Using Music Therapeutically During COVID-19

Contributed by: Jay Erlich
 
We are living in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 global pandemic. As Canadians, we are working in essential services or self-isolating. Both situations carry with them enormous anxiety. I have been coping with this pandemic by using music to reduce adverse mental health symptoms. My life will actually be better after the pandemic than before, thanks to the daily inclusion of using music therapeutically in my life. My goal with this article is to share my experience with using music therapeutically, in hopes you may benefit and improve the quality of your life. Let me tell you what I mean.
 
A major stress during the pandemic is that it is hard for families to not spend physical time with each other. There is uncertainty about when some of us will get back to work. There is anxiety about going to a grocery store or pharmacy given the fear that you might get sick with Covid-19. Understandably, we all want the end of the pandemic to be like ripping a band-aid off, but it is the opposite. It seems to me that everyone I know is glued to the terrifying pandemic news stories. There seem to be many more negatives to talk about than positives.
 
For many people, self-isolation has been a slow time. However, this time does not have to be negative if you use it effectively. Since starting self-solation in March, I have spent my time implementing a healthy daily routine which consists of a regular balance of sleep, exercise, good nutrition, limited consumption of alcohol, and making time for hobbies, video or phone calls with family and friends. This routine took away much of the burden of self-isolation. Implementing routines likes these will keep your mind occupied, so the self-isolating does not seem as bad. I am hopeful that when the pandemic is over, I will have developed enhanced lifestyle patterns and balance. Key to this personal success might very well have been the importance of my hobby, creating music.
 
For almost 20 years now I have been studying, writing, and recording music on a daily basis. Some weekends I will work on my music projects for 5 or more hours per day. I feel lucky to have music to focus on during these times. I’ll admit it has been difficult to be creative and write new lyrics when my days are almost always the same routine.
 
I got lucky. An old professor of mine from a Peace Studies/History class, named Jeff Gunn, posted on Facebook that he was looking to take on new students for guitar. Jeff plays lead guitar in the band Emmanuel Jal https://www.emmanueljal.com/. Jeff told me some of his greatest accomplishments in music were having played on the same show with the Dave Matthews Band and opening for Xavier Rudd in Australia while on Jal’s tour. These are two musical acts that I grew up listening to. I was sold on his offer of weekly lessons.
 
I am an aspiring singer/song writer despite growing up believing that music theory was somehow not important to know. I watched a documentary on CBC online about Gordon Lightfoot, and I realized that he understood music theory very well, which is why he is such a prolific song writer. That was enough for me. I realized that if I wanted to write music professionally, I needed to go back and relearn theory. I could already both play the guitar and sing, something that Jeff called a rare gift. I just did not understand the theory of why chords sounded good together.
 
Jeff and I would meet once a week to talk about music, go over new music theory concepts and how to apply that to writing songs. Jeff was giving me theory lessons about which chords belonged in a key. My homework over the next week was to write as many songs as I could using the chords within the key. I have several new songs from this ongoing process that I am developing. Music can be a very good distraction and can remove all these stressors from your life. For me, knowing that I knew the possible chords, all I had to do was write lyrics. I had narrowed down the possible options of chords and was going to play with them until I got what I wanted out of the song.
 
This made writing songs for me so much more fun. The next step for me was to learn to shoot a video of playing a song. I have been recording both some covers as well as original songs on video to get used to being on camera and sending them privately to my friends. I would like to have the confidence to make more professional videos for public viewing with enhanced equipment once my writing, singing and performance talent improves.
 
Since I have been using this time to focus on all aspects of music, I have been feeling that even if the pandemic didn’t exist, I would still want to be doing the same things. That is really my best advice. Music has not only become the most motivating and rewarding source of personal development, but in my case, an opportunity to develop some songs to showcase my musical talents in the future.
 
For those of you who are not intent on publicly performing musically but enjoy listening to and performing music in the comforts of your own home, I implore you to try to find something similarly engaging and do it every day. There is, for example, a huge variety of free education courses online to provide meaningful distraction and perhaps achieve qualifications you can use for future employment or personal development. My hope is that we take time to observe parts of our lives that we never had time to do before and that we do this at a much slower pace. The key is to stay busy doing what you love, and in doing so, we will all get through this together.
 
Jeff’s music teachings can be found here: https://www.jeffgunnmusic.com/
 
 
My own business and music project can be found here: mybestfriends.ca
 
I have attached the song Anxiety that I have written and recorded over the last year about my own experiences with overcoming anxiety. It will be released on my first album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO4BNQqel9E&t=7
 
 
Jay Erlich

During my years at McMaster, largely because of volunteer experiences, I discovered where I want to begin my working career. This led me to enroll in the Graduate program Sport and Event Marketing at George Brown College. In the future I want to work in professional sports, music and Not for Profits. As an aspiring musician with a passion for writing & composing, I am currently working on my first studio album. By volunteering with the not-for-profit War Child, I have acted as MC and have played gigs with all proceeds going to charity. Recently, I have begun professional development with the Music Therapy Academy based out of Hamilton, Ontario. My goal is to pursue combining my abilities as a singer/songwriter/performer to produce songs about Music as Therapy to raise funds and awareness for children in need. In the future I will be releasing original music for individuals to purchase and proceeds will go to War Child Canada among other not for profits. 

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