A Feel for Therapy

March 14, 2014
James Helmsworth

To some, the fields of neuroscience and jazz vibraphone might seem entirely unrelated. But Matthew DiBiase, a second-year double degree student majoring in both, is fascinated by the ways in which they overlap.

DiBiase spent this winter term shadowing music therapists and cognition researchers all around his native New England. These experiences included a music therapist who works with cancer patients at the esteemed Massachusetts General Hospital; a meeting with Ani Patel, whose research on music cognition has made him something of a rockstar in the social science community; and two days shadowing neurological music therapist Brian Harris.

While music therapy is often used as a method to help relax and entertain patients, DiBiase explains that it can aide neurological rehabilitation. DiBiase says that, because music activates multiple parts of the brain, allowing these parts of the brain to compensate for the damaged regions.

Music can also help individuals with some loss of motor skills coordinate their movements by providing them with a beat to work with. "It's easier to work to a beat than it is to work against a beat," DiBiase explains.

With three years left in the double degree program, DiBiase is unsure what he'll be doing after graduation. But even if it isn't music therapy, his winter term experience experience has changed his approach to music. "The therapist is putting themselves into the shoes more of the patient and targeting their goals," he says. "Whenever I play the instrument, my main goal with the instrument is to have a dialogue with people."

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