Music and speech therapy: a winning combination

As a young music therapist, I found myself drawn to addressing clinical goals in speech, language and cognition. In order to advance my skill set in this area, I later sought and was awarded a Master’s degree  and then a Ph.D. in Speech-Language Pathology. In this training, I got to ask all of the pressing questions that I had from years of clinical experience in music:

how is music (melody, rhythm) neurally perceived? how is speech perceived?  

how does articulation differ in speech and in music? how are they similar?

how does cognition, the hallmark of our humanity, develop optimally? And how could music could support this cognitive development and inform cognitive rehabilitation?


Some of the things that I have come to learn is that music and speech share the same neural network. This explains the overlap of pitch and rhythm in music and speech. And they differ in important ways- speech perception and production are predominantly left hemispheric activities while melody perception and production are predominantly right. This explains why people who stutter don't when they sing. Because of these shared networks, we have an opportunity to use music to treat speech disorders because:

the rate of production can be slowed naturally in music to facilitate motor ability

music is compelling and motivating 

repetition of targeted sounds and phrases is generally more acceptable and natural in music  than it is in speech

people with speech disorders can often sing when they can't talk which can be an important asset in repairing elements of speech

I have come to find the combination of my training as a speech and music therapist to be a significant asset in my work as both a clinician and as an educator. It has truly been a winning combination in problem solving, treatment planning and clinical services for a wide variety of clients who have congenital or acquired diseases and disorders. It is my hope that this winning collaboration of services will be available to all who could benefit from it. 

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