Therapists use music to deliver treatment

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NORTH BETHESDA, Md. (AP) - Three-and-a-half-year-old Emma Quick runs into a room filled with instruments spread out across the floor. Her energy and excitement cause her blonde pig tails to bounce above her blue polka-dot shirt.

“Are you ready to make some music?” asks 24-year-old Katie Myers, whose enthusiasm rivals Emma‘s.

“Yeah!” Emma quickly responds.

Myers grabs her guitar and launches into a “hello” song; Emma picks up a set of red sticks and begins to play along. The two continue their roles until Myers stops the singing and asks a question.

Emma, who should we sing to?”

Myers asks another time, then another.

“What’s your name?”

After flashing several smiles, Emma responds to Myers‘ satisfaction, and the two return to making music.

Despite what it looks like, Emma’s not there to learn instruments, songs or notes - that’s just a bonus. Emma has Down syndrome and meets with Myers for weekly music therapy sessions to work on her speech, fine-motor and gross-motor skills.

“Some of (music therapy), yes, is music skills, but it’s mostly using the music activities to develop other skills,” says Myers, a therapist with Levine Music.

“Sometimes teaching them short songs on the piano or teaching them musical skills is achieving one of their goals, but the focus is not on the musical skills themselves.”

Music therapy has been a profession since World War I, when musicians would go to veterans’ hospitals and play for the wounded patients, says Leanne Belasco, director of music therapy at Levine Music.

“The doctors and nurses observed there was a real positive change that came about from the presence of musicians with the patients,” Belasco says.

Since then, the profession has grown immensely, and its application has expanded to help people in all stages of life - from premature infants to patients in hospice, from children on the autism spectrum to adults who have suffered a stroke.

Al Bumanis, director of communications for the American Music Therapy Association, estimates that 1 million to 2 million people seek music therapy as a treatment tool to address non-musical goals each year; 73 colleges and universities offer music therapy as a degree program.

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