Music therapy is the use of music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of a group or individual. It can involve a variety of activities, such as listening to melodies, playing an instrument, drumming, writing songs, and guided imagery.
Music therapy is evidence-based and has been shown to have many benefits, including reducing anxiety and the effects of stress as well as improving self-expression and communication. It can be beneficial for people of all ages, whether they are virtuosos or have no musical experience whatsoever, and no matter if they are coping with stress or illness or are perfectly healthy.
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” – William Congreve, 1697
Ian Ash is a music therapist who volunteers with several JEVS Human Services programs. Recently Ash provided a music therapy session for the JEVS hireAbility program. He started off by singing a song—I Can See Clearly Now—and accompanying himself on the guitar. As he sang he encouraged participants to move, and soon had them swaying in time with the music.
He also talked to class about playing an instrument, how we listen to music, and shared websites where users can try being a composer. By the end, he had sung a few more songs and had participants writing and sharing lyrics of their own. There were smiles all around.
“Ian showed the class the many ways that technology is used to make music,” said JEVS hireAbility project coordinator Tara Campbell. “The students played virtual instruments, used machine learning to create songs by taking pictures on their computer, got to visualize music, and make music through drawings. This was a great addition to our IT curriculum, and fun activities to do with students any age.”
The students were equally enthusiastic:
“Ian for the past couple weeks has been a great music teacher and all the stuff he finds online are fun sites that consist of music and beats.” – James
“I actually like the sessions I usually get with Ian, they allow me to experiment with my own levels of creativity by using everyday instruments and sounds to combine them and create new sorts of music in order to show off how creative the human mind can get. The sessions we have together are very interesting, so I’d say here that if creativity and music is your calling, I’d totally give a recommendation.” – Christian
“I have learned alot about different ways to make music and I find that very interesting. I had no Idea it was so easy. He’s taught me so much and I am so glad I got the chance to learn different ways to make music.” – Antwann
“About Music therapy, I really liked playing the guitar it was very peaceful , same like a program where we can choose own music, thank you so much for this experience.” – Vitalii
We caught up with Ash after the set and asked him a few questions.
Q & A with Music Therapist Ian Ash
Q. That was really cool! How would that have been different if we had met in person, as opposed to online?
A. There would have been a lot more live instruments, like hand and percussions instruments that everyone could use to keep a beat. We would have listened to more music and had more song discussions as well.
Q. What instruments do you play? What is your background?
A. I play percussion, guitar, and piano. Before I was a music therapist, I played drums and percussion in many independent music projects throughout the Philadelphia area. I continue to play drums and percussion when there is an opportunity to do so. I also compose music as well as learn about music technology.
Q. How long have you been doing it? How did you get into it?
A. I have been working in music therapy for approximately 20 years. I became interested in music therapy when I was studying music as an undergraduate. I chose to take several psychology electives during my studies. In turn, I was curious to know how psychology and music could work together. Some time later, a friend of the family shared an article with me about an introduction to music therapy. As a result, this inspired me to study what I became interested in during my undergraduate studies. I then began to study music therapy at the graduate level.
Q. What does a typical music therapy session involve?
A. In working with the JEVS groups, all sessions usually begin with introductions and check-ins. The introduction can be a hello/good morning song to help orient participants to focus on the entire music therapy process.
The second part can be a series of activities to help them with their therapeutic objectives and goals. For instance, clients in the JEVS Independence Network programs currently participate in online electronic instrument playing activities to help increase attention span and improve areas of cognition.
The third and last part consists of closure activities that summarize what occurred and what was learned in the session. This also includes singing a goodbye song for clients in order to mark the end of the session time.
Q. What do you get out of providing music therapy?
A. I get a satisfaction out of truly helping people heal and grow. This helps me give a sense of accomplishment as well as feeling satisfied that I contributed something that makes an individual recognize their own potential for achieving hope and wellness.