By Amy Price PhD
Neuroscience reports successful outcomes with specially engineered music therapy programs. Reports of music making a difference abound in science and classical literature. In Bible days musicians were sent ahead of Warriors to maintain morale and to set the climate of victory for battle. Recently there has been much emphasis given to the Mozart effect. In some studies music has been emphasized as being able to even enhance mathematical ability.
There is little doubt that music plays an important role in clinical recovery for many clients. One program I have used personally and clinically with great success is The Listening Program. We find The Listening Program improves many clients’ abilities to hear in noisy environments. Additionally we see improvements in auditory processing speed and attention.
The Listening Program has matched spectral bands with somato-sensory cortex patterns and taken out some of these frequency bands. Participants enjoy the music in a classical format. The brain then attempts to match the missing frequencies to strengthen synaptic connections in the new pattern. The program employs dichotic listening in order to restore the balance in the way sound is perceived by the ears and translated by the brain.
Impaired auditory processing skills can be seen with imaging techniques as an abnormally enlarged auditory cortex is with the neurons responding over a greater area producing increased sensitivity as a compensatory measure. Unfortunately this also produces a greater signal to noise ratio in the brain. This may translate to reduced auditory accuracy in noisy environments. The ability to filter extraneous interference and to accurately discriminate sound is compromised. This same process takes place in chronic pain patients who are slower to feel the initial sensation of pain but are found to have increased sensitivity to pain, less tolerance and this pain is spread over a wider area.
One logical way to solve this problem would be to help the brain create a new path, making it less reactive to all stimuli and more sensitive to discriminating important stimuli. The Listening Program is effective as a tool to train the brain in this way. The orderly cadence of classical music in its mathematical formation can act as a filing cabinet for the auditory cortex. The frequency filtering allows the brain to come out of an automatic mode and learn a new way of hearing. The stereophonic listening gives the brain an opportunity to generalize where and how it will process new sound.
Song is often used to awaken dormant skills in comatose or stroke patient’s, evoking auditory response and initiating corrective response. Individuals may be unable to say words but they can repeat them when they are sung to them by a participating therapist. After singing, they then say the same words that were impossible for them just moments before. It may be that when people cycle between speaking and singing the contour and spacing of musical sounds may be decoded by additional areas in the brain which can then act as a conduit to the language centres of the brain. This may be because language uses motor, auditory and visual skills.
Singing may engage other brain areas and then cue brain neurons to act as a construction crew to make a detour around the damaged area or to enlist nearby neurons to build a strong new path. Recently neuro imaging tools have advanced so that changes caused by this kind of learning can be demonstrated by an increase in white and gray matter cells in the brain. The Listening Program also serves as a relaxing way to restore cognitive reserve and reduce the fight or flight response created by learning anxiety.
Many brain therapy patients spend hours in occupational, speech pathology, and physical therapy every day. This concentration is required to build new paths in the brain, however in early stages of recovery the brain is vulnerable and becomes tired. The Listening Program can provide a restful interlude in the midst of these other therapies. Clients report that using The Listening Program between other therapies refreshes them and allows them to be more productive.