Pattern Sensory Enhancement (PSE) from one Aspiring Scholar to Another *

Pattern Sensory Enhancement, or PSE, is a Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) technique developed by Michael Thaut. This technique’s purpose is to elicit movement with musical cues through all elements of music (i.e. tempo, rhythm, dynamics, etc.). Those cues fall under three primary categories, spatial, temporal and force, and has a step by step procedure to follow. When done correctly, PSE can be very effective in not only engaging but driving movement and prompting full range of motion and functional motor movement.

Spatial cues are broken down into pitch, dynamics, sound duration and harmony. All of these elements indicate how the body should be moving in space in one capacity or another. If a music therapist wants to facilitate an arm swing up and down, they could use a legato scale crescendoing as the scale ascends to elicit the upward momentum of the arm and a decrescendo as the scale descends down on the release of the movement. Gravity naturally assists this lowering or downward motion of the arm meaning emphasizing the movement with rising dynamics and a connected melodic line are less of a necessity as the laws of physics state that what goes up must come down.

Temporal cues encompass tempo, meter, rhythmic pattern, and form. Matching the desired motion to these cues is important for the clarity and facilitation of the movement. For example, if a therapist’s objective is to maintain or improve lower body gross motor function in the legs, and therefore is facilitating leg lifts, using a duple meter march will depict the movement within the music. Duple meter because the natural cadence for walking goes 1. 2., 1.2. (i.e. leg goes up/down, up/down). An example of an appropriate song might be “When the Saints go Marching in”. It is in a duple meter and the downbeat is very strong and easy to pic out. The corresponding lyrics are convenient, although not necessary.

Force cues are musical elements like dynamics, harmony, and tempo. Although these elements are used as spatial and temporal cues, they can also be used to indicate where the “work” or exertion is in the movement (i.e. in the leg lift example above, lifting the leg requires more exertion to work against gravity). In other words these help to cue the points at which the muscles are either exerting or releasing energy. A dissonant chord, such as a diminished C, might be used at the moment a client needs to hold a position of tension. The chord resolving to C major would indicate the release or relaxation of the muscles.

To effectively implement PSE, it is important for the music therapist to follow these 4 steps.

    1. Demonstrate the movement with your client and set a tempo on a metronome that matches their natural cadence (i.e. If you will be marching, introduce it verbally but also demonstrate what the movement should look like.)
    2. Following the metronome, give your clients rhythmic verbal cues. (i.e. Give your verbal cues in the corresponding meter. If you have a metronome that allows for tapping in the beat, do so.)
      1. I.E. up and down, out and in
    3. Continue the verbal cues while gently bringing music in.
    4. Fade out the verbal prompts and let the music facilitate the movement.
  • Optional: add a song, but never compromise the beat!

-Noriah Uribe



*Source by Tara Harwell


Move That Body – Patterned Sensory Enhancement

First of all, let me give a special thanks to Veronica May, MT-BC, NMT for coming to The Music Therapy Center to, in her words, “brickity break down” some Neurologic Music Therapy physical and sensorimotor techniques for us, and give us specific tools to use with our clients. The following information is based on her helpful instructions.

Music motivates movement! That is why there is a whole category of neurologic music therapy techniques that address physical and sensorimotor goals. One technique is Patterned Sensory Enhancement (PSE). PSE uses the elements of music – harmony, dynamics, rhythm, melody, tempo, and duration – to mirror a specific movement. It is used in motor rehabilitation, maintenance, or modulation.

In PSE, music is not only motivating movement, but it’s also illustrating the movements. When a music therapist chooses what type of music to play and how to play it in order to facilitate a specific movement, he/she must take all the elements of music into consideration: 1. Timing elements: meter, tempo, pattern, form; 2. melodic elements that indicate spatial aspects of movement: pitch, dynamics, sound duration, harmony. In addition to musical elements, the music therapist must also be aware of the elements of the movement his/her client is being prompted to do. What are the steps involved in making the specific movement? Where is the force of the movement coming from?


Enough with the technicalities! How about some examples for how MUSIC can ILLUSTRATE and FACILITATE MOVEMENT!

Example: Knee lifts from a seated positionSeatedKnRse2

First, where is the force of the movement? The LIFT, because this is going against gravity. Therefore, the “force” – or most emphasized – part of the music will be on the lifting motion.


Second, let’s think about the music.

  1. Meter: Knee lifting is like marching, so we would likely want a march meter (i.e. 2/4 or 4/4). Find a song, or plan your improvisation in that meter.
  2. Tempo: At what speed do you want your client making each movement? Choose the tempo that is most appropriate for your client’s age and motor challenge. Remember, slower tempos are sometimes harder for clients to maintain because there is less auditory info happening between each beat.
  3. Pitch: You want your client to make an upward movement, so instinctively, you play higher pitches to cue the lifting movement (e.g. a high C chord), and lower pitches to cue the lowering movement (e.g. low C).
  4. Dynamics: In this case, dynamics will help you emphasize the pitches that cue the lifting movement. Play the higher pitches louder and the lower pitches softer. E.g. Loud high C chord, soft low C.
  5. Duration: You can cue how long you want your client maintaining his/her knee in that lifted position by sustaining the high pitches (e.g. sustained high C chord), or making those same pitches very shor
  6. Harmony: Harmony doesn’t play a crucial role in this knee-lift example. But it can tie in to the emphasis piece. Emphasize the lifting motion by making the high pitch a chord (e.g. high C chord), and the low pitch just a single note. I’ll give another example. A clenching movement may be associated with a dissonant chord, while a relaxed/releasing movement may be associated with a consonant chord.

– Chiara (the new intern!)