What is Music Therapy? How Music Helps Kids Thrive - Phil Stormer

What is Music Therapy? How Music Helps Kids Thrive - Phil Stormer

EP02 - Phil Stormer - Founder and CEO of Stormer Music 

Episode 2 of our new podcast, Parenting in the Digital Age. Today we had a truly insightful discussion with Phil Stormer, Co-founder and CEO of Stormer Music.

We discussed how music helps children thrive, and I learned about Music Therapy. If I am being truthful, I had never heard of Music Therapy, until I met Phil and his Brother Joel. But as you will learn today, Music therapy can help children with a wide range of challenges including physical impairments, communication challenges, cognitive impairments, grief and loss, and even pain management.

AI Video Transcript: 

Speaker 1 (00:04):

Welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast, many parents are concerned that their child might be falling behind. Others are just looking for ways to help their children thrive, not just in the classroom, but socially and well into their future careers. Each episode, we explore the challenges facing parents in the modern world, from behaviour, education and nutrition, to device and gaming addiction. We interview a range of leaders in the area of childhood development to help you successfully navigate parenting in the digital age. Here is your host, Jamie Buttigieg.

Speaker 2 (00:40):

Okay. Hello parents. On today's podcast, we are joined by Phil Stormer, who is the co-founder and CEO at Stormer music, an Australian based chain of music schools. And today we'll be discussing how music can help kids thrive. And I'm particularly interested to learn how Stormer music is helping kids through music therapy. Now, if I'm being completely truthful, I have never heard of music therapy until I met Phil and his brother, Joel, but as you'll learn today, music therapy can help children with a wide range of challenges, including physical impairments, communication challenges, cognitive impairments, grief, and loss, and even pain management. But before we get into that, Phil, rather than me providing some pre-written bio and introduction, uh, please share with our listeners in your own words, what you do and what you are passionate about.

Speaker 3 (01:28):

Sure. Well, hi everyone. My name's Phil. Uh, I just to make the world a more musical place. So we do that by inspiring students of all ages, primarily young people, but all are welcome, uh, to play music on their own terms. So essentially, uh, we believe that everyone has a capacity and, um, an opportunity to play music and we want to make that possible for them. So, uh, we say students of all ages, stages, abilities, and walks of life. So we do that through music education. We do that through music therapy, music performance, and, um, just generally mu helping make our communities and our, um, cities, more musical by getting more people to participate actively, whether that's actually playing or going to shows, supporting other musicians in their communities, songwriting, belting out karaoke, whatever, whatever they like. Um, we think music is great and, um, we're here to share that love and passion with other people.

Speaker 2 (02:27):

Fantastic. And, and when did you guys, uh, start doing music? How long has this been a passion for you guys?

Speaker 3 (02:34):

Um, so in terms of starting music itself, I've been playing guitar since I was five. And, um, I come from a musical family and, uh, my two brothers who are also in the business, we, we all play music and, um, we've got musical parents. And so music has been something that has, um, sustained and been a constant support and encouragement, uh, our entire life. And, um, I've grown up in music schools, grown up in, um, education where we've had lots of musical opportunities performances through music at school, things like that. Then leading up to Stormer music where we started teaching from home. It's one of those sort of outta the garage stories. Um, and I teach guitar and Joel, uh, my brother teaches drums. And so we, we just started teaching. And again, just, just from that place of wanting to share what we've, uh, what musicians have shared with us before, you know, it's a, we're custodians of knowledge and insight and learning. And, uh, being able to pass that torch forward is, you know, essentially what we're doing and helping kids play instruments and all different stuff. And then, um, got to the place where we decided to put on a friend and momentum took, and here we are, we've got eight studios now and, um, looking to grow and, and just take, take what is the beautiful gift of music to, to different areas and different communities.

Speaker 2 (04:01):

Yeah. And that's, uh, one of the things I definitely picked up from you guys, when I first met you guys, your genuine passion for what you do. And, and I think that's really, what's helped you guys create such a successful organization. Um, so well done to you both, um, in a general sense, um, you know, if I'm the average parent listening to this podcast, you know, why do you think children should learn to play music?

Speaker 3 (04:26):

So it's an interesting question because from an artist's perspective, there's this idea of arts for arts sake. Um, but in current, in the current way, we think about things there's always got to be this sort of additional, you know, did you know that music helps with math? <laugh> did you know that music helps with, uh, you know, emotional regulation and it does all of those things, but ultimately, um, I, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't like music and who doesn't see music as somewhat important. Obviously there's a scale there, uh, and of priorities, but I, I think there's a sense in our community, that music is important. Um, that music holds quite a sacred place in many people's lives, even from, you know, think of like people who listen to music to go to sleep or in the morning to, to amp up or in the car when they're driving to help focus or change the moods.

Speaker 3 (05:18):

We, we, and then if we go to a restaurant it's very obvious when there's no music. If we go to a pub, we want to hear good music, um, where almost all of us are medicating and, uh, applying and using music as a, as a mood adjuster, as a, um, as a communications tool. Like it's, it's a very important, very pervasive, very important, uh, powerful thing in our society. So we're just talking about music as a concept. I believe it's important in and of itself. It, it just is. It's just so important. And, um, but to take this a step further from a utility perspective for young people, um, you're gonna give them a skill. That's gonna carry them through life. Whether they want to be a professional musician or not, is not the point. It's something that they can have. That's special, that's their own that they can go away and play, uh, in their bedrooms.

Speaker 3 (06:10):

They can make friends with it, they can get into subcultures. Um, it's a beautiful form in the sense that it takes time. It takes patience and it takes dedication. So it's complete antithesis to a lot of the culture now where we're learning things that are, you know, we're taking on things that are fast, quick, dopamine hits, bam, bam, bam. This is the opposite. This is like, you try to play a note. Sounds awful. My hands hurt. I'm annoyed, I'm uncomfortable. Don't like this guitar. I wanna throw it in the bin, but it's teaching lessons. Um, and so it's this idea that, um, when you go through music, learning and instrument, you learn discipline, you learn patience, you learn communication, cuz you're gonna work with other people. You're gonna learn from a teacher and, and for young people, um, it's just, you just see people come alive when they've got this it's, you know, but it'd be similar to like, if they're learning, you know, coding or learning sport or learning dance, or they've got their thing, they've got the thing that they can do.

Speaker 3 (07:14):

It's like a little superpower for them. It's their own thing. And um, what a gift to give a child. Um, and then we're talking about, you know, they can write songs, they can express themselves in a healthy way through music aggressively, you know, they can write songs about tragedy and trauma and um, and then there's just countless studies. You can go on all of the Ted talks now and see just how, um, music is a workout for the brain. You know, it's, it's got the physicality obviously, cuz you're technically playing, it's got the emotional thing because you're expressing something, it's got the maths and the, the reading and the literacy because you're going through language and old forms. It it's a, it's been described as a whole workout for the brain. So, um, I think it's important even without knowing that, but that's great even, um, if you needed some reason to do it other than just to play the piano, for example.

Speaker 2 (08:10):

Yeah. Look, that was such an insightful answer. I feel, um, you know, and you said something in there, it's this, um, it's the opposite to what we're all about today and it's that instant gratification, you know, we want to be able to do something. We wanna be able to learn it. Now we wanna go on a YouTube and if I can't do it in three minutes, it's not worth learning. And that's a bit of a, a commonality I see in kids coming into our own learning centers to learn coding. And I think music is amazing for that. The fact that it takes so long to learn that it builds that resilience, they experience frustration, that range of emotions as well as all the other benefits, but that it's, uh, that slow learning approach. Um, uh, I I think has a, has a bigger place in society than we think. And um, I think needs to be spoken about, so thank you for that response. Now, when I met you guys, you talked about music therapy and I kind of thought, wow, what's music therapy. And um, you know, before we get into some of the benefits for those listening, who perhaps haven't heard of it or maybe have heard of it, um, maybe could you explain to our listeners, what is music therapy to begin with?

Speaker 3 (09:14):

Sure. So I'll read my, uh, sort of dictionary response. I'll, I'll give them more descriptive. So, uh, music therapy is a research based practice and profession where we use music to actively support people as they strive to improve their health capacity, functioning and wellbeing. Music therapy is different from music education and entertainment, as it focuses on therapeutic outcomes rather than musical ones. So that's the dictionary definition, um, music therapy. It, I would describe it as bottling what we all know is so powerful about music and then weaponizing that to help people who could really benefit from it. So, you know, I mentioned before about how, you know, we, we might use music in our day to lift our mood. Okay. So I'm feeling a bit flat, you know, I'm feeling a bit demotivated, so what am I gonna do? I might turn on some lofi chill music to carry me through feel, you know, I'm feeling that.

Speaker 3 (10:17):

And then maybe I want to go something a bit happier, you know, a bit more of an amp up song. You know, maybe I wanna smash something really hard and fast so I can run faster or go harder at the gym. These are like all using music, um, in a utilitarian kind of way. Like you, you're literally taking the power of music and trying to use it. You know, it's like playing music at a wedding, playing music at a funeral music in a soundtrack to a film. Um, so what music therapy does is us is users music as treatment. So it actually says, you know what, this is not just a fluffy thing. This, this has impact, this has, this has real, um, true and powerful effects on people. Now, all the things that I just said, there are about mood and about mindset. And, um, but what we're seeing as we do music therapy is we're seeing people, um, you know, learn healthier behaviors, develop speech, um, regain memories because a song might be a memory hook for someone with dementia or, uh, a song will enable someone who has some emotional regulation challenges to bring themselves to a space of calm through a song trigger, uh, or you'll see people who will sing, who don't, uh, ordinarily speak.

Speaker 3 (11:38):

And there's just all this stuff that's going on here. And it's almost, it's like, I'm just gonna let this magic thing out of the box and we're gonna play, and we're gonna see what happens because, uh, it's surprising and powerful. Um, and to like the reason you haven't heard of it is it has up till now. It has been around for a long time, but it has until quite recently been a bit Woow, a bit kind of, Ooh, <laugh>, we're gonna, you know, we're gonna dance it out and it, you know, but when you actually, uh, participating in this with a serious, um, therapist and with a serious professional, who's done the training, understands the, the methods and some of the established, uh, work, you see outcomes for young people and these outcomes, not just in the moment, but ongoing, you, you see kids come outta their shell.

Speaker 3 (12:27):

You see, um, you see, as I said, the memories for people with dementia is a huge area for music therapy. Um, our practice is primarily with young people, um, focused on, uh, autism, global learning delays, oppositional defiance disorder, ADHD. Um, and so a lot of development and, um, music therapy goes into areas of treatment that traditional therapies do not. So for example, if you are going as a young person, you're going to do your occupational therapy treatment, maybe your physio, you're doing some speech music therapy fits within that in a very special way. It's, it's like it's emotional, it's spiritual, it's social it's, um, it's a skill, so it's capacity building. And, um, and so it's very complimentary to those more traditional therapies, but it's not just, it's not just we're playing and singing. It's actually quite prescriptive in what we do. And, um, the people who are doing it are registered music therapists and those people are applying a large degree of training and science to the, to the process.

Speaker 2 (13:43):

And so you said <affirmative>, and so you said something interesting in there is that, um, music therapy, more music therapists will often work with other therapists and, uh, you see the combination of these sorts of therapy. Yeah. Um, just by way of context, a curious question. So if I want my child to, um, experience some musical therapy, for whatever reason, you know, would I come to you specifically or would I speak to my occupational therapist perhaps and say, Hey, can we get Stormer with, you know, music to come in and work with you guys? What, what does that look like for a parent who's maybe thinking about music therapy, working with other therapists, whether it's physical rehabilitation, speech therapy already, and think the, you know, would like to take advantage of the combination. What does that look like in practice?

Speaker 3 (14:31):

Yeah. So the answer will depend on if we're talking about a mainstream, um, or a neurodivergent participant. So for a mainstream, um, client, this tends to come through, uh, music, education and interest in music. You know, the parent will say, oh, I've noticed whenever the, whenever we turn music on their, you know, their mood changes or they're always going up and playing dad's guitar, you know, there there's a natural engagement with music that parents will often want to then go, I'm gonna invest in this. I, I want to see, I wanna see this natural curiosity nurtured and that's, that's really important. I don't, you don't necessarily have to have a natural curiosity to learn music, but it's incredible. We get these phone calls. Like my kid loves the trumpet. He's two <laugh> why don't know, just does. Um, it's so it's, maybe he's seen it somewhere.

Speaker 3 (15:26):

He's got it on his heart and that's beautiful. That's the sp.. there's those little sparks. You wanna try to catch them. And then that can lead him onto a, uh, beautiful creative journey. Now, in terms of, um, neurodiversity and challenges, music therapy was recognized by the N D I S a few years ago. And so funding is now available for it, which is amazing and provided that, um, music therapy fits within the goals. What are called the N D I S life goals of the participant, um, then it can fit in under their funding and would make up a suite of treatments depending on what's going on for them. So it may not be the right time to do music therapy. For example, if you are really focused on some physical challenges, or it might be just the right time to do it because you're wanting to work on some emotional behavioral challenges or, um, you know, some speech and language development challenges.

Speaker 3 (16:22):

So you kind of, you will often get a referral, um, through a pediatrician or through the OT, the PRI usually the primary care provider. And we work in an allied health sense in that we, we understand that there are certain things that are within our area, and then other while other allied health professionals will address other areas. So tends to be through referral word of mouth. Um, and also just so so often, um, we just get people who call and say, look, they spend their life in clinics. They've got all this stuff going on, but they just love music. What can you do? What can we do? And that's where we go, let us help you. That's, that's what we are here for.

Speaker 2 (17:08):

Yeah. That that's quite powerful. And in doing my pre-research for today's, uh, uh, podcast, I was on a website and, uh, I was reading and watching a video about a young child named Jimmy. And it was powerful for me to not to read about it, but see the transformation almost immediately. And Jimmy was having a musical therapy session prior to going in for a, an MRI. And I might just read this little passage because I think, uh, maybe our listeners will find this, uh, interesting and powerful as well, but, uh, Jimmy's 11 now, but he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at four months of age. Uh, he received care throughout his entire life. And anytime Jimmy had to come to the hospital, his first request is to visit the music therapists. Music therapy has provided Jimmy an outlet of expression, normalization of the hospital environment and coping skills for procedures, tests, and other various treatments after breaking his FEMA, uh, music therapy collaborated with the physical therapy department to provide Jimmy the motivation to get outta bed and begin gate training with his walker and rhythm to "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake.

Speaker 2 (18:16):

And he took his first steps in healing, his leg that day in conjunction with musical therapy and, uh, and physical therapy collaborating. And I was watching this video, uh, of a session before he went into this MRI. And you touched on this earlier, Phil, but you could see the state change. Like he was almost, he went from this, you know, anxious, nervous child, uh, and within one minute and 40 seconds, this song was going for, he was playing on some, you know, percussion, uh, type instruments. Uh, he started to transform, you could see confidence come out, uh, a happiness come out of positivity, come out. And, uh, that was, uh, that was pretty, that was pretty special to see that. Mm. So, uh, I'm glad we've had an opportunity to talk about this, but, uh, you must see stuff like this all the time.

Speaker 3 (19:01):

Yeah. And I think what it is is, um, in our culture, we've, we've for the most part relegated music to the stage and to the exclusive, to the exclusion of most of us in the sense that I'm not musical I'm, I'm not an artist. I'm not, you know, I don't have a, um, you know, I, I can't hold a beat. I can't hold a tune. You know, I sound like a cat. These are kind of things that when we talk to families, like for example, parents of kids they'll say, oh, I don't know where he got his talent from, you know, not from me. And there's this idea in our community, that music is for the privileged few. And it's not to say that's completely without merit. There are certainly people who have a natural propensity or talent towards music, um, more, the more so than others.

Speaker 3 (19:50):

But that doesn't mean that those people who don't can't, um, work on it and come from a different place. And maybe, you know, through that adversity, they actually end up becoming better musicians because it doesn't all come so easy for them. Um, but it also sets up a different hierarchy. Like, so in your story there with Jimmy, you didn't go, well, I was watching the video and he started playing the drums and he was all happy and everything, but he kept playing out of time. Wasn't that annoying? Um, we're not talking about that. We're talking about, Jimmy's having a blast. I'm just loving watching this. I'm, I'm, what a privilege to be part of that, that moment. And even just on a video and yes, I mean, you see this stuff all the time and you just, it is a privilege and it's powerful and it's deeply human to just let people enjoy music. And that is, that is it, you know, you don't have to, don't have to be good. <laugh> it's you just, just enjoy it and have fun. And, and, um, and that opportunity should be afforded to those of us who can't quite get there themselves. So if you've got someone like Jimmy with challenges, a therapist is a facilitator for that, wanna make it easy for him in a way that, that comes from sensitivity and education around neurodiversity.

Speaker 2 (21:07):

Yeah. Yeah. That's amazing. You've answered, uh, in, in all that, uh, one of my next questions, but, uh, a question we like to ask all of our guests, uh, as we head towards wrapping up the podcast is if you could go back and give your five year old self one piece of advice, what would that advice be?

Speaker 3 (21:28):

Yeah, it's very hard.

Speaker 2 (21:30):

It's a tough question. Yes. I still don't know if I have the answer to this, I dunno, week.

Speaker 3 (21:35):

What was your answer?

Speaker 2 (21:38):

Uh, well, as I said, it comes, it, it changes each week. Sometimes it's about, uh, um, study and diligence and, you know, you should have put your head in the books a lot, uh, earlier and a lot harder. And sometimes it's just about loving your kids more, you know, like when you have those kids in those moments, you know, just, just be and hang out with your kids. Like, I don't know, there isn't one piece of advice. It's a tough question, but, uh, I'm gonna get you to commit.

Speaker 3 (22:02):

All right. I think I, this would be assuming that my five year old self would listen <laugh> to this, but I I'd say don't sweat the small stuff, you know, life's full of, um, life is so rich in its experience and, and you, there is just so much to do good, bad, ugly, and focusing, learning to focus and learning, to curate, uh, your experience and you know, lean into experiences, relationships, things that matter, and, um, exclude and push away things that don't, uh, is gonna, is a skill that will serve you throughout your whole life. So I would just say to my five year old self, Hey, do more of that stuff and do more of that stuff. Forget that stuff. It doesn't matter. Don't worry about it. Don't think about it. And, uh, hopefully that would set five year old Phil in good step.

Speaker 2 (22:58):

<laugh> I think, I think Phil's done. Okay. Uh, now, uh, where can listeners find you online or in the real world? How can they connect with you and or Stormer music?

Speaker 3 (23:08):

Yeah. Check out Stormer music. Um, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn. If you wanna read me personally, but Stormer music.com AU or so.com and that's our work. And if we're, if my clients and my students are flourishing and my, my staff are flourishing, then that's, that's our greatest, uh, testament. So don't worry about me, but look at what we're doing and join us. If you're interested, we, we can't do this alone and we, we're interested in more and more people engaging your music and helping to, to really build a healthy relationship to music, healthy atmosphere around music in Australia, and give more young people the opportunity to play on their own terms. So storm music.com.

Speaker 2 (23:52):

Thank you, Phil, and look, uh, mate, appreciate your time. It's good to see you again. And, uh, this has actually been a really, uh, interesting and insightful, um, podcast. Not that I thought it wouldn't be, but, uh, I, I really enjoyed today. So thank you for your time. Thanks.

Speaker 3 (24:05):

Great to be here.

Speaker 2 (24:07):

Cheers. Phil.

Speaker 1 (24:09):

If you enjoyed the show, please connect with Jamie on LinkedIn or Instagram. You'll find links in the podcast. Description parenting in the digital age is sponsored by Skill Samurai, coding and stem academy for kids . Skill samurai offers after school coding classes and holiday programs to help kids thrive academically and socially while preparing them for the careers of the future. Visit skillsamurai.com.au

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