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ADHD: Music Lessons Provide Life Long Benefits

ADHD Child

Interventions for ADHD usually include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, coaching, and support groups. One emerging approach is music lessons. Studies suggest that learning music improves ability to focus, increases self-confidence and improves certain brain functions. What is really exciting is these benefits are life long.

ADHD Overview

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition with symptoms such as inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. ADD and ADHD are different names same disorder, however the term ADHD is more current. Studies have shown different rates of ADHD among young people, ranging from one per cent to thirteen per cent. The symptoms differ from person to person. Both children and adults can have ADHD, but the symptoms always begin in childhood. Managing time, being organized, setting goals, and holding down a job are difficulties adults with ADHD sometimes experience.

Managing ADHD Using Mindfulness

For many adults and children with ADHD,  two persistent daily challenges are paying attention and maintaining self-regulation. So it stands to reason that some kind of attention training that also hones self-control would be invaluable — and incredibly powerful — as a natural remedy. Mindfulness Meditation is one approach to this training. Managing ADHD with mindfulness is an avid area of research. Much of this research involves the use of an eight week course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or MBSR . This article however, will focus another approach to mindfulness, playing a musical instrument.

Researchers have talked about using mindfulness for ADHD for some time, but the question was always whether people with ADHD could really do it, especially if they’re hyperactive. To expect a hyperactive child with attention deficit sit still in a lotus position and mediate for extended periods of time seems unrealistic. Learning and playing a musical instrument offers a enjoyable and practical choice for both children and adults.

Mindfulness and Musicianship

Traditionally, during a formal mindfulness mediation the breath is used to anchor awareness in the present moment (we can only breath in the present moment, we can not breath in the future or the past). When we play musical instrument attention is anchored on the music. This subject is dealt in detail in a previous post in this Blog titled Mindful Piano Practice: Increase Productivity and Lower Stress.

Left Brain vs Right Brain in ADHD

Music training offers yet another benefit to a person with ADHD which involves the integration and connectivity between the right and left brain. ADHD is a right hemispheric disconnect. We have two hemispheres to our brain; the right and the left. Through neuronal projections and the corpus callosum the different hemispheres speak to one another for appropriate body function. When there are weaknesses in one part of the brain it cannot communicate with the rest of the brain very well. This is the source of may of the symptoms of ADHD.

The processing of music is primarily in the right brain for people who are not musically trained. As a result of musical training the processing includes more of the left brain and the integration between the two is enhanced. In other words, musical training develops areas of the brain that are deficient with people who have ADHD. This results in a life long reduction of the symptoms.

Michael’s Story

Michael’s father brought him to my studio for piano lessons when he was six years old. Michael had ADHD as well as deficiencies in visual and auditory processing. A professional told his parents it was unlikely he would ever graduate from high school. I took on Michael as a piano student and our journey together began.

Michael’s progressed relatively smoothly through the junior levels of piano. I did not notice any significant difficulty except rate of progress was slower than average. He played in my student recitals successfully. He received a first class honors standing on this RCM Level 2 Piano Exam.

As we moved in to the intermediate levels he demonstrated more difficulties. He struggled to a higher degree to learn the music. I found frequent errors in notation, fingering and time values. These would be would repeated from week to week despite my corrections. Both of us became frustrated at times, however we persevered and did the best we could.

Michael was able to learn the repertoire it just took more time. He prepared repertoire and played at a respectable standard in my student recitals every year. I found the pressure of public performances (which Michael enjoyed) helped to focus his attention and build musical self-esteem. Michael took lessons from me for about 10 years. At the end of our time together, Michael was working on repertoire at a RCM grade 6 piano. Our lessons ended just after he graduated from high school.

Michael in now in University.

ADHD Documentary

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend watching the video titled “ADD & Loving It!” Access to the full 60 minute documentary is provided below. Comedian Patrick McKenna seeks a diagnosis for Adult ADHD and learns the facts from an impressive array of experts (some of whom have ADHD themselves!) including medical researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, professors, and award-winning authors.

Sources

The Benefits of Music Education: An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research. Royal Conservatory of Music, 2014

Music for Your ADHD Ears: Why music is so good for ADHD

Left Brain vs Right Brain in ADD/ADHD

Power of Art: Can music help treat children with attention disorders?

Mindfulness for Kids with ADHD: Skills to Help Children Focus, Succeed in School, and Make Friends. Debra Burdick, LCSW

The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD: An 8-Step Program for Strengthening Attention, Managing Emotions, and Achieving Your Goals. Linda Zylowska MD and Daniel Siegel

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