Music | Reading and Language


It is hypothesized that before the complexity of speech and language developed, much of human communication was based on basic forms similar to music and gesture (Hamilton, 2010). Differences in pitch and tone in conjunction with expressive gestures were used in conveying excitement, fear, danger, or happiness. Today, music is used as a way to express emotions when spoken words are just not enough. As a result, many have begun to see the significant relationship between the use of music and language in human development as a whole. Specifically, some speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are learning to accept music in speech and language therapy in order to facilitate development in overall communication (Smith, 2011).

Music and language are both vital components in personal expression and individuality. Music allows for individuals to adhere to specific elements of genres in order to reflect their inner emotions and personal stories. Music is an international language that crosses all barriers and is a potential way to reach out to people of any background who struggle to express themselves as a result of communication impairments (Bolton, 2012). According to the American Music Therapy Association (2011), music and language share 5 characteristics: (1) they are universal and specific to humans, (2) both have pitch, timbre, rhythm, and durational features, (3) spontaneous speech and spontaneous singing within infants develop around the same time, (4) auditory, visual, and vocal uses are built on structure and rules, and (5) distinct forms of music and language exist and vary across cultures.

The utilization of music in speech and language therapy can aid treatment of various types of communication disorders and impairments including individuals with strokes, traumatic brain injury, autism, language/intellectual/hearing impairments, childhood apraxia of speech, dementia, cleft palate, aphasia, neurodegenerative disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s), voice disorders, and stuttering (Peters, 2000). Music is a fairly new approach to treatment in speech and language therapy but research evidence of its effectiveness is emerging. Preliminary reports suggest that its effectiveness can be powerful in habilitation and rehabilitation of speech and language.

Music in speech and language therapy is used for a variety of reasons in order to improve overall communication in children, adolescents, and adults. Therapeutic music exercises may focus on increasing breath and muscle control, stimulating vocalization, developing receptive and/or expressive language skills, improving articulation, improving speech rate and fluency and correcting or managing voice disorders (Peters, 2000). Most importantly, proponents of the use of music in speech and language therapy suggest that music is meant to rejuvenate the joy in communicating by increasing self-confidence, emotional expression and social interaction (Peters, 2000).

The clinical question in the following systematic review is: What level of evidence exists to support the use of music in facilitating speech and language habilitation and rehabilitation for individuals with communication disorders? The purpose of this systematic review is to examine the available evidence supporting the effects of music on speech and language performance for children, adolescents, and adults with communication disorders. It will analyze and evaluate the literature pertaining to characteristics of music that may influence speech and language acquisition and the role music can play in improving communication skills.