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Is the "Road to Recovery" Paved with Rhythm?

How music therapy fits in rehabilitation treatment

Walking with a patient

Music therapy.

A couple weeks ago, Bob Woodruff mentioned music therapy as a "new high-tech" treatment for rehabilitation patients. More recently, a local Houston TV channel aired a segment on rehab services provided at TIRR Memorial Hospital and mentioned Neurologic Music Therapy as service they provide.

Why all the buzz? Does music therapy really work?

Well, yes! Here's how...

The Role of Music Therapy in Rehabilitation

It's not uncommon these days to find music therapists in a rehab setting working along-side other treatment professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists. Music therapy is cropping up on rehab teams all over the world. And why is that? Because music therapy works.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll have read that music engages and changes our brain. This is especially useful in rehab because of the concept of "shared networks" in our brain. There are neural networks that process both musical and non-musical information. For example, there is some overlap in the networks involved in processing singing words and speaking words.

Board-certified music therapists can use music and music-based experiences to help activate impaired brain networks. The client then "re-learns" and practices those skills through music, thus strengthening them. To continue with our example above, when working with someone who has expressive aphasia, a music therapist can use singing techniques to help that patient re-learn how to speak.

Music Therapy Treatment Areas

In addition to speaking, what other types of "non-musical skills" am I referring to? Although specific treatment goals depend on the type of damage, examples include:

  • Fine motor skills --- using your hands and fingers
  • Gross motor skills --- reaching with your arms or re-learning how to walk
  • Speech production skills --- forming meaningful words and sentences
  • Communication skills --- using nonverbal "body language" or comprehending speech
  • Learning and memory skills --- remembering the alphabet or strengthening short-term memory
  • Attention skills -- improving focus of attention and strengthening ability to multi-task

Music therapists can use music in various ways to help target the above goal areas. Sample interventions include: instrument playing, singing, moving to music (as when walking to a beat), listening to music, and composing music.

Who Is Eligible for Music Therapy?

So who does this work for? Well...although a formal music therapy assessment is needed, many people receiving rehab services may be appropriate. This can include those living with a stroke, a traumatic (or acquired) brain injury, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Multiple Sclerosis, or any number of neurological impairments.

Interested in finding music therapy services for you or your loved one? You can search for a board-certified music therapist by visiting the Certification Board for Music Therapists website at

Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website,, for additional information, resources, and strategies.


Thaut, M. (2005). Rhythm, Music, and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications. New York: Routledge.