination areas on both sides of the brain as well as areas deep in the brain involved in memory and emotion.
How do you and your loved ones benefit from making music?
Music provides structure
Music exists in time, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. By this, it provides structure that helps children to learn better how to organize their thoughts, how to find their daily routine and how to focus on the particular task. It makes them more successful in the school and in life.
Music increases the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter and helps you to regulate your attention, to increase your working memory, and to boost your motivation.
Children can use music to train their brains for stronger focus and emotional self-control in the classroom and at home.
Music teaches social skills
Music is from its nature a very social and highly interactive process. Through music you access your own emotions and you affect emotions of your audience.
Music is also highly collaborative process. Students participate in ensemble playing, write collaborative songs, and practice for an end-of-session performance.
The learning process during the e.g. a piano lesson is highly interactive and differs from student to student considering his or her individual interests, creativity and skills. Though this, the student remains active during the whole lesson. The learning process is more efficient and the outcome after 45 minutes lesson is impressive. Though this, the student experiences the feeling of success during each lesson. This boosts his or her motivation and self-esteem, makes him or her a more positive, satisfied, and happy person.