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The Healing of Music

Updated: Feb 27

Behind pretty much everything I do, there is music. Even sitting down to write this post, music is playing in the background. Day in and day out I sit with young musicians, helping them find their way through the music they're learning, getting to know their instrument as well as the theory and history of it all. It seems that no matter how much I talk to people about music, no matter how much we boil it down to keys, time signatures and patterns, there is always magic in it. Even if we know the names of every chord, or we know that this sounds "happy" or "sad", it never detracts from the ephemeral realms that music offers.

I've played in a lot of concerts and productions, and have seen the behind the scenes of the music industry that are rarely as glamorous as the unobstructed view the audience receives. I have every reason to be jaded when it comes to music and performance, and yet, no matter how stressful the day, I always find myself coming home and listening to music.

As a counsellor, I most frequently use expressive arts therapy with clients. Sometimes, that means using music. It wasn't until very recently though that I realized just how healing music every aspect of music can be. Engaging with music isn't just about feeling better or distracted. It is about feeling through, and it is about being deeply understood. In therapeutic settings, one of our greatest tools is the metaphor. The ability to create an experiential reference point for others to join us in our story connects us in a way that simply explaining something often does not. With music, the metaphor is alive. It is a palpable living, breathing entity that exists in the present. One of the beautiful things that music offers as an artistic medium is its presence. Yes, we can record a performance. But music demands that we experience its emotional content in a stream of consciousness manner, rather than digesting something static and unmoving. Music doesn't just encapsulate the human experience of tension, release and meaning making, it walks us through that experience second by second. Together, we can feel in perfect synchronicity, and we must stay present with it for there is nothing else to look at, feel or hear but what is happening right now. This, in its essence, its a mindfulness practice. It is also a subsidy for those of us who may not feel comfortable feeling our present experience. It offers us an experience of the present moment at arms length, just safe enough for us to engage with it, share in the communal feeling of it with someone (or many people), and be returned to ourselves at the piece's completion.

Sometimes that gentle, slightly external experience allows us to feel into parts of ourselves that would ordinarily be too triggering. Sometimes, even the music gets too close and overwhelms us.

Side angle view of an upright piano in sepia tone

I was working with a student recently and it occurred to me that even the formats that music can take offer different healing experiences. Music can be read from a sheet, it can be copied by ear, it can be memorized, it can be improvised by an individual, or improvised within a group dynamic. It can become a perfectionistic pursuit. It can be pure joy.

I also considered the many ways that people engage with making music. For some, it's a passion. They create music from their creative essence. Music is the flower that they bloom, and part of how they nourish their world. For some, it is a hobby. Somewhere to go and try something new, to create a new possibility within themselves and to witness themselves taking up space by creating sound and harmony. Some make music when they don't want to at all, they were simply told they had to. I see a lot of those people in the present day, and also in their future when they come back to rekindle something and rewrite the narrative on what this outlet can mean to them. For others, it is a career. It is something that demands their every ounce of attention and a high degree of elitism. Many of these experiences mirror healing journeys. Something forced on us that we never asked for, but can reclaim and re-narrate. Something we dabble in for general enjoyment in life. Something we become obsessed with.

As a musician, I thought most deeply resonated with the constant pursuit of elite perfection. And yet...recently as I've been playing piano more in between lessons I give, I've found some sense of deep satisfaction just being able to play the music that makes my heart sing. Of course, I like to play all the right notes. But it's not for perfection anymore, it's because the right notes are the final details in my metaphor, extra detail that facilitates my expression being better understood. Another thing I noticed was that I dislike improvising, and generally prefer to play from sheet music. It wasn't until a recent lesson I was teaching that I realized, sheet music provides a sense of safety. Like the therapeutic relationship or a group container, within those ten lines, there is a sense of safety. Someone is telling me what to do, and all I have to do is follow along. Improvising is vulnerable. It is an acknowledgement that my creative essence is inherently welcome to take up space. I wonder what that says about me in my healing journey, and what I can learn from music and the bravery it asks of me?

I desperately believe in music. I believe in its ability to speak to emotions that have no name. I believe in its ability to hold us and allow us to take our first tentative steps towards experiencing safe vulnerability and intimacy with our heartfelt souls. I also believe it allows us to heal from relational and power wounding by showing us, in the present moment, that we can take up space and make noise without it being dangerous. This is why as a music teacher I am so gentle. There are people who pursue music to see their flowers bloom, and there are others who are just trying to encourage some form of sprout at all - I am not the one who gets to decide which is which though, so I always lean towards nurturing until I know for sure.

Music is the birdsong of humanity. May that we all find the simplicity of living that allows us to tilt our face to the sky and sing for no other reason than we feel like it, and to know that our world is made all the more joyful as a result.

Thank you for reading!

I am accepting new clients for in person Healing Oriented Music Lessons! I am not a Music Therapist, however if you're curious to use expressive arts and creative mediums in a counselling setting, please visit to book a session!

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