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How Music Benefits People with ADHD

written by: Genevieve Van Wyden • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 11/18/2010

What do ADHD and music have to do with each other? When people listen to or play music, they experience beneficial physiological effects such as less tension, a lower heart rate and blood pressure, and a reduction in anxiety levels. That response is so beneficial to someone with ADHD.

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    ADHD and music are just right for each other. Providing music lessons to a person with ADHD is like providing a new chance for healthy self-stimulation. Whether the person is learning how to play the electric guitar, drums, piano, violin or harp, they are able to benefit from an activity they may may enjoy.

    Both healthy people and people with health problems experience the benefits when they listen to music. Introducing the person with ADHD to music, either as a therapy or a learning activity, offers a chance to focus on something enjoyable.

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    What Music Requires

    Giving a person with ADHD the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrumentt provides them the opportunity to learn to persevere, use self discipline and develop better concentration, according to the Brain Therapy Center.[1] Combining some of the positive traits of ADHD with an appreciation of music allows the person with ADHD to find an area of their life where they can learn to excel, thus helping with self esteem problems.[1]

    As the person is learning new concepts –– notes, chords, rhythm, tempo –– they also learn that this new pursuit doesn’t come quickly, especially in relation to classical music. Listening to, and learning to play, classical music allows the person to release built-up frustration and helps them relax, but some of the same accommodations used in the classroom setting should be used in teaching music. These include short practice sessions so the person doesn’t have the chance to become too frustrated or bored.

    Give the person the chance to choose which instrument to learn; in this way they have more of an emotional investment in sticking with their instrument if they become frustrated.

    Before starting the person with ADHD on music lessons, make sure the ADHD symptoms are under control with medication and behavioral therapy. When they experience a difficult piece of music, they will respond more appropriately to the resulting confusion and frustration if they are taking medication and have learned behavioral coping methods.[1]

    Learning to play an instrument, becoming engaged in the music, and finding an outlet for creativity are all excellent activities for the person with ADHD. When they find something they are good and and that they enjoy, the combination of ADHD and music can give them a positive focus.

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    Effects of Music on an ADHD Person's Body

    Playing classical music on an iPod and allowing the person with ADHD to listen to it, enter into the moods the piece creates, and interpret the composition can help them relax. It actually decreases their blood pressure and heart rate according to[2]

    Using music to aid in learning helps the person remember something more easily according to Brain & Mind. Students learning a foreign language are able to learn more quickly when they listen to certain compositions from the Baroque period.[3]

    Classical music –– Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major –– helps release neurons in the brain, helping the person with ADHD to relax. If the person is preparing to take an exam, the results will be better.

    Three researchers from Pennsylvania State University conducted a study, researching how the different musical genres and tempo affected memory and retention. They used fast jazz, slow jazz, slow classical, and fast classical and found that the test subjects developed a dependency on the music while learning vocabulary words and when they were tested on the words. The students participating in testing did better listening to the same music during the learning and testing phases. The researchers changed the genres of the music from jazz to classical, then from slow jazz to fast jazz. According to their findings, the students had similar results regardless of the genre of music they listened to, but their recall decreased when the music tempo increased.[3]

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    Brain Therapy Center: Treatment for ADD/Attention -Deficit Disorder ADHD/Attention Hyperactivity Disorder and Adult ADD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

    Brain & Mind: Music and the Brain