Violin for Wellness

Preliminary Study

Fall 2014

In 2014, Pippa and I ran a 14-week study at Valley Therapeutic with two 3.5 olds. We were interested in determining how the instantaneous use of the violin voice was helping her reach her clients as we were repeatedly seeing greater responses from many of her riders, more than before the violin had entered their treatment sessions. Pippa’s greatest interest lay in the practical: what sounds and tunes or pieces engaged them, and how could we learn to recognize theinstant that application worked.

My interests lined up with Pippa’s. But what I really wanted to know was the scientific explanation: why does the violin engage the client? Understanding the brain a little better was key. Does the introduction and infusion of live music through vibrations and rhythm create new neural pathways? Is the violin a key, unlocking the code? I have seen some “unlocking” in our work with disabilities. I think the world knows music helps Alzheimer’s patients, stirring up their musical memories of the past and triggering sudden vocalizing when none happened before. Studies show pain and post-surgery discomfort are deeply diminished when exposed to music, especially live music. Babies in neo-natal care show stabilizing health aspects when exposed to music.

But who truly understands the brain? It is the single least-known organ in the human body, complicated beyond all. The dedicated work over the centuries done by Franz Gall, Paul Broca and Santiago Ramon, amongst others, have provided great swaths of new understanding. But the brain is still mysterious. To begin the study, Pippa asked the client’s home therapy specialists to determined baselines of the two children prior to beginning the weekly 1/2 hr. sessions. We began recording with very scientific data-gathering methodology (not!): an MP3 player duct-taped onto their jackets. Having something hanging from a helmut or poking out in front of the client was unsafe and distracting, so duct tape became our friend.
The framework: weeks 1-2 no music, 3-8 pre-recorded violin music (boombox), weeks 9-14 live violin. Why the distinction between pre-recorded and live? Because I wanted to show that live is best!
In December began the analysis: extrapolating data from the audio; understanding the behaviours I was hearing; entering the data on a progression chart (linear); and then running the data. The results are shown on a scatter graph. Due to time constraints, only one subject was analyzed to date.
You will notice on the Behaviour Chart columns organized to designate certain behaviors, some of which were reported by spoken observation from assistants that were present. I consulted with speech specialists to understand what I was hearing and what to call it. I decided I would create the chart to reflect uptick in positive responses such as: more singing in response to the violin; more vocalization in response to the violin; with the goal being Week 14 showing high correlative data.
After analyzing the collected data, I was disappointed to see that in week 14 there was no data registered to show increased vocalization due to live violin being played. What had I done wrong? With the help of Leah Bendall, a Enviro Sciences professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC and a whiz with charting statistics, we re-focused the study. Instead of the end result showing more in Week 14, she suggested looking at where ‘more’ happened, over the whole session. What she found was very exciting! To show what she found, she created what’s called a Scatter Chart from the data input on the Behavior Chart. It shows contrasting behaviors with opposite outcomes. On the top chart Humming/Utterances, the downward line indicates high utterance markers at the start of the 14-week study. Frequent humming and uttering is a common autistic behavior, or marker. On the bottom chart, Looking/Listening, the upward tracking line shows an increase in listening and looking, behaviors observed by the team and recorded on the audio. Have a look.

Quite early on in the study, we felt the violin voice was already making a difference, shown by the decrease in autistic behavior and the increase in more developed behavior and engagement.

Autistic children love music, underscoring our instincts that I could provide an “in” for Pippa, my study partner. We believe this is what the chart shows. We, therefore, continue to strive to understand the power of the violin for those in the therapeutic riding arena.