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The Musical SLP

April 13, 2012

While the above video may not feature any speech language pathologists working on goals or strategies to help with aphasia or articulation, it focuses on a topic that I am passionate about: the use of music as a means to reach out and communicate with individuals who may have trouble interacting with the world in other ways.

Music can be considered an alternative pathway that communication can take, diverting around a damaged speech system to allow for some kind of expression. For example, music therapy has been used a lot in aphasia therapy, in formal programs such as Melodic Intonation Therapy, and as a more informal strategy. By pairing functional phrases with simple melodies, clients who are otherwise unable to produce speech, are able to sing along with the music, and express themselves in a way that was previously blocked off.

As the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks points out in the video “The effectiveness doesn’t stop when the headphones are removed. Henry, normally mute, virtually unable to answer the simplest yes or no questions, is made quite voluble.” A similar phenomena occurs when music therapy is used with speech clients in that the music helps speech even when the music is removed. A study done by Hartley, Alan Turry & Raghavan in 20101 investigated the use of music therapy with one man, who was previously non-verbal. Through the course of therapy, the music support was phased out, and the participant was able to produce verbal speech on his own!

Dr. Aniruddh Patel, a neuroscientist who does work on music and the brain, has pointed out that music “engages huge swathes of the brain – it’s not just lighting up a spot in the auditory cortex.”2 This is an important point, and speaks to the range of clients that can be helped with the integration of music into their therapy. Music therapy has been used not only with clients with aphasia, but also with clients with Parkinsons3, children with communication and language delays4, in children with autism5, and even with children with cochlear implants!6

As a post on the ASHA blog points out, there are many similarities between language and music:

  1. Music and Language are universal and specific to humans
  2. Both have pitch, timbre, rhythm, and durational features
  3. Spontaneous speech and spontaneous singing typically develop within infants at approximately the same time
  4. Music and language have auditory, vocal, and visual uses (both use written systems) and are built on structure and rules.
  5. Distinct forms of music and language exist and vary across cultures

Tapping into these similarities can allow a therapist to create an intervention plan that uses the tempo, rhythm, phrasing and language of music to access the speech system. While music therapy might not be the answer for every client, and more research is definitely needed on the overlapping brain regions involved in speech and music, it is an exciting area that I hope to be able to explore further as an SLP!

What do you think about the use of music with the various types of clients we will see in our future careers? Leave a comment below!

-Adele Courchesne


1 Hartley, M. L., Turry, A., & Raghavan, P., (2010). The role of music and music therapy in aphasia rehabilitation. Music and Medicine, 2(4), 235-242.



4 Wibke, G., Ulrike, L., & Thomas, O. (2010). Effects of music therapy in the treatment of children with delayed speech development: Results of a pilot study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 10(39).



One Comment leave one →
  1. jmdavie permalink
    April 14, 2012 12:18 pm

    I saw this video a couple days ago and thought ‘how wonderful’ 🙂 excellent article!

    I wonder if in 60 or 70 years, if people will be in a care residence and be comforted and reinvogarated by Skrillex…. haha 😉

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