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The Transformative Effect of Music on Alzheimer’s Patients

Music is being used to transform Alzheimer’s patients. Scientific studies show that Alzheimer’s patients are often able to remember and communicate while listening to music that is familiar to them. Even people with advanced dementia are often stimulated by music.

One reason for this transformation is that music is processed differently from verbal or written information. Music is a whole-brain activity. It works on both the cortical (i.e. the thinking part of the brain), and the sub-cortical (i.e. the parts of the brain responsible for reflexive, non-thinking and emotions). For this reason, people with dementia are able to react to music on a different level.

Music has a close relationship with unconscious emotions and our inner feelings that are meaningful even if the person can’t remember who they are. Think about how listening to music effects your mood. Familiar songs often give us a vivid mental picture of a specific memory. Emotions and memory are linked which is likely the reason music can trigger memories. Depending on the person, it can bring on emotions from joy to irritation.

Music has become so recognized as helping older adults that in 1992 the U.S. Senate passed the Music Therapy for Older Americans Act into law. A special committee on aging introduced and passed Bill S.1723: Special Committee on Aging: “Forever Young; Music and Aging.” It included funding for music therapy, education, training and the distribution of information on music therapy and older adults.

Many nursing homes and assisted living are introducing programs that follow this trend. Some facilities have begun requesting donations of gently used iPods and MP3 players that are used to download popular old-time music that is familiar to the residents. The results have been miraculous. Residents who have not spoken for years are revived. They become animated, open their eyes and speak about how makes them feel. This result can last for several minutes even after the music ends.

In one Brooklyn New York nursing home a resident named Henry participated in such a program. He is shown in a YouTube video sitting in his wheelchair with his head hanging and his eyes closed. When a staff member places an iPod on his head and starts playing a Cab Calloway performance, he is obviously moved. He opened his eyes and spoke about his memories associated with the music.

Such results are reviving hope that music may be used as a way to communicate with Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients. It is still not known the total extent music might be applied to treat Alzheimer’s patients, but one thing is for certain… music does make a difference.

Children’s Music – Repetition in Music and Its History

In a previous article “Repetition and Musical Learning,” the focus was on various ways to use meaningful repetitions to enhance musical learning. In this article we look at the history of repetition as it evolved through the centuries of music development.

Repetition of tones and patterns is an innate part of all music. Repetition encompasses a large variety of types and forms. Repetition gives structure and meaning to help us understand the music. It is a very important principle in composing or improvising music.

How does this relate to children and music? Repetition in melodic patterns is very prevalent in children’s songs, i.e., “Frere Jacques” or “Are You Sleeping.” Repetition may take the form of exact imitation or be a variation of a melody. The spectrum of repetition in music extends to repeating entire sections of a musical selection.

Carl Orff, renown German composer and music educator, and his collaborator, Gunild Keetman, outlined a process of introducing music to children. The process parallels the development of Western music. Using a single repeated tone (pedal), a simple accompaniment is created to add elemental harmony to a melody. Ostinatos or verbatim repeated patterns occur throughout a musical selection or a segment of the selection. The earliest examples of ostinato are found in 13th century music.

Ostinatos are used in a variety of ways and with a variety of musical media, i.e., clapping, voice, unpitched instruments, pitched instruments. Rhythm and melodic ostinatos appear as accompaniments for speech chants and melodies that are sung or played on a variety of instruments. Borduns (drones) are repeated harmonic patterns and appear in early music accompaniments. Other musical examples of repetition include canon, round, theme and variations, chaconnes, and rondo (ABACA) form. The world of repetition in music is multi-faceted and limitless whether for the composer or the listener.

Kids Music – Audiation and Learning

An important building block for learning music skills and concepts is audiation. You may be familiar with the term inner hearing. The term audiation (inner hearing of music or silently hearing music) was coined by music education researcher Edwin E. Gordon.

Audiation is Gordon’s term for hearing music in the mind with understanding. It is the process of thinking music and comprehending music in the mind. Gordon describes audiation as the foundation of musicianship.

Audiation is the process of mentally hearing and comprehending music, even when no physical sound is present. It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. In essence, audiation of music is analogous to thinking in a language, as said by Edwin E. Gordon.

Mary Ellen Pinzino states that audiation is a way of knowing in melody and rhythm. It is a unique human capacity outside the realm of words. To audiate is to “think” music, but in melody and rhythm rather than in words. Audiation is another way of knowing. Audiation is the musical imagination. It is the man-made music of the mind. It is the sound fantasy that provides the framework for understanding the music we listen to, the music we perform, and the music we read and write.

Audiation is a process. It is the construction of meaning in music. It is the process of making musical sense of the music we hear, perform, read, and write. Just as thinking is essential to speaking, listening, reading, and writing language, audiation is essential to tuneful and rhythmic performance, music listening, reading, and writing. Audiation is the whole of music literacy, as said by Mary Ellen Pinzino.

Audiation or inner hearing takes place when we “silently hear” and give meaning to music without the sound, i.e., thinking a melody, clapping a rhythm pattern from a song while thinking the melody. The development of audiation is basic and invaluable in building all musical skills. We should always strive to cultivate the audiation of rhythm and tonal patterns, melodic lines, and phrases. Audiation must be the first step in one’s music experience prior to introducing notation, and other aspects of music theory.

Try this exercise to experience audiation or inner hearing. Silently think the melody of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Did you think one note at a time? Or did you think groups of notes. Did you internally hear the notes as a pattern?

We do the same thing when we silently hear language. We hear words, not letters one at a time. The more words we have in our vocabularies, the better we hear and comprehend the meaning of what we are hearing. Just as we give meaning to language, we must give meaning to music through relevant patterns of tones and rhythms. Likewise, the more tonal and rhythm patterns we have in our music vocabularies, the better we will hear and comprehend the meaning of the music. To help your child or student develop music listening and speaking vocabularies, have the child listen and move to a variety of tunes. Invite them to sing many different melodies.

It is very important to develop audiation or inner hearing and listening skills in the early years of a child’s life. What a powerful gift and music foundation to give a child.