By Zenisha Shah, CEI Writer and Counselor at Innisfree House School
Living in a world changing at unimaginable speed and filled with uncertainty can be exhausting and challenging. We are facing uncertain challenges of a global pandemic, climate change, and violence, that touches people of all ages, genders, races, and nationalities. Words are not enough to describe this shared experience of intense emotions. A language as universal as music and compassion is needed to express and help us overcome these challenges. Music is part of every culture, a way of emotional expression, entertainment, celebration, and storytelling. Researchers have been exploring how and why music can help us cope and act as a ray of hope.
Music Helps us Cope
Dealing with constant uncertainty can be overwhelming and stressful for everyone, especially youth. We are all looking for tools to help us cope, express strong emotions, and destress. Research across decades indicates that music can help us destress as well as increase emotional wellbeing (Hallam, 2010). Music can have a calming effect and reduce fear, sadness, and anxious thoughts in children (Zenin, 2016; Belapurkar, 2017). Lyrics can also function as positive affirmations and help lift our spirit (Zenin, 2016). Today, when physical distancing is the new norm, tools that facilitate emotional intimacy, like music, can act as a social glue, helping us cope better.
Music, a Universal Language
Research suggests that music has the potential to connect us, reminding us that we are not alone in this journey (Zenin, 2016; Grahn, Bauer, & Zamm, 2020). Over the past few months, global news has reminded us of the power of music to bring us together, be it Italian residents singing from their window during their pandemic lockdown; New Yorkers playing and humming to The Beatles from their windows; Spanish police singing on patrol; or Indians using steel plates, conch shells, and applause to thank the frontline workers from their balconies . At a time of extreme distress, this music making gives us a sense of purpose and helps us feel connected. Listening to music lights up our brain’s neural systems and is a natural reflex for us to join in (Grahn, Bauer, & Zamm, 2020).
Psychology of Music (2012) supports this view and highlights that interacting through music not only helps us connect with each other, but also makes us more empathetic. Interacting through music helps us stay emotionally attuned to each other (Rabinowitch et al., 2012). Music can be used in classrooms, to help our students feel more connected and empathetic towards each other (Laird, 2015). Rhythmic exercises, music games, and making music together can help children recognize others’ emotions better, gives a sense of shared purpose, and creates a space for mutual honesty that is not limited by linguistic skills (University of Cambridge, 2012). You can read more about the applications of music in the classroom in our blog “In a World of Noise, Music is the Answer.”
This universal and binding language of music can act as a crutch to help our children and educators walk towards a more compassionate future. During these challenging and changing times, music can help educators and students connect and share, working together to create a vessel to hold our emotions. Music, which has always been a tool of expression, can now be used as a tool for enhanced creativity, collaboration, and compassion. Together we can, one song at a time!
Ashley, M. (2020). Children and school singing during the COVID-19-pandemic. Music Mark.
Belapurkar, A. (2017). Music for emotional and social development of child. Scholarly Research Journal, 4(30), 32-37
Brewer, J. ( 2020) Helping your kids face their uncertainty. Elemental.
Children’s medical group. (2018). Children and music benefits of music in child development.
Cherry, K. (2019). 10 surprising psychological benefits of music. Verywell mind blog.
Grahn, J., Bauer, A.R., & Zamm, A. (2020). Music-making brings us together during the coronavirus pandemic. The Conversation.
Hallam, S., (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education, 28.
Kennelly, S,.(2012) Does Playing Music Boost Kids’ Empathy? Greater Good Magazine.
Laird, L. (2015). Empathy in the classroom. Music Educators Journal 101(4),56-61
Rose, D. (2017). How music benefits children. The Conversation.
Rabinowitch,T. R., Cross, I., & Burnard, P. (2012). Long-term musical group interaction has a positive influence on empathy in children. Psychology of Music, 41(4),484-498.
Suttie, J. (2018). Music and empathy brain. Greater Good Magazine.
University of Cambridge. (2012). Music of kindness: playing together strengthens empathy in children.
Vandinther, J. (2020). How music therapy is helping some manage pandemic stress. CTV News.
Zenin, G. (2016). The power of music: Enhancing young children’s wellbeing. Care for Kids.