SoundMind: Providing Music Therapy for Students

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, SoundMind has worked to provide music therapy to students.

Main image courtesy of Business Insider.

The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of people all over the world and on all walks of life, but its impact on students and schools has been beyond shocking. With students all over the country suddenly cut off from friends, teachers, and-- frequently-- food or health services, students’ learning was interrupted in a way most had never experienced before. These interruptions set students back a lot-- and had a major impact on their mental health. It has been a struggle for many school districts to recover and help their students get back on track since resuming in-person classes.

Yet there have been plenty of valiant efforts to help students recover their mental health and educational progress after the pandemic. SoundMind, a music therapy app, is one of these efforts. Founders Brian Femminella and Travis Chen worked to develop the app in order to provide music therapy for children and students, helping teachers and their schools learn about their students’ mental and emotional needs after the pandemic in the process.

What are the factors that have led to current students’ struggles in school, and how does SoundMind help address these? Let’s first take a dive into the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on students.

Students During the Covid-19 Pandemic

An empty classroom with a masked teacher at her desk
Students’ education and mental health suffered during the pandemic. Image courtesy of CNN.

During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, when schools first started shutting down en masse, many predicted that the closures would have major negative effects on students-- especially those in low-income or underserved communities.

These predictions have definitely come true in the three years since the beginning of the pandemic. The drop in standardized test scores in the fall of 2021 as compared to the same test scores in 2019, before the pandemic hit, was statistically significant-- meaning that this drop is not likely to be a coincidence. Although students did continue learning throughout the pandemic, their progress was significantly slowed-- math gains during the 2020-2021 school year were more than cut in half. The struggle for students to keep up with their education was even worse for those who do not have regular access to the internet or a computer.

Besides the changes in standardized test scores and the speed of students’ progress, students’ mental health also suffered considerably. Since 2020, youth mental health has been declared an ongoing crisis, with 44% of students reporting feeling consistently hopeless during the pandemic. Between online classes, isolation from friends, and-- for some-- suddenly being stuck in less-than-ideal home environments, it makes sense that students’ emotional states suffered so much.

With school back in-person in most places, now schools must seek ways of slowly correcting the damage caused by the pandemic. Plenty of new softwares, apps, and programs have been put into use to help students recover emotionally-- and SoundMind is one of the pioneers investigating how music therapy can be used to help students.

Music Therapy and its Benefits for Struggling Students

A circle of children playing a drum together
Music therapy has been shown to have many benefits for physical and mental health. Image courtesy of Regina Speech Centre.

Music therapy has been growing and developing as a field a lot in recent decades, and researchers are always learning more about its benefits-- whether for people’s emotional needs, physical rehabilitation journeys, or neurological phenomena. Music, despite being something we frequently think of as outside of us, is converted into electrical signals as it travels through our ears, and those signals in turn stimulate different parts of our brains.

Among the parts of the brain that music stimulates are the cerebrum and limbic system-- which are associated with memory and emotions, respectively. When the cerebrum is stimulated, it calls to mind memories that you associate with what you’re hearing. The limbic system, meanwhile, allows you to respond emotionally to the music.

These two things-- the stimulation of the cerebrum and of the limbic system-- can be extremely beneficial for students. For students who are struggling to keep up with their education, either because they have trouble memorizing information or drawing connections between concepts, listening to music can help strengthen their memory as well as their ability to associate ideas with each other.

Similarly, due to its stimulation of the limbic system-- and its suppression of negative emotions-- music can also be an excellent tool to help students manage their emotions. Researchers have found no significant negative emotional effects to music therapy. Instead, music seems to help people relax and decrease their stress levels, which improves their overall mood. For students whose emotional and mental health is suffering due to the stresses of a global pandemic, isolation from friends, anxiety over the future, and a sense of hopelessness, using music as a way of managing and modulating moods is a potentially invaluable tool.

Music Therapy in Students’ Hands

Two young men, Brian Femminella and Travis Chen
Brian Femminella and Travis Chen took action to help students and teachers’ mental health. Image courtesy of US Insider.

In the chaotic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools found themselves unequipped to handle the crisis rapidly developing among their students. Teachers simply couldn’t figure out what, specifically, their students needed-- either in terms of their teaching approach or in terms of their emotional states.

SoundMind founders Brian Femminella and Travis Chen saw the massive hole in schools’ approach to pandemic-induced mental health concerns and decided to act. The problem was already close to their hearts-- both men are in their early twenties and had seen the mental health effects of the pandemic up close.

Working with a team of composers who lean heavily on music therapy research, they put together an expansive library of music and sounds. These sounds are organized by artist, or put into soundscapes based on the mood that the listener wants to achieve-- from “Clarity,” to “Retro Chill,” to “Heal Your Heart.” Listeners’ experience with the app is also adaptable-- users can choose what sounds and songs they do or do not like, and the app stores that information to put together a set of sounds and beats that appeal to each individual.

Femminella and Chen have brought SoundMind directly to students, too, by partnering with schools and school districts across the country to help them figure out their children’s emotional needs. SoundMind keeps track of its users’ moods via daily journaling opportunities, and schools that have partnered with the company receive information on their students’ app use and journal results.

This information is invaluable for teachers who are having trouble determining what their students are struggling with and how to help them-- with the SoundMind app, teachers are able to see how students’ anxiety and depression levels are, as well as when their moods improve. With this knowledge, they can tailor their teaching to each student’s needs-- shedding light on an issue that previously seemed unbreachable.

The app has had great results so far. Based on the daily guided journals on the app itself, music therapy through SoundMind helps decrease users' pandemic-induced depression and anxiety by 46%-- a promising figure, to be sure. As Femminella and Chen continue to add new features to the app, based on continuously developing music therapy research, it is sure to continue providing valuable individualized music therapy help to children and adults alike.

Skyler Watkins
Skyler Watkins is an aspiring author and editor located in Columbus, Ohio.
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