The Use of Music During Grief Resolution (Part 1)

By: Tony Falzano
Monday, November 9, 2015

Tony Falzano, writer, composer and grief specialist, shares in his first of three articles how music can be healing. He writes: Several years ago, I wrote an article that appeared on this site titled, "Music: A Friend to those that Grieve". Since then, people have asked me what are the specific healing qualities within the music and how do you use music to help you work through grief?

These are good questions: how do sounds, floating in air, in no tangible form, foster healing for the physical body?

Well, one of the major ways that music assists us during grief resolution is that it can be so engaging and interesting, mesmerizing and absorbing that it can actually divert our attention away from what troubles our mind and body. Music can be a distraction.

 by Tony Falzano

Several years ago, I wrote an article that appeared on this site titled, "Music: A Friend to those that Grieve". Since then, people have asked me what are the specific healing qualities within the music and how do you use music to help you work through grief?

These are good questions: how do sounds, floating in air, in no tangible form, foster healing for the physical body?

Well, one of the major ways that music assists us during grief resolution is that it can be so engaging and interesting, mesmerizing and absorbing that it can actually divert our attention away from what troubles our mind and body. Music can be a distraction.

The first time I can remember observing music in this way, was my senior year of college. I took a psychology course where the professor had each student commit to be of service to a specific population of the community. Being a songwriter, I offered to play piano and sing to the residents of a nursing home near the college. I performed songs, such as, "You're Sixteen", "Bye, Bye Blackbird" and a bouquet of musical theatre tunes that the residents would recognize from earlier in their life. From my piano bench, I saw them hum and tap their fingers on the handle of their wheelchairs. A few kept the beat by rocking their heads back and forth like a metronome. I also noticed how the music temporarily changed their mood and attitude. Towards the end of the semester one nurse commented, "They like it when you play. It takes them out of their world for a while." And it was true; the music made it easy for them to focus their attention away from their surroundings.

Every day we see music act as a diversion, especially in places where people feel uncomfortable. This includes the nurse's office in elementary schools where children go when they are sick and their mothers are not around. Elevators are another place you'll hear music. It calms the nervous passenger who is leaving the ground at a rapid speed. Music also helps people to relax in recovery rooms of hospitals. In addition, ever been to the dentist office and not hear easy listening music? Why? As in all of these situations, music distracts the person from their uneasy surroundings.

It's no secret that we make a strong connection to music and align ourselves to it the second we hear it. Hearing up-tempo, beat oriented music will accompany us while we exercise and will put us in a partying mood. In contrast, listening to less aggressive music will relax the mind and slow the body down so other benefits can occur. These benefits include reducing muscle tension, anxiety and pain, regulating the individual's heartbeat and pulse, relieving nausea and easing depression. These symptoms often accompany grief. 

There are 2 ways we are in contact with music; we can hear it or we can listen to it. Hearing music means it plays while we do something else. We ‘hear' it play in the background while we clean the house, study or work on the computer. Listening to music is just that, listening and giving it our undivided attention. Though hearing music is advantageous at times, listening to music can temporarily direct our attention away from what bothers us.

So one key way to experience musical notes turning into healing notes is to spend time listening to it. You can select music that will play long enough for the time you have allowed. Feel free to put on some loose fitting clothes to help you relax. Position yourself in a comfortable chair. Take a few slow, deep breaths and close your eyes. Focus on the music. Listen to the melody as it rises and falls. I like to listen to the main theme as it develops, especially when other instruments are added and the musical intensity increases. You can hum along with the song. I've known individuals who identify the different instrument(s) featured. Others will pick one instrument and follow its part throughout the composition. You can soak in the musical emotions of the piece; what is the story in the song? You can also become more involved by picturing yourself playing one of the instruments or conducting the orchestra. Still other people will use the music to transport to a pleasant, peaceful, quiet place, such as walking a path through a forest or sitting on a shore looking out to the ocean.

You may find that as you listen you recall meaningful moments with your loved one. People will watch a movie in their minds. Music is the catalyst for their movies. When the music sounds sad, some see the unhappy times with the individual who passed on. When the music is brighter, they viewed the happier times. This allows the musical meaning to help you work through grief.

Some people want to know what style of music works best when listening with the intent to relax and distract. There really is no right choice; the music just needs to bring you pleasure. However, there are several styles of music that are popular for healing. If you are open to listening to music that is less melodic and more abstract, there is a wide variety of ambient and sound-scape music. They are specifically designed to center us with smooth, tranquil sounds. There is also cinematic music which sounds as if it belongs in a movie. This music stirs our imagination as it promotes relaxation. Classical, jazz and new age compositions can be soothing while offering listening pleasure. You'll find many songs in these genres are instrumentals. Some listeners gravitate to the non-lyrical pieces because they are less distracting, less preachy and simpler to listen to.

Music can be a distraction. And focusing our attention on the music can alter our mood so we relax the body; unwind the mind, experience joy and entertainment all in one sitting. And similar to the residents of the nursing home where I played many years ago, listening to music can temporarily swerve us, "out of our world for a while." And there is still another element that music provides during the times we travel the road of grief. But I will explore this with you in my next article in February. I hope you will look for it.

In closing, I recall a song that was popular in the early 1970's. It is an appropriate reminder of one of the things we can do when we want music's healing benefit while moving through the grief process. The song is by the Doobie Brothers. It's titled, "Listen to the Music".

Tony Falzano

Tony Falzano is an author, college professor and an award winning songwriter who speaks on the enormous health benefits that music has to offer. His articles on the power in music to heal can be found in all the major grief magazines and websites.

In addition, Tony has just released his new music CD, "Just a Touch Away". Along with his first album, "In Abba's Arms", his music has reached the ears and souls of many grieving a loss. Both CDs contain original instrumentals music designed to be an "inspirational companion" to calm, comfort and nurture those searching for healing and hope.

"Just a Touch Away" and "In Abba's Arms" are available through the New Leaf web store.

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