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Friday, January 05, 2018
Maria Bechara
How Music Therapy Can Place Children with Special Needs on the Academic Track of Success

Music is, and always has been a great part of our lives. If we travel back to prehistoric times, we would find that music was even present back then in the form of primitive musical instruments created by our ancestors. Research has shown that music on a whole enhances the emotional regulation, language development, and reading skills of children with learning disabilities (Stien and Kendall, 2004; Levitin,, 2006; Gazzaniga, 2008). Classical music specifically can improve attention and memory as well (Foran, 2009).

etcetera spoke to music therapist Aziz Kfoury, whose work focuses on children with special needs, autistic children in particular. Aziz explains to us how music therapy and its integration into our educational system may alter and improve our children’s whole learning experience!  

The Therapeutic Benefits of Music

A human being’s ear is trained to be sensitive to music long before its whole body is welcomed into the world. A baby’s first concert is held by their favorite artist: Mommy! The instruments used? Her loud heartbeat! This is why it is easy to train an infant’s memory through one of their most intimate senses: their sense of hearing. Aziz tells us about a series of experiments that have been made to test the effect of music on babies; one of which proved that babies, when crying unstoppably, can be soothed by the same music that they’ve heard during their 9-months’ stay in Mommy’s womb. This is also why water sounds are often used in meditation; Aziz adds “They give the listener a sense of security because it takes them back to the time they’ve spent in their mother’s womb!”

How can music therapy be integrated into the educational system?

“We are able to achieve harmony and a clear-thinking mind when we connect a child’s inner rhythm to the outer one, the latter caused by music”. Aziz further explains this by the example of using music therapy on children with ADHD. When music therapy is introduced to children with special needs, a test must be done on each student to check their background in music: What do they know about music? Do they come from a musical family? Etc…(get it?)

They first begin by teaching the child that music is a way of stress relief and letting everything out. After that concept is comprehended, they must start working on the child’s attention span and impulsive behavior. Through music therapy sessions done in groups, ADHD children learn to control their urges and wait for their turn as well as manage their hyperactivity. Aziz further explains the goal of these exercises: “They start to understand that choosing the right time to begin their instrument solo affects the whole group, just as choosing the right time to speak or act does.”

How can music enhance your children’s learning process?

Memorizing information was a big part of our school experience, and many of us had a hard time achieving that. We would sometimes read the same paragraph over and over again, and it would go in one ear and out the other. Aziz sheds the light on how music could be used to overcome these difficulties. For instance, children could learn to match the words they are reading to the tune they are listening to. However, Aziz cautions: “It is important to have familiar music in the background, as new music might distract the ear and drift the attention towards the music instead of the text they are reading”. Surprisingly, some children have proved to achieve higher scores on exams when they would listen to the same music when taking a test as when they were studying for it.

It is advisable to listen to soft music that is neither monotonous nor too complex in order to create an environment of concentration.

Music and modern education

“Music is an essential part in our educational system” Aziz emphasizes, “It is necessary for a child’s development and it has no side effects”.  On the contrary, as previously stated, music is a form of stress release that could alleviate academic frustration that many children face on a regular basis. He also believes that children falling behind at school could improve their performance through music. Aziz concludes: “The presence of a music therapist in schools and universities is an absolute must!”


Aziz Kfoury: BA in Clinical Psychology, Professional Jazz Vocalist, and Music Therapist. He has worked with autistic kids, and he currently teaches music at kindergartens for infant development as well as adults with mental retardation and autism.



Foran, L. M. (2009). Listening to Music: Helping Children Regulate Their Emotions and Improve Learning in the Classroom. Educational Horizons,88(1), 51-58. Retrieved December 18, 2017.

Gazzaniga, M. S. 2008. “Arts and Cognition: Findings Show Strong Links.” In 2008 Progress Report on Brain Research. New York: Dana Press

Levitin, D. 2006. This Is Your Brain on Music. New York: Plume

Stien, P., and J. Kendall. 2004. Psychological Trauma and the Developing Brain. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press.

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    Protecting our kids from the darker side of the Internet has never been more important or more difficult. Dealing with this problem is an evolving process. For kids younger than 10, you can set and impose limits on the amount of time spent online. You can also restrict access to mobile devices connected to the Internet and only allow your child to use them in the family room where you can supervise rather than in the privacy of their bedroom. Explain to your child that she should not give out personal identifying information (real name, home address, school name and address, parents’ names, pictures) to anyone she does not personally know. Repeat this lesson until your child can recite it in her sleep. You also have options that allow you to control for the most part what your child can see online. For example, iPads have parental controls and content filtering software that you can enable. Browsers also allow you to block certain websites. You have to make the constant effort to familiarize yourself with those options or enlist the help of a proficient friend or family member. It’s also preferable not to allow your children to register for social media accounts until they reach the age of 13.

    For teenagers, however, open and honest communication is the key to ensuring online safety. At this age, kids are Internet veterans and will often know the Internet much better than you do. Yet, they don’t have your caution or experience. It’s more effective to discuss potential scenarios with your child. Explain that anything he or she posts online will stay online forever and can impact her future choice of university or career. Explain that the internet does NOT give anonymity. Discuss online bullying and posting hurtful comments (remember that your teen may be encouraged to bully others online). Explain the dangers of speaking to and sharing personal information with strangers. It’s never too late to enforce boundaries. If you are worried, you can ask your teenager for access to their social media accounts and inform them that you will be checking in. Do not do this behind their backs. There are many resources online that can help you keep your kid safe. 

  • I read a lot about the benefits of learning how to play a musical instrument. But how can I pick an instrument for my kid to start playing?

    A child will reap the benefits of musical training regardless of what musical instrument he or she is playing. However, choosing the right instrument for your child and for your family environment remains important. Forcing children to learn instruments they have no interest in will not foster a love of music and might cause the child to resent having to practice. However, you also don’t want him or her to choose an instrument that does not suit your family. For example, if as a parent you do not like the sound of the electric guitar, you will not be able to support your child or endure the hours of practice he or she needs to put in. Parents also need to like the sound of the instrument their child is playing. Take into account your child’s body type and make sure he picks an instrument he is comfortable holding and carrying. Also, make sure your child’s choice is not affected by any perceived “social value” of an instrument. For younger kids (4-6) you can’t go wrong with the keyboard or piano as those instruments provide a great foundation and children can easily transition to other instruments later if they would like to. Violin is also a good option as it comes in scaled sizes, but it requires more patience and persistence. Another thing to take into account is your child’s personality type. High energy kids can get great stress relief from playing the drums, and outgoing personalities may prefer instruments such as the saxophone or trumpet. The most important consideration, however, remains your child’s personal preference and passion as those are the biggest guarantees that he or she will stick with the instrument long enough to earn the life-long benefits. 

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