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The Magic of Music

March 5, 2013

If any of you readers are fans of American Idol, you may have seen the above contestant when he auditioned for the show this season. Within the first couple of seconds of the video, it is obvious to all us developing speechies that Lazaro Arbos is a person who stutters (PWS). His behaviours are very characteristic of the types of speech difficulties that someone who stutters might have; difficulty saying his own name, secondary behaviours such as his hand movements, blocks (getting stuck on a sound), and sound repetitions can all be witnessed in the way he speaks.

The prevalence of stuttering is approximately 1%, which means that right now, 1% of the population stutters. While this may seem like a low percentage, the population numbers work out to over 300,000 Canadians being affected. As I discussed in a past post, the causes of stuttering are unknown, but there are thought to be some genetic factors that underlying this speech disorder.

While members of the public may ask “what is causing that person to speak that way?”, a trained Speech Pathologist asks herself/himself “what can I do to help this person?,” and as Arbos demonstrates, the answer may lie in song.

When Arbos begins to sing, his speech difficulties seem to melt away, and he becomes very fluent and smooth! While Randy’s advice to “just sing all the time!” may not be the type of functional goal an SLP might set, singing definitely does seem to help with the stutter.

Why is this? The Stuttering Project, a research lab focused on stuttering from the University of Iowa has a couple of ideas. For one, singing acts to mimic some of the techniques used in stuttering therapy, in that it requires easy onsets, prolongations, and smooth pacing, which help to smooth out the dysfluencies present in speech. Another possible explanation is that singing is a different way of ‘talking’, which can elicit fluency from a speaker, if only for a short period of time. Stuttering treatment can also focus on easy and controlled breathing, both of which are necessary during singing!

Much of the research I have read on music and the brain indicates that music activates pathways across the whole brain, rather than just one hemisphere or certain area. This fact offers another possible explanation, that whatever it is that is being disrupted in the speech pathway is somehow transcended by the pathways activated by music.

An alternative explanation discussed on The Body Odd blog, is that singing is an automatic form of speech, based on memorized lines and practised notes. The more automatic speech is, the less likely a PWS is to stutter over it! Regardless of the reason behind his increased fluency, singing is a definite strength for Lazaro Arbos.  He remains in the competition and may just sing his way to a smooth career in the music industry!

For more information on our own world renown stuttering research center, check out www.http://www.istar.ualberta.ca/.

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