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Music Therapy & Speech, Language Pathology

by Melissa Ward, MT-BC

Music in Our Lives

Music is an ever-present force within our lives. Whether it be used in the background of a restaurant or in a store, or if we choose to listen to the radio in the car, when we watch TV or participate in a service (wedding, church, etc.) music is present. The presence of music in various settings implies our enjoyment and motivation through music. Because of these two things, music can be a powerful modality within the therapy setting.

Music Therapy

Music Therapy is an established health-care profession. Goals are non-music related and commonly address social, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical needs. Once goals are established (following assessment and baseline data), treatment is delivered through music experiences specifically tailored to the individuals’ needs.

Music Therapy & Speech, Language Pathology

Speech related goals are also treated through music therapy. Music is a very organizing force which is why we commonly exercise to music to organize our movements. The organization within music through a steady beat can assist individuals with stuttering tendencies. When concentrating on vocal training in music therapy, clients can rehearse skills to enunciate and articulate words through proper diction as well as gain appropriate breathing patterns. Stuttering can also be faded when using rhythmic auditory simulation (RAS). Frequently individuals who stutter when speaking do not transfer this into singing. The regulation of a steady beat can assist in regulating the pace of speech and a decrease in stuttering can be observed. Work that is completed in therapy can then be generalized into daily speech.

Music Therapy and Research

Research regarding the use of music therapy to address speech goals is limited, however in the few studies that have been carried out, findings support music as an important therapeutic tool. Speech with music has been of interest in the neurologic music therapy area. Because music and speech are structurally similar, however processed differently in the brain, music can elicit responses from patients which could otherwise be impossible if processed strictly through the speech pathways of the brain. Following stroke, some patients are unable to speak, however they can sing clearly without challenge. "Individuals with particular types of aphasia may be incapable of producing voluntary speech but automatic, over-learned responses can be elicited. Music therapists, through the technique . . . Speech Stimulation (STIM) can capitalize on this existing strength by using familiar songs, melodies, etc. to stimulate responses . . . working towards more functional speech responses" (Hobson, 2006). Singing is effective in speech rehabilitation as well because it shares the same natural expression as speech such as inflection of tone that is naturally incorporated into speaking and important to interpreting what others are saying. Other "benefits to speech that may result from singing include controlled rate of speech; improved articulation; intelligibility and vocal frequency; and increased vocal intensity, break, and muscle control" (Hobson, 2006). Music can highly benefit articulation problems and perception of pitch contour in speech. Harmonic changes often imitate sentence structure and the natural rise and fall of speech.

Rhythmic Speech Cueing (RSC) was developed using research in neurological responses to rhythm. RSC is applied when needs involve motor skills, including those involved in speech. Music therapists use RSC to address speech production when language comprehension is not an area of need. Individuals often experience frustration when they are unable to produce speech; therefore music therapy is also an integral part of decreasing related stress and anxiety.

Music is created from emotions and feelings. Frequently songwriting encourages expression through an appropriate medium. Music stimulates memory as well which can be key when "recovering meaning and language." (King, 2007). "Active music-making [i.e. playing instruments, writing lyrics, etc] can assist in recovering nonverbal communication through gesture and musical dialogue" (King, 2007). Currently the majority of research in this area is based on music and speech, not much has been done in the area of speech and language. As more SLPs and MTs work together in treating clients, more is learned about the benefits of music with speech.

Music Therapy for You or Your Child?

Music Therapy is appropriate for anyone of any age who enjoys music. No "musical talent" or music training is required. Whether your child is not making progress in traditional therapy, or if they could use supplemental therapeutic support, music therapy could be for them!


Hobson, Marly Rychener. (2006). The Collaboration of Music Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology in the Treatment of Neurogenic Communication Disorders: Part I – Diagnosis, Therapist Roles, and Rationale for Music. Music Therapy Perspectives 24, (2). 58-65.

King, Betsey. (2007). Language and Speech: Distinguishing Between Aphasia, Apraxia, and Dysarthria in Music Therapy Research and Practice. Music Therapy Perspectives 25, (1). 13-18.

Article submitted by: Melissa Ward, MT-BC, Music Therapist for Music Pathways/SPEEECH PATHways. For more information, readers can contact her at 410-374-0555 or

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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