Complementary Song Therapy


The established health care profession of music therapy has been with us for many years. Community musician Nigel Neill argues the case for a new vocational approach to training that acknowledges the therapeutic value of music in community, social and nursing care settings, without the need to study at degree level.

It was a couple of years after we had started Minehead Street Choir and we were sat in The Old Ship Aground after a particularly fun evening of carols and songs with the local RNLI. One of the participants told me:

“I came to choir because of my mild stroke Nigel, a friend had said it might do me some good and when I got home that night I will never forget my husband telling me how much clearer my speech was.”

I was talking with Sara (not her real name) who had joined our choir some months before and it occurred to me that our music making was perhaps providing genuine therapeutic support to Sara’s quest for improvement in her speech patterns . . . and I had not even been aware of it! Certainly, I am not saying that Sara’s improved speech pattern from her singing that night was permanent and there is on going debate about the value of interventions of any kind where benefit may only be temporary; however, it got me thinking . . .

People sing together for many different reasons and there is a tradition in the UK of musicians, sometimes untrained beyond our learned and / or acquired musical skills, leading these groups in informal settings that allow for fun inclusive singing for all. Community singing groups are places of acceptance and, to use the terminology, ‘positive regard’ and there for anyone and everybody to enjoy the pleasure of singing and the warmth of social connection.

In recent years, particularly as the wonders of music are explored through the lens of

neuroscience, more and more people with health challenges in their lives are attending these groups off their own backs. Apart from the pleasure of singing itself, people might be facing depression, anxiety, life limiting illness such as MS or Parkinson’s Disease, brain injury or any number of other challenges in their lives. Indeed there is a growing awareness among GPs of the value of singing and a range of other creative, social pursuits and the concept of ‘social prescriptions’ is growing as a practical way of encouraging social engagement, creative interaction and self expression.