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Are violins used in music therapy?

Music therapy is a field experiencing significant growth due to its positive impacts on people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, depression, autism spectrum disorders, dementia, and other psychological, cognitive, physical, and social challenges. A type of expressive arts therapy, music therapy includes a variety of activities, such as listening to music, singing, and playing a musical instrument.

The therapeutic use of music has been able to help some individuals in ways that other more traditional forms of therapy have not. Perhaps a person has difficulty expressing him or herself verbally but may demonstrate a greater degree of interest as well as engagement in music therapy.

Music therapist and violinist Nicky Haire is a passionate advocate of using the violin in music therapy. Like other violinists, she finds playing the violin to be a “very physically affecting experience”; the violin rests just above the heart and for her, particular notes will often resonate physically. The timbre of a violin, its tone, and musical versatility, according to Haire, bring all sorts of different possibilities for its use in a music therapy session.

Sheet music

Listen to the sounds

In a book entitled “Flute, Accordion, or Clarinet?”, Haire, along with other instrumentalists, has written about some of the more important experiences she has had as a music therapist when she was able to connect with someone by using her violin.

One example from her musical therapy sessions with a group of older people involved a woman who was wheelchair bound and non-communicative, but indicated to Haire that she wanted to hold the violin. With Haire’s assistance holding the violin, the woman began to draw the bow across the strings. The rest of the group started to hum and sing along with her “playing.” At the end of the session, the woman thanked Haire for letting her try the violin. This was the first time that Haire had heard the woman speak!

Not only does the violin provide the opportunity for people to make sounds with the bow on the strings, but it can be tactilely stimulating as well. Being able to hold the violin and bow, to place fingers on the fingerboard, or pluck the strings, can be just as relaxing as listening to or making music for some people.

Feel the timeless instrument

Through interactive music therapy, people can achieve non-musical goals by using the power of music. They can then transfer these new skills and abilities to other areas of their lives.

According to Haire, the violin has a lot to offer in music therapy. Studies with Alzheimer’s patients have shown that playing the violin can help with improvements in mood and other neuropsychiatric functions in relation to learning a new skill. Haire has observed that learning about the violin has enabled trust and given people -- from autistic boys to teenagers experiencing emotional difficulties to older individuals suffering from dementia -- a sense of empowerment.

Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Johnson String Project

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