E. Thayer Gaston may have not been known to many individuals outside of the music education and music therapy fields, but his theories follow many of the great pioneers of psychology. With following theories and ideas that were addressed by the early philosophers and psychologists, such as Plato, Aristotle, Skinner, Pavlov, and Jung; Gaston started realizing the great works that could be done by incorporating music and psychological therapy. Through his beginning education in music, he eventually changed his field of study to pre-medicine and after graduation began a teaching career in music in which he became a well respected music educator and conductor. He then received his doctorate in educational psychology; Gaston eventually realized that there was a true possibility to use music with psychology to help in therapeutic sessions.

To understand what music therapy is, one must know what music therapy is first. Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program (AMTA, 2005). Music has been used throughout history and “has the potential to be a powerful healing tool” (as cited in Riddle, 2009). Music therapy is defined as a psychotherapeutic method that uses musical interaction as a means of communication and expression (Gold, Heldal, Dahle, & Wigram, 2009). In his book, ‘Rhythm, Music and the Brain,’ Dr. Michael Thaut, Director of Colorado State University’s Center for Biomedical Research in Music at Fort Collins and Chair of the Department of Music, theatre and Dance, says that “the record of the complex role and function of music in human history is full of examples of how certain pieces of music express certain emotions, concepts or events for specific cultures and societies” (2005).
The first references of music therapy in history, date back as early as 1789. By using ideas set forth by René Descartes, in an article entitled Music Physically Considered, the anonymous author developed a case to use music to influence and regulate emotional conditions (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 1992/1999). It was these authors who believed that it took a properly trained music practitioner in order to use music in treatment. In the early 1800’s, Edwin Atlee and Samuel Mathews, both medical students, wrote works on music and disease. In An Inaugural Essay on the Influence of Music in the Cure of Diseases, Atlee cited medical, literary and scholarly sources, which included theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau, psychiatrist and physician Benjamin Rush, and British musicologist Charles Burney, stating that his purpose was “to treat the effects produced on the mind by the impression of that certain modification of sound called music, which I hope to prove has a powerful influence upon the mind and consequently the body” (1992/1999).
Two years after the completion of Atlee’s dissertation, Mathews wrote an article entitled On the Effects of Music in Curing and Palliating Diseases. It was in this article that he cited the Bible in order to support his assertions by “recounting the story of the therapeutic effects of David’s harp playing on Saul’s psychological difficulties” (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 1992/1999). Although both dissertations were quite similar in content, form and physical appearance, of all the sources that they each cited, physician/ psychologist Benjamin Rush was the one person most heavily relied upon (1992/1999). Not only was Rush a pioneer in physiology and psychiatry, he also had gained a reputation as one of the leading medical theorists in the early years of the United States (Osborne & Gerencser, 2003).
It was in the 1830’s and mid 1800’s that music therapy was first used in educational institutions by Dr. Samuel Gridley at the Perkins School for the Blind and by George Root at the New York School for the Blind, respectively. Also, it was during the 1840’s that David Ely Bartlett and William Wolcott Turner developed a successful music program at the American Asylum for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 1992/1999). Throughout the next ninety years, many advocates for music therapy came to influence the medical and health professions, including psychology.

The research was conducted through various sources. By using Chapman University Leatherby Libraries, numerous articles were able to be found through their online databases, several books were sent from their main holdings, and two books were sent from Southern California and North Carolina Universities through the Chapman University ILLIAD services. Multiple articles and data were also found through various websites by searching both Google and Google scholar. Three citations were found through three different Universities from wither the music therapy program listing or from the instructors handouts.

Known as E. Thayer Gaston, Everett Thayer Gaston (1901-1971) was born in Woodward, Oklahoma, July 4, 1901. After funding his medical education by teaching music at public schools, it was in 1940 that E. Thayer graduated from the University of Kansas earning his doctorate in educational psychology. It was while he was teaching that he became interested in using music to understand the human behavior (Johnson, 1981). In his paper Man and Music, Gaston states,
“Music, a form of human behavior, is unique and powerful in its influence. …Human behavior involved with music has been studied by psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists. …music therapy will profit most from a multidisciplinary approach. …it (music therapy)…follows the path of a behavioral science” (E. Thayer Gaston, 1968).
Ancient physicians recognized that music affected human beings’ moods, energy levels, and emotions. Gaston followed in the footsteps of his fellow colleagues of psychology; Ivan Pavlov, B. F. Skinner, and John Watson in behavioral theory, as well as some of the ancient philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. By applying behaviorist theories, such as the declaration of Watson’s goal of psychology being, “not to describe and explain conscious states…but rather to predict and control overt behavior” (Fancher, 1979/1996), it was through music that Gaston said that music is a form of that human behavior. By using music to alter the brain or brain waves, Gaston followed the conditioned reflexes that Pavlov described through his theory, “an unconditioned stimulus and unconditioned response together constitute an unconditioned reflex” (1979/1996), which agrees with Plato and Aristotle in the belief that music could be used in character training because it affected the emotions directly (Broudy, 1991). By following Descartes’ second type of reflex response which accounted for learned reactions, Gaston recognized that the brain responds reflexively to music not only in therapy but out of therapy as well. It was by applying music to therapy that he believed that “behavior can be controlled by the type of music used” and “the rhythm determines the amount of energy invested in the physical response to music” (Gaston, 1968). This relation followed the viewpoint of Pythagoras and Plato, in that the audible music of men was in some way the agent of the inaudible but more perfect music of the celestial spheres and that it (music), exposed deeper than itself, and the further realism that it disclosed, the better it was (1991), Plato believed that lest certain softening musical modes, such as the Lydian and Ionian scales would undermine the hardiness of the guardians.
In An Introduction to Music Therapy: Theory and Practice (1992/1999), authors William Davis, Kate Gfeller, and Michael Thaut explain that it is through Jean Piaget’s four primary stages of development, (1) sensorimotor, (2) preoperational, (3) concrete operation, and (4) formal operation, which we learn to use various types of music for our human needs. It is in these four stages that we learn about rhythm, all in varying degrees and that it is rhythm, over all other aspects, that Gaston attributes the therapeutic benefits to its structural properties. Gaston goes further on to say that “music is an essential and necessary function of man. It influences his behavior and condition and has done so for thousands of years. (It is) rhythm (that) is the organizer and energizer…making possible the dance and most music is dance music” (Gaston, 1968).

Through psychology, Gaston demonstrated how music could be understood through both the musical message and the effect of conditioning (Sears, 2007). In understanding this effect, we can take a look at the United States’ National Anthem, for example. When one hears the first few notes, no one needs to tell an individual that has been raised in America that it is appropriate to stand up during the song, take off ones hat, if that may be the case, and to either place their hand over their heart if a civilian or to salute the flag if they are or were military personnel. This follows Descartes’ theory of reflexive responses, specifically from learned reactions (Fancher, 1979/1996). In the book A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy (Wigram, Pedersen, & Bonde, 2002), the authors note that the development of music therapy in many countries around the world have been influenced by the psychoanalytic and psycho-therapeutic model of therapy, behavior therapy and traditional neuropsychiatry. This includes psychoanalysis and analytical psychotherapy used by Carl Jung, person-centered therapy used by Carl Rogers, Gestalt therapy, transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy.
Marilyn Zimmerman describes in her work, Psychological Theory and Music Learning (1991), she gives three of her major purposes for this chapter were to (a) consider contemporary psychological theories that have had an impact on music psychology and learning, (b) review the applications of psychology to musical learning, and (c) suggest psychological principles that can aid the music process. With contemporary psychology being permeated by associationist and Gestalt psychology were the influences which formed the basis of her thought. Because of the reliance of Gestalt psychology on the function of consciousness in thinking, it has had a fastidious appeal to the musician. James Mursell viewed Gestalt doctrine as a remedy to the mechanistic approach to knowledge of the associationist’s. Through his synthesis-analysis-synthesis process of musical problem solving which derived from Gestalt insistence, other principles such as perception, insightful learning, organization, contextual learning, and level of aspiration have been incorporated into cognitive psychology and cognitive developmental psychology. Through associationist’s such as J. Mill, 1869, it was understood that learning came by means of the association of ideas. It was the Gestalt laws of psychological organization as they function within our cultural framework that the theory of expectation in music was based on by Leonard Meyer.
We can take a look at music therapy, cognitive psychology, and Alzheimer’s for example to understand a deeper process. In cognitive psychology, the experimental research in perception, conceptual formation, language acquisition, memory, and thinking all play a key role in the relevance of music learning. It is mostly through memory skills that we notice the active participation in music and that memory skills often involve a composite of many factors and occur over a wide age span. Although this is the case in most individuals, patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s and have severe memory loss are unable to process deeper thought. By using music therapy with the Alzheimer patient, we are able to notice the difference in memory though specific types of music. This was proven in Client A, an 86 year old man, who had suffered with Alzheimer’s for approximately ten years. Through playing music from the early 1930’s and harmonica music, this brought back memories that he normally could not remember at other times during this bought with this memory disease.
According to Carl Jung, “The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is ‘man’ in a higher sense – he is ‘collective man,’ a vehicle and molder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind” (Carl Jung, 1997/2009). Plato was unwavering when it came to the distinction between music that is good musically and music that was good both morally and intellectually. He believed that it was the aesthetic experience that had to be judged by its effects on the whole life of a person…as well as by artistic standards (Broudy, 1991). Gaston believed that if we as humans are less exposed to stimuli we would be less complete in terms of human development. He defines this by saying, “The significance of the aesthetic experience of music for the individual is that without it he would be less complete as a human being” (Johnson, 1981). It is this aesthetic experience that would keep music from disappearing from life since it is a basic necessity.
In his argument concerning the significance of music education (as cited in Johnson, 1981), Gaston did not realize at the time the following four rules and beliefs would later apply to music therapy. His beliefs were:
(1) “Aesthetic experience is a basic necessity of health and development of everyone;
(2) There is no absolute music—each culture learns its own music and has its own criteria for its performance;
(3) Man uses music to transcend the material aspects of his life, and he uses music to integrate individuals into groups and to generate group feeling; and
(4) Man is able to engender positive feelings with music because it is basically, nonverbal communication.”

Throughout his career, Gaston’s core concern was the function of music. It was his clear suggestion that music has an exclusive effectiveness to gratify these needs in both the sick and the well. It is through all of this that E. Thayer Gaston was able to focus deeper not only on the music therapy client, but also on the relative thoughts of his predecessors in psychology (Johnson, 1981). It was the early treatment of biology and culture that Gaston (1968) implied the importance of both nature and nurture in music therapy. Five years later, John Blacking (1973) made assertions about the biological and social origins of music and thus music therapy (Kenny, 2002; as cited in Kenny, 2002).
Through applying these ideas and theories, Gaston realized that psychology could be enhanced by using music in the therapy session. While writing the Introduction for Music in Therapy (Gaston, 1968), he says that “music and therapy have been close companions, often inseparable, throughout most of man’s history.” He continues in the introduction to his thesis Man and Music, by stating, “as in all cases in all sciences, music therapy strives to bring about organization, classification, and description until a system emerges, a system that is behavioral, logical, and psychological” (1968). By originating in the study of music and adding the study of educational psychology, Gaston realized and viewed various ways music played a role is the psyche.
First, music enhances verbal and non-verbal social interaction and communication. This is shown in examples of most social occasions that are accompanied by music, which increases sociability. When we look back through history, this seemed to be discovered during the late Baroque period and into the early Renaissance period when social gatherings were accompanied by musicians which encouraged the sociability among the attendants. As we look at today’s schools in America, we can see that as early as sixth and seventh grades, school dances have encouraged that same sociability with the music that they play.
Gaston later adds, that music offers an excellent milieu for the operation of group dynamics. It (music) operates as an integrating and socializing agency by providing a situation for the adaptation of suitable behavior to group function. Again we can see this occurring in today’s society through various concerts. If one attends a symphony concert, it is expected that they will be dressed in semi-formal or formal attire and will mingle with proper attitude and respect with the other concert attendants. Should one attend a heavy-metal Kiss concert, for example, no established code is given for dress or attitude. You can see all kinds of individuals in t-shirts and jeans, and even some wearing the face make-up similar to that of the band members, with white paint covering their faces and black designs of stars or lightning bolts covering their eyes. This is a big contrast, but it is this integrating and socializing agent that provides that adaptation among music enthusiasts.
Second, music is related closely to tender feelings and “may…arouse that which is often low ebb in patients. …This arousal of ‘love’ is vitally important because it helps provide feelings of security” (Gaston, 1968; Henry, 1958; Howery, 1968). For this, all we have to do is look at music in general throughout history. For instance, if we were to look up all the love songs ever written, we would never be able to list them all. Since love is the greatest of emotions written in music, it stands to reason that we more than willingly arouse that feeling of security when listening to a love song, especially one that may have great meaning to the individual.
Third Gaston gives in great detail the design of how music is used in the treatment and education of emotionally disturbed children by outlining (Gaston, 1968),
a) “classroom control techniques,
b) interference and intervention…on the spot skills of either the teacher or therapist,
c) verbal control techniques,
d) behavior-consequence tools, and
e) evaluation of success.”
Each of these follow a developmental theory that would eventually lead to learning theory or behaviorism, social learning theory, and the probability of cognitive and sociocultural theories.
About music, Gaston said in his original Man and Music (Gaston, 1965) thesis, there are numerous characteristics about music. First was that it is not mystical but mysterious. He goes on to explain that we do not completely understand why music is beautiful because the causes of its beauty have not yet been proven (and probably never will be). Secondly, music is not a mystical or artificial act, “but an essential function of man which now influences his behavior and condition and has done so for thousands of years.” Finally he makes note that there are “fundamental considerations of man in relation to music.” These include, but are not limited to,
1) “all mankind has a need for aesthetic expression and experience,
2) music is communication,
3) music is derived from tender emotions,
4) music is structured reality,
5) music is a source of gratification,
6) music provides an ecstasy uniquely its own, and
7) music nearly always persuades in the direction of custom” (Gaston, 1965).
To understand music and psychology together, Gaston said that “from a functional viewpoint, music is, basically a means of communication…it communicates about feelings in a way that words cannot, because of their in adequacy” (Henry, 1958). He later goes on to say that “music is probably the most adaptable of the arts.” He even quoted Jules Masserman by saying, “all human organisms have need for aesthetic expression” (Gaston, 1958). Later he explains that “man transcends the material processes and immediate facts, therefore, he must pass beyond himself… and experience pleasure” (1958).

Through his beliefs and philosophies, E. Thayer Gaston incorporated psychology and music together in music therapy. It is because of this reason, and his theories, that earned him the title ‘Father of American Music Therapy.’ With the belief that music may speak where words fail (Gaston, 1968; Giacobbe, 1984), Gaston believed that music could play a major role on the brain. He felt that the chief aim of therapy was to enable the individual to function at his best in society, seeing music as a stimulus, which trained therapists could utilize to elicit certain measurable responses (relaxation, arousal, associations, etc.) in therapy (E. Thayer Gaston, 2009; Michel, 2005). By following such psychology techniques and having colleagues in the field of psychology such as Jean Piaget and B.F. Skinner, there is no wonder why Everett Thayer Gaston is the father of American Music Therapy.
With so much information about E. Thayer Gaston, we may never know every psychology pioneer that he followed through his own theories. Gaston played a major role in getting the field of music therapy off the ground; although it is surprising more information is not out there in regards to the major theorists that he followed. With having thoughts and beliefs that came from Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Piaget, Skinner, Jung, Rodgers, and others that were unable to be found easily, it is surprising that psychologists have not noticed him for his work in the field of psychology as music therapists have recognized him for his work in the filed of music therapy.