Music as Medicine

Therapy through music changes lives; helps those with memory loss and anxiety

It’s no secret that music is a universal language, helping people express themselves through melody, rhythm, and song. No matter what mood we’re in, we can always count on our favorite songs to lift us up and help us make sense of ourselves and our emotions. In music, there are no rules, allowing us to freely express our feelings and discover unknown parts of ourselves. More often than not, it can connect us to others in ways that we never could have imagined. 

Music is more than just a means of entertainment. Board-certified music therapists Jennifer Knittel, Jenn Goodman, Brian Abrams and Michael Viega are changing the way people perceive music therapy through practice and education. In multiple settings located in Clifton, Watchung, and Montclair, New Jersey, music therapy is enriching the lives of those who suffer from disabilities ranging from autism to dementia. 

It’s a beautiful thing when music transcends the boundaries of basic communication, allowing others to connect in an emotional, self-expressive way. Music can be therapeutic, healing, and necessary for the mental and physical development of those who suffer from special needs and disabilities. 

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program, according to the American Music Therapy Association. It is used in a therapeutic relationship between certified professionals like Jennifer Knittel, who has completed an approved music therapy program, and a patient. As a result, Knittel has gone on to help patients of all ages by strengthening their social abilities and improving communication practices through music.

CLIFTON, NJ 10/13/2019 MUSIC THERAPY IN HOSPICE CARE: Hospice patient Jeanette Kaminsky listens and calms down as Jennifer begins to play a song on her guitar. Jeanette suffers from dementia and is confused to time, place, and situation. Music therapy allows her to feel safe and at ease. -Photo by Grace Giamo / Montclair State University

“Music gives us a way ‘in’ which nothing else can. In hospice care, even when it appears someone is having a passive response, music is still actively working its way through their body systems.”

Jennifer Knittel

“Music therapy is special because it addresses the whole person. It involves your identity, your personal story, your cultural context, your experiences, your feelings, [and] your body,” says Brian Abrams, a music therapist and coordinator of the music therapy program at Montclair State University. 

“It’s a way of engaging in an experience together in relationship that challenges development and growth in elements of a person that might not otherwise be challenged that way,” says Abrams.

Michael Viega, a music therapy professor at Montclair State adds that music therapy allows people to “find new ways of exploring ourselves in relationship… that engagement may also change views of what disability is to the outside world as well.” A variety of patient populations benefit from the practice of music therapy, treating conditions such as Autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, anxiety, depression, and other health-related issues. 

Jenn Goodman, music therapist and owner of Jammin’ Jenn Music Therapy located in Watchung, New Jersey works with autistic children. 

WATCHUNG, NJ 10/8/2019 PAINTING ON THE WALL: Painting of four kids playing instruments while Jenn plays on the guitar and leads the way. -Photo by Gabriella Dragone/ Montclair State University

“What I learned from the moment I was with children was this is just not about me”, said Goodman. “Every moment that I am with a child, [you] have to just put your own stuff aside…you are in this to help this kid. What can I do in these thirty minutes, in this session, to help this kid?”

WATCHUNG, NJ 10/8/2019 TOMMY AND JENN AT MUSIC THERAPY: Jenn and Tommy practice singing the alphabet during their sesion. -Photo by Gabriella Dragone/ Montclair State University

“To see a kid who’s non-verbal,” added Goodman, who says her patients often speak through music and that it all kind of came together as one of those meant-to-be things. “Music therapy has been a tremendous help for so many of our families.”

In addition to the impact that music therapy has on young children with Autism and other disabilities, we set out to see how music helps those of old age suffering from a variety of different health issues. Jennifer Knittel, a board-certified music therapist and President of the New Jersey Association for Music Therapy, knows just how powerful music is for those who suffer from disabilities and other illnesses.

She believes it is “the highest honor to be invited into such a vulnerable space. I look at hospice work as the most beautiful gift we can give someone.” Knittel is changing lives with music therapy, visiting multiple vicinities each week to help her clients reach their goals in terms of mental and physical health. 

“Music gives us a way ‘in’ which nothing else can. In dementia care, music weaves its way through tangled brain pathways and generates responses that words alone cannot stimulate”, says Knittel. “There are so many specialties developing within music therapy because of the many ways music can be used, shaped, and created to bring about positive results toward client goals. The possibilities are endless.”


Gabriella Dragone
Grace Giamo

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