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Harnessing the power of music

Students enjoying music, helping them to communicate

National Star harnesses the power of music to enable students to develop in different areas, from increasing their range of communication to improving their mobility and supporting their psychological wellbeing.

Music therapists work closely with speech and language therapists and physiotherapists to help students achieve goals by using what is called Neurologic Music Therapy.

Scientific research has proven that the way music is processed in our brain can have a huge impact on the way we move, think and speak. Music can affect how we remember, how we move and how we communicate.

Music Therapist Cat Mitchell-Beamish is using this form of music therapy to help a student improve her grip and have more control of her arm movements.

‘We use a xylophone where I can remove different parts of it so that the student has to practise her grip and control to play the same patterns,’ said Cat. ‘Our brain processes and experiences musical elements such as rhythm and melody to change our movements, such as walking, with a more even gait or to extend an arm movement.’

Music is also used at National Star to help students communicate, including those who are non-verbal, and to explore their feelings and anxieties.

National Star’s first student choir was initiated by a student and launched seven years ago. As the music therapy team has expanded over the years and the benefits of singing became more widely experienced, this has grown to three choirs to ensure everyone can access the social experience of music regardless of their disabilities.

Every Monday morning, a small group of students take part in the transition choir to help them transition into another week at college. Using gentle blue and yellow lighting to represent the sunrise, the session starts with calming music and works its way to more energetic rhythms.

‘We use music as a way to guide students into the week and support them to be calm and settled,’ said Music Therapist Will McConnell Simpson. ‘It’s for those young people who can find college overwhelming, especially after a break over the weekend.’

The vocalisation choir is aimed at students who can express themselves with vocal sounds but may have less access to expressive language. The choir uses simple songs with repetitive lyrics and identifiable rhythms. Students can use instruments to play along and are invited to participate through singing, movement and playing.

‘Choir provides opportunities for self-expression, movement and peer engagement,’ explained Music Therapist Jez Hargreaves. ‘The use of simple songs means it is accessible with or without language, and all contributions are acknowledged and supported.’

Certainly, the most energetic choir is the StarChorus. Student Rachel said it is her favourite session of the week. ‘Singing makes me feel really happy and smiley,’ said Rachel.

Cat added: ‘By creating music with someone you are seeing a part of themselves that they might not otherwise know how to express or communicate.’

Student Katie agrees. ‘Music makes me happy and sometimes when I am down or upset, I just sing and everything bad just goes away,’ she said.

Learn more about music therapy at National Star

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