Music and Language

Music and language share some of the same parameters – frequency, intensity, waveform and timbre, duration, rate, contour, rhythm and cadence to name a few. Speech is processed mostly in the left side of the brain while melody is processed in the right. Using music to rehabilitate a patient who may have lost language due to a stroke or TBI has proven to be a powerful tool. It’s often equated to the brains plasticity, or ability to use alternate neuropathways to process information.


Figure 1: Areas of the brain involved in language

(Hickok, Bellugi, & Klima, 2001)

Music can be a powerful tool for anyone working on speech and language skills. It addresses various aspects of speech such as breath support, phonation, articulation, and prosody. Music also taps into multiple parts of the brain, promoting domains from memory to motor movement. Neurologic music therapy (NMT) uses music as a therapeutic treatment for various neurologic diseases and disorders. NMT has numerous speech and language interventions, which I have briefly summarized below:

  • Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), an intervention originally developed by speech and language pathologists used melody and left hand tapping to transfer language from left hemisphere of the brain to right hemisphere. This process works best with Broca’s aphasia and while it may take a long time to implement the whole protocol (from singing to generalized speech), it can be effective in providing the client with functional phrases.
  • Musical Speech Stimulation (MUSTIM) uses music’s anticipatory characteristics to stimulate reflexive speech with overlearned song.
  • Rhythmic Speech Cueing (RSC) a technique helpful for improving fluency. Metric RSC uses rhythm of equal duration to focus on articulation. Patterned RSC uses beat patterns that simulate the stress of normal speech.
  • Vocal Intonation Therapy (VIT) addresses pitch, breath support, timbre, loudness, phonation, resonance, and intonation. Interventions include breathing and scales.
  • Oral Motor and Respiratory Exercises (OMREX) uses sound vocalizations and wind instruments for articulatory control and respiratory strength.
  • Developmental Speech and Language Training Through Music (DSLM) uses music to facilitate speech and language development in children with developmental speech and language delays
  • Therapeutic Singing (TS) incorporates goals (such as initiation, development, and articulation of speech) from other therapeutic techniques and used as reinforcement exercises but focuses on goals less specifically. TS is often used as a complimentary technique.
  • Symbolic Communication Training Through Music (SYCOM) uses improvisatory performance exercises to teach dialogue skills such as listening, responding, speech gestures, timing of initiation and responding, starting and stopping conversations.

Many of these interventions have been developed off of speech and language pathologist’s protocols. For many people, music therapy and speech therapy are complimentary, especially when the therapists have an open line of communication regarding the client’s goals and progress.

Shannon Flaherty


Hickok, G., Bellugi, U., & Klima, E. S. (2001). Sign Language in the Brain. Scientific American, 284(6), 58-65. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0601-58

Thaut, M. H. (2008). Rhythm, Music, and The Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications. New York ; London: Routledge.

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