[Book review] Schneck, D. J. (2015). Basic anatomy and physiology for the music therapist.

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[Book review] Schneck, D. J. (2015). Basic anatomy and physiology for the music therapist.


Tamplin, J. (2016). [Book review] Schneck, D. J. (2015). Basic anatomy and physiology for the music therapist. Australian Journal of Music Therapy, 27, 73-75. Retrieved from http://www.austmta.org.au/journal/article/book-review-schneck-d-j-2015-basic-anatomy-and-physiology-music-therapist

Date published: October 2016

Schneck, D. J. (2015). Basic anatomy and physiology for the music therapist. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley.AUS $39.95, 352 pages, ISBN: 978-1-84905-756-1 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-85700-992-0 (e-book) 

       This book about the anatomy and physiology of the human body for the music therapist is engaging and easy to read even though it is packed full of anatomical information. Schneck is able to describe complex physiological processes in a way that is easy to understand for the less scientifically minded. He also relates many aspects of physiological functioning to musical processes and highlights area of particular relevance for music therapists. For example, he refers to the body as ‘a living instrument’, that is brought to life by breath. He likens the larynx to a double reed instrument, the basilar membrane of the inner ear to a harp, and refers to the body’s meridians as ‘strings’. He highlights that the biorhythms of the body are fundamental to physiological function. Schneck, although not a music therapist himself, is a professional musician as well as biomedical engineer (among other things). His multiple areas of training and expertise are reflected in the way he writes about the body, describing it as both an ‘engine’ and an ‘instrument’. Schneck inserts references throughout the book for how music therapists may use music to affect physiological function. He also identifies particular disturbances in physiological function that may be of relevance to music therapy practice and highlights how music might be used therapeutically to address these disorders.

The book is logically presented and organized into two main sections and a total of 14 chapters. Beginning with a preface that describes the reciprocal relationship between music and the body, the first section focuses on the body’s structure and how this is organized (ie. What is it and where in the body is it), and the second section describes the processes of the body (what does it do?). Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the entire human body and how it is organized into six anatomical levels: from atoms to molecules, cells, tissues, organs and systems. Chapters 2 to 7 describe seven basic features of physiologic function. In part 2, six fundamental bodily processes are explained: metabolism, information processing, consciousness, time perception, physiological optimization schemes, and satisfaction of anatomical design criteria. In his examination of anatomy and physiology, Schneck also looks at the role of emotions, consciousness, spirituality and the search for knowledge and meaning in life. In chapter 12, Schneck describes the phenomenon of rhythmic entrainment and how music therapist can manipulate the tempo of music to intentionally modify physiological parameters such as heart rate, breathing rate, arousal of the motor system, and mood adjustment. In the final chapter, Schneck ties all of this together to answer the question of how we can use this knowledge of the body to inform music therapy practice. That is, how can we use music to affect physiologic function when working with people who have specific diagnoses?

This book is firmly grounded within a scientific and medical paradigm. Schneck proposes that to deliver effect music therapy we need to first figure out what’s wrong (using our understanding of human anatomy and physiology) and then do something about it (using our knowledge of how music affects the human body, mind and emotions) preferably by utilising the mechanisms of musical entrainment or functional adaptation. Schneck also highlights the clinical decisions that we need to make around the type musical intervention that will have of best therapeutic effect. For example, what elements of music, in what combinations, delivered in what forms, under what conditions, for how long, how often, and how many sessions. He emphasises the need to develop dose-response relationships for music therapy interventions.

The model presented in this book will probably suit the theoretical orientation of some music therapists more than others. Although Schneck may well argue that music affects all humans at a physiological level, not all music therapists focus on the physiological effects of music. They may be more focused on the social or creative elements of therapeutic musical interactions. I’m also not too sure about Schneck’s assumptions re the therapeutic effects of different keys and modalities (based on a book by Prophet & Spadaro, 2000). For example, apparently C major is effective in controlling highly aggressive behaviour, is associated with the colour red, and mainly affects the heart and thymus gland. Whereas A major apparently invokes feelings of tranquillity and peace, is associated with the colour blue-violet, and mainly affects the digestive system, liver and pancreas. These assertions seem a little too prescriptive and do not appear to be grounded in research or evidence.

In summary, this book presents a great deal of in-depth information and descriptions about the human body and how it works. Much of this (although written in an engaging and accessible style) is not directly relevant to the majority of music therapy clinical practice. However, for music therapists seeking to understand more about the intricacies of how the body systems work and how music can effect these different systems, this is the book for you! I found sections of this book very interesting, but other sections provided much more detail than what I need to know to practice as a music therapist (even a neurologic music therapist!). However, as a reference book on anatomy and physiology, this is an extremely comprehensive and user-friendly volume. The use of musical analogies for bodily systems, as well as the helpful tips for music therapists to pay attention to particular points, make this book highly informative and relevant for music therapy clinicians and students alike.