‘Speaking’ of Music Therapy

 Communication is a basic human need and right, and for many people, that function may be limited by motor, cognitive, or emotional disorders.  The aim of speech pathology is to diagnose and rehabilitate these conditions to improve communication and an overall quality of life. Communication isn’t always about words, but also appropriate social behaviors and relevant mental functions. When we converse we face each other, maintain eye contact, focus attention, take turns, collaborate ideas, and mirror body language. This implicit social etiquette in itself may be very difficult for someone with autism to notice, or someone with cerebral palsy to perform. If these behaviors are so innate, how then can they be learned? These behaviors are so basic to human interaction, they are present in almost every social activity, especially games and playing collaborative music.

It is true that language and music have a lot of common properties. They contain a system of rules that we intuitively use to segment structure and meaning while exercising fine motor control and higher cognitive functions. While speech pathology focuses more on the vocalization and articulation of sound in order to communicate, music and art therapies have a more general approach. Developmental music therapy is focused on helping the normative growth and development of children through music. It can work with such a broad scope because melody unlocks pathways in the brain by activating multiple areas simultaneously.

Singing is also a large part of the human connection with music. We use our bodies just like we use instruments by harnessing vibrations and controlling air flow. However, vocalization often comes later in music therapies because of its intimate expression and level of difficulty. The muscles in the vocal tract are much smaller than the muscles in the arms and even fingers and require a great deal of fine motor control. Because of this, music therapy can be an excellent precursor to speech therapy by practicing fundamental skills of communication, and fine tuning movements which strengthen the cerebellum.

Both of these fields share common goals and methods to improve the quality of life for their clients. Therapy should promote confidence, trust and most of all, fun. The more we enjoy therapeutic exercises, the more we improve. I hope to see more crossover and collaboration of speech and music therapists to build a better world of communication.

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