Music to the rescue | Sunday Observer
When words cannot express

Music to the rescue

21 November, 2021

Isn’t it fascinating how hearing a particular song can lift your mood, make you feel relaxed, happy or bring back a special memory? Researchers have found that even sad songs have a positive effect on our brain. It is said that people are born with the ability to recognise the difference between noise and music. For a matter of fact, our brains have the ability to process different parts of music including melody, pitch, rhythm and tempo.

Studies have shown that when you hear music or a song that you like, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine that has positive effects on our mood. Consequently, we can agree that music has the power to move us, but it has also been proved that music brings along many health benefits too.

Music being used as a therapy is currently popular worldwide even though there is limited access to it in Sri Lanka. Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualised goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can address a variety of healthcare and educational goals such as promoting wellness, managing pain, alleviating pain, expressing feelings, enhancing memory and improving communication. Using music as a therapeutic intervention is yet to become popular in Sri Lanka, but learning music has been beneficial for all people especially for children throughout the years.


Music Director, Soundarie David Rodrigo, one of Sri Lanka’s well known musicians and also founder of Sri Lanka’s premiere female ensemble Soul Sounds in 2000, said music benefits all children in many ways. Soul Sounds Academy was set up with the objective of giving talented young children the opportunity to excel in music, with opportunities to perform both locally and internationally. Classes are conducted by its Director, as well as qualified and experienced teachers in voice, piano, violin, guitar, special needs as well as theory of music and Musical Theatre.

“I am no specialist when it comes to music therapy, but all I can say is from personal experience - music has been very therapeutic for me and in many ways helped me to deal with life. It can be not merely feeling relaxed listening to music, but playing, performing and planning. Makes you also stay focused in a more relaxing way. Music can help in many ways, in dealing with stress of life’s challenges to being more focused and also a balance in life,”

Researches have shown that children with autism spectrum disorder who received music therapy showed improvement in social responses, communication skills, and attention skills. Soundarie found her inspiration to begin music for special needs children in 2012, when she was a judge at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati USA. “There was a choir of children with special needs who performed and this really touched my heart. Not just to see them sing, but seeing them so full of life, energy and joy on stage.

Their performance made me more determined to help children who were special in Sri Lanka, through music, because I witnessed how happy music made those children on that particular day at the competition. So this is what inspired me to start music classes at Soul Sounds Academy for children with special needs. At the Academy we do have one on one classes for those who need music as therapy specifically but over and above, the specialised training we give including access to many events, new projects and performances is in itself therapeutic,” she said.

Making better human beings

Soundarie believes that music can improve cognition, lessen anxiety and improves memory in children added to many other benefits. “My love for music inspired me to start teaching and also making music with others. So through the many choirs, ensemble playing and solo playing or of learning an instrument, I have seen children not only build their musical skills but become better human beings, building confidence, able to do team work, time management, being able to cope with multi-tasking and being able to stay calm despite challenges.

These are some of the benefits I have not merely seen myself, but all the children at the Soul Sounds Academy have built their own unique personalities through music. Sometimes students who hardly spoke, who were quite shy, have opened up thanks to music,” she added.

“Music cuts through any barrier and speaks where words cannot. So it benefits not just those in need of special attention but everyone. In fact as human beings we all need that special attention, and through music I feel we are able to connect at another level and that to me is extremely important. So be it learning an instrument, learning to sing, singing in a choir, following classes on music appreciation, recording, performing at a concert or taking part in a competition, the element of music and the preparation that leads to this builds character and through it helps confidence. So I think by taking up an activity like music, not merely to do exams, but actually be a part of a culture where you appreciate good music and are able to perform as well, helps you in many ways. At Soul Sounds Academy, we will continue exploring new avenues of connecting with young children and young adults to come together through music,” Soundarie added.

Special-Needs children

Psychologist and musician, Amandhi Caldera who works with special-needs children at Soul Sounds Academy added that children with autism connect very well with music. “Studies have shown that children with autism respond to music well. There have been instances where children did not settle with any other extracurricular activities but when they took up music and came for singing they were able to join with activities and they were really motivated,” she said.

Caldera said singing is a group activity that helps children stay connected with each other. “Music becomes the common platform for all children to bond. We have seen children helping out special needs children, holding their hands, teaching the actions, being patient when they climb or run out of the door. Music enables them to connect and also help each other. Children improve their confidence, especially children with special needs,” she said.

She added that music is a creative expression and when the human mind goes to a point of creativity the mind relaxes. “Music helps you relax. It also helps children to improve social interactions. Playing instruments or taking up music will benefit children in numerous ways,” she said.

Sri Lankan representative of the Australian Guild Music and Speech Exam Board, Australia, Suwani Rodrigo also confirmed that music plays a vital role in moulding a child’s personality. “Plato has said man is born musical. This is very evident in the way infants react to music which has a soothing effect on them. Therefore, it is very important to expose them to music at an early age. Music calms them and makes them peaceful. Hence it is very clear that a country devoid of violence depends on opportunities it provides for children to learn music,” she said.

Australian Guild Music and speech exam Board, Sri Lanka Centre is a provider of multifaceted music and speech education headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. It is a non-profitable organisation which was started in 1969 which gives special attention to vulnerable and disadvantaged students.

“We organize an international festival annually for young performers. The aim of the festival is to help the children to develop their talents and also to foster a sense of encouragement and enthusiasm, emphasizing that the achievement is in the effort of the performer rather than in the final placing. There is a tendency among the parents in Sri Lanka to create a sense of competition among young children. But our music festival does not emphasize on competition-based activities which burdens young children. Hence, we create a free atmosphere in our festivals which enables children to perform freely without any stress,” she said.


Rodrigo added that there are a number of reasons for a child to learn music. “One of the main reasons is that it helps the child to develop brain function. Different studies have shown that the study of music can benefit a child’s overall mental development. Figures show that students who study music are more successful on standardised tests and also likely to achieve better grades in high school. Further, research revealed that musical training physically develops the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language and reasoning,” she said.

“Another reason for a child to learn music is that it helps a child to focus and relieve stress. Playing an instrument or being in a musical class demands total attention. Because of this music is a great stress relieving tool that helps to calm the mind and enhance concentration. Music has helped many children to concentrate on their studies and to face the challenges they were confronted with especially during the time of Covid-19 pandemic when they were restricted to their homes,” she said.

Rodrigo said a child who learns music can understand mathematics better as mathematics and music are quite similar. She said that when children learn rhythm, they are learning rations, fractions and proportions. Hence music could be a great way of learning mathematics in an artistic way.

“Music also helps a child to boost self-confidence by improving their abilities, learning a specific instrument and thereby achieving their goals. Children can feel very satisfied and this can greatly improve their self-esteem. Taking risks and facing challenges is essential for a child in order to fully develop his or her potential.

Music trains the minds of a child to face the challenges of life with confidence. Music plays an important role in the development of Special- Needs children. Music therapy helps special-needs children in a number of ways. It helps in articulation and vocalization, increases vocabulary, increases bilateral coordination, improves social interactions, enhances confidence, helps fight stress and improve sleep,” she said.

Rodrigo said to get the benefits of music, children and parents must work hard by incorporating music into their routine and play. “Children should not be forced to study music. Instead, they should be encouraged. It is an undeniable truth that children who take interest in learning music become more healthy, creative, affable and confident individuals who work with a sense of dedication and determination to achieve their goals,” she said.

Australian Guild Music and Speech Exam Board, Sri Lanka Centre, Music Consultant, Lasantha Fernando who has decades of experience in the field added that music activates both the logical and creative sides of the brain. “Music also helps to build neural connections in the brains of children. It helps the children enhance their creativity. Children can improve their motor skills through music and these skills make them more creative. 'Musical kids' are smarter, confident, creative, and disciplined compared to others,” he said.

“During the pandemic we experienced that the children who were involved were less stressed and depressed. Music can keep a child cheered up. It will also help them to lessen their loneliness. Music elevates mood and boosts the brain's production of hormone dopamine and that is the reason why music therapy is often used as a successful way to treat various physical, emotional, cognitive and social issues.

According to researchers it can lessen pain, reduce depression and decrease anxiety. The parents' involvement in helping children learn music lessons should be in a positive and moderate way by helping the child experience music as an enjoyable subject and the child should never be forced to study it,” he concluded.

Though more studies are needed to confirm the potential mental and physical health benefits of music, listening to a song, strumming on a guitar, humming a song or playing the piano will definitely profit anyone irrespective of age, religion or culture