Community Music: Gestalt

There are three areas in Music and Mental Health that have emerged as possible candidates for government support through the healthcare system.

Music and Mental Health is a focus of study that has eluded direct verifiable research for decades. The evidence for its success had been primarily anecdotal, and almost everyone has a meaningful story about how someone they knew somewhere was positively affected somehow by music. The subjective nature of art-in-general makes both quantitative and qualitative analysis difficult to define and pursue.

The trend toward more tangible research was perhaps influenced by the 2007 bestselling book by Daniel Levitin called This Is Your Brain On Music. In around the same time was a flurry of activity in studies using EEG and fMRI technology to examine brain activity during artistic endeavours. A very famous paper, and subsequent YouTube/TED Talk success, was Dr. Charles Limb’s research on brain activity during musical improvisation, which he titled This Is Your Brain On Improv.

Many more studies have been done regarding how the body’s chemical imbalances can affect a person’s behaviour, perspectives and attitudes, providing direct links to quality of life and mental health. Words like dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, oxytocin, and endorphins have become part of our day-to-day vernacular and most of us have a general idea of which ones are good and which ones are bad. Advances in computer, chemical and medical technologies have provided significant tools for the examination of music in healthcare.

Three potential areas for healthcare infrastructure to support Music and Mental Health are the following:

  1. Audioceuticals
  2. Music Therapy
  3. Community Music

Audioceuticals: We naturally emit sound waves from our bones, muscles, and brains in a very narrow spectrum range up to 125 Hz. Sound wave therapy, or shockwave therapy, has been around for a long time and has had some success. For example, studies have shown that bones heal faster when exposed to 50 Hz and 25 Hz vibrations. A 50 Hz pitch is close to the lowest G on a piano, and a 25 Hz pitch is one tone lower than the lowest note A on a typical piano.

There are five types of brain waves, each occupying a unique frequency range and each affecting the brain’s behaviour in different ways. Of particular interest is the 40 Hz vibration and its relationship to Alzheimer’s disease. Located in the Gamma wave spectrum, it has been known for several decades that people with certain forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, have decreased brain activity in the 40 Hz area. Recent research has shown that exposure to 40 Hz vibrations from an external source can, in as little as six sessions of 30 minutes each, have a significant impact on mental stability, specifically an average gain of 12 per cent on the total Alzheimer’s test. The 40 Hz pitch is located between low E and low Eb on the piano. This type of vibro-acoustic therapy for mental health could be easily accessible and supportable through government assistance.

Music Therapy: Success stories include 1) the Alzheimer iPod Project providing customized song lists to patients suffering from dementia, 2) solutions for Parkinson’s Disease patients that address issues in rhythmicity, and 3) mobility exercises that assist seniors with fall prevention. Recent advances in Neurologic Music Therapy support solutions for stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and other neurological diseases affecting cognition, movement, and communication.

Government financial support for music therapy is currently available in Canada only in Ontario through the College of Psychotherapy. The application process is cumbersome and lengthy, and once attained, rarely yields any financial compensation from government.

Community Music: The word gestalt is German and literally means form or shape. It’s meaning in English has evolved over the last 100 years to encompass a grander definition implying wholeness, or a perception of oneness. The most common and simplest definition of gestalt in use today is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The word is associated with many fields of study: gestalt psychology, gestalt therapy, gestalt theory in art, gestalt principles of design, gestalt language processing, and the list goes on.

This blog entry is called Community Music: Gestalt because I have found the communal aspect of music-making to be the fundamental component for achieving improved mental health and wellbeing. In all of my research, including the material covered today, it is the active participation and group-sharing of experience that provides the most comprehensive solution for personal and societal needs.

-Regarding the brain, cognition, creativity and connectivity, including advances in neuroplasticity, are enhanced.
-Regarding chemical activity, creating natural highs and positive brain environments are ubiquitously produced in communal music settings.
-Regarding vibro-acoustic therapy, the full spectrum of frequencies are produced in most community music settings stimulating blood flow and addressing dementia issues.
-Regarding music therapy and neurologic music therapy, community music supports an interactive and experiential environment facilitating engagement at a personal and connected level.
-Regarding physical health, participation in instrumental and vocal ensembles, including drum circles and the Parkinson’s Choir, can promote facial and diaphragmatic muscle activity while connecting fine-motor control to the brain at the cognitive level.
-Regarding socialization, community music addresses many fundamental psychological needs while introducing some of the pillars found in AA and other 12 Step programs, including involvement, compassion, helping others, and communication.
-Also, there is a broader application in using community activity of every kind to bring a heightened awareness of social justice and cultural activism.

The gestalt of Community Music provides the foundation for Music and Mental Health solutions in healthcare, bringing non-invasive, non-chemical, community-based, and artistically-driven opportunities to a locally managed environment.