Fine Tuning – The Power of Music Therapy

Hailey Reiss still remembers the young boy who came to her for music therapy when she first started her business, Harmonic Expressions, five years ago. “He had no form of communication,” she says. He was non-verbal, and he wasn’t able to work with visual aids. He wasn’t able to connect at all.

That is, until he began working with Reiss.

The sessions began with picture combination activities, where the boy learned to choose between a blank cue card and one displaying a visual prompt for a song he liked. Now, the boy will get up and walk across the room to grab a picture showing Reiss he needs a break.

“We use music as a motivator,” says Reiss. “Kids love music, so they are willing and happy to participate.”

Reiss has been studying music since she was five-years-old. She ended up pursuing Music Therapy at the University of Windsor – only one of five programs of its kind at the time. Her first placement after graduating was with children with autism. She explains music therapy is very broad based, and can be used in many different ways for different audiences. It is especially helpful in teaching children who struggle with communication, because it provides them with a non-verbal outlet.  It also helps children develop social skills, such as eye contact, and promotes emotional expression.

“Music provides clients a safe way to express themselves, and it reaches everyone – no matter what language you speak,” Reiss says. “Everyone relates to it; it’s something that can bring everyone together.”

Music has long been recognized for its healing qualities but it can also help with brain development in infants and young children and 
even lead to moderate increases in IQ. Research by Laurel Trainor, professor of psychology and director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, showed that children age four or five who studied music for one year had more advanced EEG brain responses related to sound processing, memory and attention, in comparison to children engaged in other activities.

The power of music and the reason it is such an effective form of therapy lies in its ability to stimulate both sides of the brain. In doing so, it can improve sensorimotor functioning and overall growth in such areas as behaviour and social skills. Music therapy programs have been proven effective with children who have autism, speech delays and developmental delays. “A lot of times children will pronounce words better while singing,” says Reiss. “It has to do with training in breath support. And because it’s fun, they’re more likely to work through it.”

Typically, music therapy sessions will include a range of instrument play and/or instruction in piano, guitar, drums, hand percussion, educational concepts through music (colours, shapes, counting), singing/voice instruction, movement to music and music education. Reiss offers in-home sessions across York Region, and also has studio locations that clients can work from. She provides individual lessons so students get undivided attention and can progress at their own speed. “No two sessions ever look the same for different individuals,” she explains.

Music is a skill that can be used for life, and not only for children. Reiss also works with adults of all ages, including seniors. Since March is Musical Therapy Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to further investigate what music therapy can do for you and your family. But Weiss advises those considering enrolling in music therapy to do their homework. “Many people don’t know that a music therapist should be accredited,” she says. Accreditation requires a five-year degree, followed by an internship, and then a case study or exam. “Music therapy is goal-based. We know how to work with clients through the brain; we know how to motivate them.”

by Charlotte Ottaway & Denise Davy

Local Links

Harmonic Expressions, Aurora

Music Therapy Ontario

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