Music with Brain Injury

Stories about Music after Brain Injury

The following are stories of real life survivors of brain injury.  Clicking on the titles will take you to their actual story.

Craig – Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors Can Be Better

“I wrote a little music, which got me by through the hard time. I made a little money but the music was morbid. It’s about a hard time and it was kind of amazing that people wanted to hear that. I think that’s what amazed me the most. I started off with Christian music, ended up being just, went from the Pastor Craig Band to Insane from Pain. So that was an interesting time but I wrote my first song on Christmas Eve. I was going to put a bullet through my brain. I had the gun cocked at my head and I wrote a song instead. That’s was the first song. It came, just out, that night and that was the first song I performed: I Think I Need A Savior.”

Helena – The Music Never Left After Severe Brain Injury But Getting the Rest Back was Harder

Helena explains making this discovery, a week after surgery for a severe brain injury: “I sang a couple of Christmas carols, and it was a very frail, faulty voice, but I knew I could, and that was the time where I knew I was still me. It didn’t matter if nothing else worked, I still had music in me.”

Knowing Helena of Green Bay

Helena describes her love of music; “I’m a professional singer. I’ve sung concerts all over the world, and I also teach, so when, when the accident, or for seven years I taught at Saint Norbert College. I was on the music faculty teaching singing, playing, etc. (until) June 2007.I have a bachelor’s degree from Saint Olaf College, in piano performance, and then I went to grad school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and got another, master’s degree, in music with a specialize in vocal performance, so I have this piano certification and this voice certification. A bachelor of music degree, BM, and a master of music degree, MM.And then I went for professional development, I moved to London, England, to seek my fame and fortune as a singer, and little fame and no fortune, and but it was a perfect place for me to go, it really was. Then I, I got married; we, my husband was a professional musician as well, a conductor, and I, we moved to Houston, I was teaching at Rice University and I taught there for 12 years, and then I went back to school and got a master’s degree in counseling.The core of my being is in music. It isn’t what I do, it is who I am. I mean I am some other things as well, but music is the air I

Helena – The Music Never Died

Helena explains the importance of her music;”One of the things I want to stress I had to find out if I still had music in me.So a couple of days before Christmas… I mean I was just sitting there lying in my bed, thinking about what, where is my life. And I said I have to do something, I have to.So I asked where there was a piano. I’m on the rehab floor now, and they showed me where a piano was, and I couldn’t see, and I could hardly walk, but I played the piano from memory. My fingers knew where they were supposed to go, because that’s such old learning, and so then I thought okay, I can do that, now can I sing?And I sang a couple of Christmas carols, and it was a very frail, faulty voice, but I knew I could, and that was the time where I knew I was still me. It didn’t matter if nothing else worked, I still had music in me.I also still had my sense of humor, which has gotten me out of trouble and gotten me through divorces all, all the time. So Santa came on the rehab ward on Christmas eve and I said to him, well Santa, you’re going to have to train Rudolph better, because the sleigh cut my head open. The nurses just went ballistic, and so when I thought those things, I thought you, your life is, is back.(I

Jeremiah – The Continuing Recovery from the Severest of Impacts

Jeremiah is a severe TBI survivor who turned to music and lyrics to help him with severe memory and aphasia (speech problems). As he said: “I figured out ways to try to think of names, but it was typically with a set of a rhyme so I put everybody’s name together.” This later led him to start writing song lyrics. For Jeremiah, a person who had lost the music before his injury, music became the prosthesis to help him find his way back.

Jeremiah – the Neural Exercise of Music

Music therapy has been important in therapy for as long as we have had legends and teachings about healing. Yet traditionally, music has been thought to be therapy more for the soul than for the development of neural pathways. In Jeremiah, we can see music having a profound physical as well as cognitive impact.Jeremiah states;”This, this is a way that music, I believe, helps people. For instance, people who have had strokes that cannot walk I’m told can dance sometimes, who cannot speak can sing. Now here’s something that I thought of but say, for instance, you, you can’t add. Maybe you can add by musically somehow or, or mathematics musically somehow; I don’t know but, you know, there’s – what I’ve learned is that music affects many areas of your brain. I believe that music does link many areas.” Jeremiah mentions that music may use a different part of his brain to sing words versus speaking them. There are many traditional theories about where music occurs in the brain, but most of those theories pre-date FMRI. FMRI (functional MRI) can in real time, tell us what part of the brain is working when given a task that can be performed inside an MRI tube, during the imaging process. What is

Jeremiah – Making Music with Jeremiah

Sarah Pray performs music with Jeremiah. “How do you know Jeremiah?: “Jeremiah and I met at the, a show, I believe in Madison when I was playing last year, and he just approached me. And he started talking about music and he gave me a CD of his music and just told me about his brain injury and a little bit about, his difficulties. And that music had really helped him, really helped him try to get through some of the physical like, just moving your fingers with the guitar and just understanding things, and, and probably a release of your emotions and you know, lyrically, like, to just try to speak what you’re trying to say in a song, is a good way to do that.” How do you think that music is helping him?: “It’s a great way to communicate any feelings you have or things that you can’t normally say in conversation you can say in music and for him like that must be a, a, a release that he’s able to have that other people might now, you know, if they don’t play.”

Jeremiah – Writing Songs

“Music, little tidbits of songs, not even songs – just notes and stuff that came into my mind as I recovered and I don’t know why. As I progressed, probably five years after, I saw my guitar, my old guitar. I had to get it fixed because I couldn’t press the strings down but I talked to my uncle and he said, you know, I also – he said I tried playing your keyboard because – and I hadn’t played those even much before my accident either, guitar and keyboard but if you can learn how to do that you might be able to move your fingers a little better.”

Kevin – Writing Everything Down and Staying Positive

Kevin states that music helps him stay positive; “It’s, always got to think of something that’s good. Something good, good news, or songs can help, too. Music, like for me, listening to Miranda Lambert or to Taylor Swift or John Mellencamp. Just listening to words of songs, they can help, help a person through treatment or whatever. Any kind of music that the person likes will help them through rehab and all that and because the, the person, always think positive, never think negative, it’s hard to say. Not hard to say, easy to say then always have positive thoughts.”

Nancy – Future and Ambitions for Pediatric Severe Brain Injury Survivor

What are you going to do after you graduate?: “Well, the Saturday after I’m going to have a graduation party and then I’m going to become a professional singer some day.: “Do you sing now? : “Yeah.” Did you hear the guy singing at lunchtime today? He’s one of the people who’s part of this project.   “Cool.”Do you play an instrument?: “I do. I play the piano and the bells.” Did you play the piano before you got hurt? : “I fiddled around with like the keyboard.” When did you start playing the piano?: “After my accident when I was about 16.” Was that hard for you to learn? : “No. I heard the music and I play the music without having to look at notes.” Can you do it if you have to look at notes? : “No.” Do you play with other people?: “No.”Have you ever performed in front of people?: “No.” What’s the most difficult song you can play on the piano?: “You are the Music in Me. It’s from High School Musical II.” Hum it for me?: “No.” According to her Dad, Nancy’s musical ambitions are more credible than they might sound.You heard her say that she wants to be a professional singer.: “Yes, she does.” Can she sing?: “Oh gosh, yes. She’s excellent and I’m not just

Rita – Limited Therapies for Severe Brain Injury Under Medicaid

Rita’s Mom explains what they did: “There’s two things that we did (to help with her therapy.) We hired a musical therapist to come. The first time she came was the 15th of February, and it was amazing.” Of which year? 2010?: “Yeah. When she was still on the fifth floor and not getting anything. She came maybe two times a week, and it really, it really made a difference. You could tell.” What did the music therapist do?: “She had an instrument called a key chord where you play music, and what she basically started out doing was all the music that’s embedded in our brain like, Christmas music was the main thing; just songs like, you know, Happy Birthday, things that you just know. And it, it was amazing how she recognized it. When she did Silent Night, Janelle would always close her eyes when that part came. We were like amazed. But, you could tell she was listening and understood the song. She had told me that the music part of your brain is located right next to your speech center. That’s why music therapy helps so much.”

Steven – Headaches, Pain and Neurological Problems After Severe Brain Injury

What about music?: “After the first year or almost two years, I couldn’t listen to music really.” Is that getting better?:
“Well, I started listening to, surprisingly enough, jazz and then once I could listen to that, I was able to kind of
incorporate other music into it.”

TJ – Recovery from Severe Brain Injury Is Ongoing

No interest in music?: “No. And I do know people that go through and music therapy has been quite helpful. There is a girl in our group that she can’t remember five minutes ago and yet she remembered the words to a brand new song that came out on the radio. They explained to me that, that, that sound of music is a different part of the brain than our speech, so.”