DOES MUSIC HAVE WAYS TO HEAL THE MIND THAT WE MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT?
We are starting to learn more and more about how powerful music can be in terms of rewiring the brain. We hold up the musician’s brain as a model of neuroplasticity because we have observed the signature of musical training on many different neurological levels: from a sensory response to sound all the way to larger white matter tracts joining disparate regions of the brain.
One of the most dramatic examples of music’s power to rewire is in patients with injuries to the left side of the brain, whose speech is impaired. Many times, they cannot produce specific words on demand but they can often still sing them. With melodic intonation therapy, a type of music therapy that is very effective, the patients recruit the intact right side of the brain to communicate, first by singing the words and eventually regaining speech. As a result, the arcuate fasciculus, a white matter tract that joins the speech comprehension and speech production regions on the left side of the brain, becomes larger on the right side, taking over function.
I’m sure there are plenty of other uses of music that we still need to discover, particularly in terms of reducing anxiety and pain, and dealing with trauma. I also think that music will play a larger role in how we treat patients with neurodegenerative diseases. But because music is so subjective, and can have so many different forms, we need to conduct research that will help us uncover its healing properties and not just assume that playing Mozart is a panacea. It’s not, but that’s also like saying take an aspirin and call me in the morning. We need specific drugs for specific ailments, and the same will be true of how we use music in therapeutic settings.