Blog post – Music, the brain, and Aesthetics

Music, the brain, and Aesthetics

While studying the different ways our brain processes music and music learning, one interesting concept that I came across was that we all have a preconceived cognitive schema, not only for music, but for just about just about everything else. A schema shapes our expectations about how a certain thing should be. In simple terms, a schema is our familiarity with a particular subject. We all probably have our own schema of music. When some of us here the word “music” we might think of the latest top 40 charts, such as Wrecking Ball, and some of us might think of a Beethoven symphony. A schema is important because it frames our understanding and our interpretation of familiar aesthetic objects.

This concept is greatly applicable to music therapy. From the moment I first read about music therapy, I had a schema formed for what I thought the profession was, and it’s incredible to look back and see how much that schema has been altered and changed already. It’s safe to say that after starting my internship here, my schema for music therapy is completely different than it was before, and is  still constantly changing.



Improvisation is a free performance done with little or no preparation. It is often seen in Jazz music and in Eastern traditional music. The differences between a composed song and an improvised song is that the improvised song is not written and it takes place in real time. Improvisation can be individual or it can be a group activity.

Studies show that “improvisational music therapy was more effective at facilitating joint attention behaviors and non-verbal social communication skills in children than in play (with toys, etc).”  It also has been shown to produce “significantly more and lengthier events of eye contact and turn-taking.” (Kim, Wigram, Gold, 2008.)

How does this work? This video gives a great explanation. MRI results show that when a person is improvising, the same area of the brain used in speech and social communication is lit up.

I have personally seen the power of improvisation in real life.  I have seen people who have difficulty communicating through speech improvise on an instrument and the music is powerful and full of emotion.  It’s as if those people have a lot to say just waiting inside of them but they cannot always express it through speech.  Improvisation gives them the opportunity to communicate and express emotion in alternate ways.

Mary Jane

Meet the Intern Behind the Posts: Mary Jane

Mary Jane Dibble is currently a music therapy intern for the Music Therapy Center of California. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy from Utah State University. She previously earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Utah.
Mary Jane’s primary instrument is the violin. She is also proficient in piano and guitar. She has provided music therapy to adults with mental health disorders, older adults with dementia, children with special needs, and hospital patients. Additionally she has performed in community bands and ensembles.
Mary Jane’s Story
“Music has always brought a lot of joy into my life and serves as a great motivator. When I turn on good music, it’s like a mini vacation away from the stresses of life. My favorite part about music therapy is seeing the joy that music can bring and the changes for the better that music can make in people’s lives.”

Word of the Week – Clients

Client – a person or organization using the services of a professional person or company

I’m very glad that I got this word for my blog entry. I find that a big part of the purpose of these blog entries is to look at a word, usually a musical word, and see how it relates or apply to my work as a music therapy intern. Well, it doesn’t get more applicable than the word “clients” because that is exactly what I’m in this job for. There are many parts that I love about this internship. I love being able to say that I get to play drums and guitar with kids, teenagers, and elderly people for my job, but there is so much more to it than that. I am in music therapy for many different reasons, but to help improve the lives of my clients, above all. This job has a lot of pleasant parts as well as difficult parts, and that is one thing that I can say keeps me going through a lot of the stresses and challenges of this position; knowing that at the end of the day, I am doing this to help improve the quality of someone’s life.