Archive for the 'Music' Category

Elegy to Remo Belli

Visionary innovator leaves legacy of drumming for healing the human condition.

by Ping Ho, Founder and Director of UCLArts and Healing

Dear Remo,

I will miss our telephone calls that began with ni hao in Chinese and ended with either zai jian or “OOO-K young lady.”

I will miss your strength of conviction, when sharing the harmony you witnessed – in every sense of the word – among diverse participants in drum circles.

I will miss your random exciting news of a connection made around the globe.   Or experiences that validated your observation of the same social conditions everywhere.  Or possibilities for healing individuals and communities, through drumming.

I will miss the twinkle in your eye when revealing the latest invention from your workshop, intended to empower the community with accessible self-expression.

I will miss the Proud Papa tours of your pristine manufacturing plant with happy employees that could easily have replaced the set for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

I will miss the radiance of your inner artist with a pair of mallets in hand.  And the passion for rhythm that you instilled in me.

I will miss your willingness to walk the talk when investing in innovative projects that no agency would have the courage to support.

I will miss the myriad ways that you found to “do well by doing good”.

I will miss your howling laughter whenever I would share an inadvertent business lesson, which you had already known for years.

I will miss the privilege of your mentorship and your faith in our work – and in me.

I pledge to carry on your vision and legacy.

With gratitude beyond words,


– – – – – – – –

For those wishing to learn more about Remo Belli, please see his New York Times obituary.


Do-It-Yourself Music Therapy

Barbara Reuer

by Barbara Reuer, PhD, MT-BC
reprinted from the MusicWorx, Inc. website

When you hear a song you like on the radio, your entire mood lightens. You sing along, hum the chorus, or snap your fingers. Listening to a tape or CD of your favorite artist help you relax or feel more energized. You may even use music to practice yoga or meditate.

When a favorite song comes on the radio, we all turn up the volume and listen more closely or sing along—and instantly feel better than we did moments before. It turns out that there’s a lot of science behind this phenomenon.

New research in the field of music therapy continues to expand experts’ understanding of how music contributes to good health. Whether your taste runs to Bach, the Beatles or Beyoncé, you can use music therapy techniques at home to boost immunity, reduce stress, ease certain symptoms, or just feel and function better overall.

“You don’t need to read music, play an instrument or even sing on key to benefit from music therapy. The ability to respond to music is natural within every person,” said Barbara Reuer, PhD, director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and training program in San Diego.

Music’s profound effects on health have been demonstrated in many studies. Examples:

1  When volunteers listened to joyful music, their blood vessels dilated by 26% on average, improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients.

2  Increased levels of germ-fighting immunoglobulins were found in the saliva of study participants after they sang and played instruments.

3  Patients listened to music of their choice before, during and after eye surgery… a control group did not listen to music. In both groups, blood pressure rose just before the operation. But in the music group, blood pressure quickly came back down, whereas in the control group, it remained elevated during the procedure.

4  Stroke patients with impaired vision on one side could perceive objects more accurately while listening to music they enjoyed than while in silence or listening to music they did not like.

In a nutshell: Music has been shown to . . .

  • boost the immune system
    • lower blood pressure
    • ease chronic and acute pain
    • relieve nausea
    • improve muscle control (for instance, in Parkinson’s patients)
    • promote visual and auditory abilities
    • improve brain function, focus and memory (including in Alzheimer’s patients)
    • reduce stress, anxiety and muscle tension
    • combat insomnia
    • lift mood

While almost anyone can benefit from music, for a person with a significant health problem, it is most effective to work with a board-certified music therapist, Dr. Reuer suggested. Treatment might include listening to specific types of music, singing, songwriting, playing simple instruments, moving to music and/or doing tactile exercises involving vibration. Some insurance policies cover the cost.

Referrals: American Music Therapy Association phone (301) 589–3300

Try This at Home

For an emotional and physical boost, you can tap into the power of music therapy on your own every day. Dr. Reuer explained, “You’re not just putting on a CD as background music. Instead, you are engaged in the music—for instance, by singing or playing an instrument or by listening to music in a focused, intentional way.” What to do . . .

  • Pick appropriate music. No single style of music is more therapeutic than all the rest. What matters most is the effect that you are trying to achieve and your personal reaction to the music, Dr. Reuer said. For instance, to promote relaxation, listen to music that you find soothing while you practice deep breathing. For pain management, look for music that focuses your mind on things other than your discomfort. To stimulate memory, experiment with music you enjoyed as a teen. To lower blood pressure, use a home blood pressure monitor before and after each music session to identify music that has the desired effect for you.
  • Sing or hum (remembering to breathe deeply) in the car or around the house. If you used to play an instrument, take it up again. Dr. Reuer urged, “Try not to pass judgment on your singing abilities or get frustrated if you make mistakes as you play your instrument. The idea is to be in the moment and just let go.”

Source: Barbara Reuer, PhD, NMT (neurologic music therapist), MT-BC (music therapist-board certified), is founder and director of MusicWorx Inc., a music therapy practice and clinical training program in San Diego, and author of Group Rhythm and Drumming with Older Adults (American Music Therapy).

Poetry Shares Rewarding Brain Effects with Music

A new study by Adam Zeman and colleagues from the University of Exeter used functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques to find that poetry, compared to prose, uniquely activates brain areas associated with introspection, such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes.

The research team also found that emotionally charged words activated the same (predominantly right side) areas of the brain that register emotional responses to music, associated with shivers down the spine.

UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman has reported that putting words to feelings may help with emotion regulation.  His laboratory conducted brain scans of 30 individuals, as they described distressing pictures, and discovered that putting words to feelings reduces activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain associated with emotion and fear) and increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for self-regulation).  They also found that the effects were greater for long-hand writing than typing.

Click here to purchase the study.
Zeman A, Milton F, Smith A, Rylance R.  By Heart An fMRI Study of Brain Activation by Poetry and Prose. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2013; 20 (9-10): 132-158(27).

Click here to view the article.
Lieberman, M. D., Eisengerger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421-428.

New Online Creative Caregiving Guide

NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide

Imagine a world where every caregiving act for adults with alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders contributes to quality days for both the caregiver and their care partner.

The public is invited to utilize FREE video clips and curriculum materials developed by the National Center for Creative Aging to facilitate cognition, self-expression, movement and social connection in adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders.*

The guide is constantly expanding with lessons for additional languages and cultures.

* Note from Ping Ho, MA, MPH – Founding Director of UCLArts and Healing:

The lessons are applicable to other populations such as special needs and young children.

Music can control pain


Studies show that listening to preferred music can significantly reduce pain.

A newly published study of music and postoperative pain in children by Sunitha Suresh et al randomly assigned them to music of choice (from a provided list), audiobook of choice (from a provided list) or silence control.[1]

The researchers found that 30” of music or audiobooks reduced pain to the same degree as administration of Advil or Tylenol, without the risk of side effects.

Self-selection of music or audiobook is an important element in pain management. Mitchell and MacDonald showed that patient-preferred music led to greater tolerance for laboratory-induced pain, reported pain intensity and perceived control over pain than relaxing music selected by the researchers. [2]

According to Judith Pinkerton, music therapist and past president of the Western Region American Music Therapy Association, for self-management of physical pain, listening to familiar soothing music to which you already have a strong conditioned relaxation response is the most effective method.[3]

A recent randomized, controlled trial by Hsieh et al found that the strength of preferred music in reducing pain can even override experimenter suggestions to the contrary.[4]  Perhaps it is because listening to music that you like stimulates the same reward center of the brain that is activated by euphoria-inducing stimuli, like sex, drugs and chocolate.[5]

A systematic review by Nilsson of 42 randomized controlled trials involving the use of music to reduce pain associated with elective surgery, totaling 3,936 patients, concluded that music interventions in clinical practice should include the following components:[6]

  • Slow and flowing music, approximately 60 to 80 beats per minute
  • Nonlyrical
  • Maximum volume level at 60 dB
  • Patient’s own choice, with guidance
  • Suitable equipment chosen for the specific situation
  • A minimum duration of 30 minutes in length
  • Measurement, follow up, and documentation of the effects

[1] Sunitha Suresh BS, De Oliveira GS, and Suresh S.  The effect of audio therapy to treat postoperative pain in children undergoing major surgery: a randomized controlled trial.  Pediatric Surgery International, 2015 31:197-201.

[2] Mitchell LA and MacDonald RA. An experimental investigation of the effects of preferred and relaxing music listening on pain perception. Journal of Music Therapy, 2006; 43(4):295-316.

[3] Pinkerton J.  The Sound of Healing.  Las Vegas: SeminarConcerts International, Inc., 1996.

[4] Hsieh C, Kong J, Kirsch I, Edwards RR, Jensen KB, et al.  Well-loved music robustly relieves pain: a randomized, controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9(9): e107390. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107390.

[5] Blood A and Zatorre RJ. Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2001; 98(20):11818-23.

[6] Nilsson U.  The anxiety- and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review. AORN Journal, 2008; 87(4):780-807.

A moment of creativity and meaning

This delightful message by Arthur Hull, father of the modern day drum circle, shows how we can bring creativity and meaning to even the most mundane of moments – as he transforms a family’s experience in an airport line and helps those around him to rediscover the rhythmical spirit that naturally flows through us as children.

Hello my friends,

…So many of my spontaneous rhythm experiences have been with bored kids doing what they naturally do to pass the time while their patients are getting them from one place to the next…

…I am waiting in the usual airport rope line to go through security to get to the flight gates. It is the kind of airport rope line line that weaves back and forth in order to put the most people in the smallest amount of space. Your always facing two lines of people until you get to the front of the line. One line of people facing are in line behind you, and other line is facing you in the line that is in front of you. A lot of people queued up in a small space.

There is a family of four in line in front of me.

Each of the two boys in this family are seated next to each other in upscale 3 wheeled baby buggies. The father in front dragging the hand held luggage and the mother is behind the boys pushing both baby buggies. I’m behind the Mother.

The oldest boy, 3 or 4 years old, has a plastic fork in one hand and a plastic spoon in the other.  He is beating the butt of their plastic handles down on the buggy tray in front of him, making nice rhythmical sound. (It is a nice sound to me anyway.)

It went like this:

Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •   Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •  ……

His little brother is sitting next to him, with one hand formed into a finger gun pointed at his brother, while making rhythmical gun sounds as he shot his brother.

“Bam” goes the imaginary gun.

What is amazing to me, ( and probably not conscious to the brothers), is they are in perfect sound/rhythm entrainment;

It sounds like this;

Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •   Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •  ……
Bam                      Bam                        Bam                      Bam                       ……

It seemed that no one else but the mother is being irritated by their rhythmical interaction. So before she could stop them, I vocally joined in with a rhythmical syncopated “Peek”.  I did to softly at first, so as to not surprise the boys or disturb their rhythm.

I am closer to the mom than the boys so she picked up that I had joined the boys rhythm ensemble.

I believe that her mothering radar was on, and I am sure that she only hears that her boys might be disturbing the other people in the lines around them. She does not hear the “Sound entrainment” that they are creating, until, that is, I Join in.

Now our rhythm ensemble sounds like this:

Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum  •   Da • DaDum Dum Dum Dum Dum   •  …… Older Boy
Bam                      Bam                        Bam                      Bam                    •  …… Younger Brother
Peek                       Peek                      Peek                       Peek         •  …… Arthur Elf

Hearing my contribution to the boys rhythm I see that she understands what is happening and literally steps back to make room to let it happen.

I am not sure if the boys ever really heard my sound contribution, but it was a lot of fun. Our interned rhythm lasted over one and a half minutes before the younger brother got tired of shooting his older brother. But until he stopped, he never got out of sync with his brother, even on his last “Bam”.

After the younger stopped Bamming, I stopped Peeking.  At the end of the next rhythm cycle, the mother stopped the older brother’s DaDumming by taking away his plastic cutlery.

A small group of people in the lines surrounding us, gives us a quiet round of applause.

And then we all go back to being travelers in an airport security line.

Life is a dance….

When meds fail: The case for music therapy

In this heartfelt  and impassioned TED Talk, entitled, “When Meds Fail: The Case for Music Therapy,” board certified music therapist Tim Ringgold shares how he got to be the musical transformation for his young daughter’s passage into and out of this world.

Tim says: “When meds fail, the docs prescribe music.”

In describing his work with patients:  “I am meeting them inside the music.”

in describing his work as a music therapist:  “I stand at the intersection of art and science. And I get to administer music as medicine.”

Click here to view the video: “When Meds Fail: The Case for Music Therapy”.


Music also has the power to transform by giving voice to our feelings.

The following story describes the meaning in the choices of songs by an older man facing death.  The story is followed by an audio testimonial by a mom of how music therapy helped give voice to the feelings of her daughter, who she lost to cancer.

Both stories are from the American Music Therapy Association website.

The Transformative Power of Working with People Who Are Facing Death

“Our work as music therapists never stops giving us powerful experiences and lessons. This seems to be magnified when spending one’s days with people who are facing death. With this experience, music therapists are sensitized to the extreme emotions surrounding death, and can empathize with these patients and their families.

“I had the privilege of working with an older man, who I’ll refer to as Mr. Smith, and who dearly touched my heart. Countless patients of mine have touched me, but Mr. Smith will remain in my memory as vividly as I saw him in the very hours we spent together.

“At the end of life, there is a certain amount of one’s will that determines when one dies. I have seen people hold on to their lives with extreme pain and labored breathing, for weeks, just to reconcile a broken relationship with a loved one. That being said, there is simply no substitute for the beautiful and seamless opportunity that music therapy provides for people to complete their lives with dignity.

“Music allowed Mr. Smith to die peacefully. The two songs that he specifically requested conveyed the messages he needed to share before departing from this world. Music therapy provided him the crucial opportunity or medium to express what he felt.

“Since Mr. Smith was in a great deal of pain at the end of his life, we never engaged in very formal lyric analysis; however, Mr. Smith naturally expressed his analysis of these songs in small, intermittent statements during our sessions.

“The first song he requested was Send In The Clowns, by Stephen Sondheim. This song, to Mr. Smith, highlighted the gross irony that, in stark contrast to the beauty and potential happiness in this world, there is often great emotional and physical pain in our final hours. The grand exit and culmination of our lives is often marked “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Elliot so poignantly writes. It is a cold reality; a cruel joke that often leaves us bitter. Send in the Clowns validated and beautifully conveyed feelings for Mr. Smith when he could not. He said “I used to be able to sing and dance, and now-” he paused and closed his eyes, wincing from a shooting pain- “well, I’m here in this place.” “This place” was where people came to die. Mr. Smith knew that, because, in addition to being fully alert and oriented, he had a sister who had passed away there just two years before.

“The second song he requested was “Try to Remember,” from the Broadway musical The Fantastiks. This is a beautiful song that he particularly wanted his family to hear. There are several lines in this song that Mr. Smith highlighted by mouthing the words to his wife:

“Try to remember… and follow.”
“Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow.”

“I’ve wondered what Mr. Smith’s room would’ve been like without music therapy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith had four children- one who’d been estranged- all of whom were quite anxious. No one’s anxiety exceeded that of his wife, however. I was able to witness the facilitation of tears, hugs, and precious family interactions by our music therapy sessions together.

“I’ve also wondered how my life would be without the experience and privilege of working with Mr. Smith. It is impossible to know for sure, but I can say that I am better able to keep an eye on the big picture of my life after working with him.

“My time with Mr. Smith instilled in me a powerfully transformative thought. The music of our lives remains long after our bodies pass away; the love contained therein is eternal and will last beyond our pain.

Written by Sharon Graham, MM, MT-BC

 The Gift of Music Therapy During My Daughter’s Battle with Cancer

“When Allison would peek through the window of our hospital room door, guitar in hand, we would heave a sigh of relief and wave her in… Music has the power to transport the listener.” Listen to this 3-minute testimonial from Jefri Franks, the mom of a child who received music therapy services throughout her fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Jefri shares highlights of music therapy helped her family find outlets and insights through their “harrowing journey.”

Note: Current AMTA members can find a more detailed discussion of her family’s experiences with music therapy in the AMTA-pro podcast series.


UCLA Integrative Medicine Conference 2014: Creative Arts Therapies Panel

Click here to view the creative arts therapies panel.

Integrative Medicine in the Community through the Creative Arts Therapies:  Experiential Panel Presentations on Creative Arts Therapies at the UCLA Integrative Medicine Conference – March 1, 2014

The creative arts therapies offer accessible, nonverbal and universal tools for facilitating emotional and physical health through a focus on the process of expression, rather than performance or product. The creative arts therapies can offer a humanizing complement to increasingly technological medical care, that can enhance the environment of medicine and address the increasing societal health care burden from chronic diseases rooted in emotions and behavior.

A panel of clinician/scholars from four creative arts therapy disciplines (art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, and music therapy) demonstrate how and why the creative arts therapies are so effective as an integrative medicine discipline.  This remarkable presentation features the layering on of each art form in an experiential presentation.

The 2014 Conference for Integrative Medicine panel presenters include:

Ping Ho, MA, MPH (Moderator) – Founding Director, UCLArts and Healing; Steering Committee member, UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine; member of the Council of Advisers for the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care.

Erica Curtis, MFT, ATR-BC – Past President of the Southern California Art Therapy Association; past board member of the American Art Therapy Association; Instructor at Loyola Marymount University Department of Marital and Family Therapy with specialized training in Clinical Art Therapy.  Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Board Certified Art Therapist

John Mews, MA, MTA, MFT Registered Intern – Executive Director and Founder: Mewsic Moves; Board Certified Music Therapist, Marriage and Family Therapy Registered Intern; Special Needs Family and Parenting Coach.

Mimi Savage
, PhD Candidate, RDT – Southern California Chapter President of the North American Drama Therapy Association; Registered Drama Therapist; Drama Therapy Fund Professional Research Grant Recipient for 2014; Instructor for UCLArts and Healing SEA Program.

Lora Wilson Mau, MA, BC-DMT – President of the California Chapter of the American Dance Therapy Association; Lecturer at California State University, Long Beach, Department of Dance.  Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist.

Music therapy for recovery from brain injury: the remarkable story of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords


Photo of Giffords undergoing music therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. The image is from her interview in November 2011 with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20.


This PBS clip brings attention to the efficacy of music therapy in recovery from brain injury. For example, language can be accessed through music pathways in the brain because music and language are stored together, and music is stored in both hemispheres of the brain.

The benefits of music therapy for brain injury received increased attention as a result of the video-documented recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose family credits music therapy for her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.

According to Eric Walden, who teaches music therapy at University of the Pacific, sometimes it’s easier for people who have had a brain injury to sing words than say them. He describes music therapy as a serving as a “cerebral bypass” around damaged areas of the brain, allowing someone to regain mobility or speech. He further explains that while music is universally helpful to all, music therapy specifically involves a therapeutic relationship and the intentional use of music for non-musical goals. (These statements are documented in a PBS video entitled, The Healing Power of Music , 2/27/12.)

Click here to view the remarkable footage of a music therapist working with Rep. Giffords. Fast forward to the middle of the clip in order to see the actual work with Rep. Giffords. This footage features commentary by neurologist Oliver Sacks, MD.

Music improves behavior and memory in Alzheimer’s patients


The UCLA Tunes for Alzheimer’s Patients program provides music to residents of nursing homes to improve memory and behavior, such as depression, apathy, agitation frustration, poor eating, and difficulty sleeping.   This program is a collaboration between the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA and a national nonprofit organization, Music & Memory.

The program seeks donations of ipods and mp3 players, itunes gift cards, headphones, and other audio-related equipment..

Click here to read the UCLA Vital Signs publication on the Tunes for Alzheimer’s Patients program in which Joshua Grill, PhD (assistant professor of neurology and director of the Katherine and Benjamin Kagan Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment Development Program at UCLA’s Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research) shares what is known about the therapeutic benefits of music or patients with forms of dementia.

Click here to view the companion video that features an interview with Dr. Grill, some patients and their partners.

Click here to view a video clip of a man with Alzheimer’s who becomes verbally responsive upon hearing his favorite music on an ipod. This clip is from the documentary film, Alive inside.