Music is the foundation of communication. From birth, singing nursery rhymes naturally support early language and social development, as there is a lot of repetition and imitation encouragement. Music utilises elements of tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony, and texture to promote effective expressive and receptive communication skills. Conversely, speech consists of rhythm in the form of syllables and melody in the through intonation.
Play is children’s work; a critical element in this notion is having children participate in fun and meaningful activities. Music is hugely motivating and contributes to emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills. Music therapy itself is an evidence-based, allied health profession that uses music interventions to accomplish communication goals. Major hospitals throughout Melbourne now include music therapists as part of their team to support patients in their rehabilitation. For example, playing an instrument, singing, and movement to music can address goals such as, breath control, social-communication skills in groups, language concepts, oral motor skills, language acquisition, and using targeted phonemes/blends. The increasing number of children with language disorders is a public health crisis that is widespread.
Throughout Australia, children with developmental language disorder represent what is believed to be between five and eight per cent of the population. As the numbers of cases of children with communication disorders grow, so does the need for cost-effective, efficient and innovative treatment. Therefore, many therapists are looking for collaboration and co-treatment as a way to meet this need. This was evidenced by a survey of 695 music therapists, where 44.6% said they collaborate with SLPs (Register, 2002). Music and the arts in general play has a significant role to play in this collaborative process.
From personal experience, families are excited to discover a clinician with specialist experience in both speech pathology and music and welcome a different lateral approach to speech and language intervention. Emotions play a significant role in learning. As music stimulates the limbic system, the emotional centre in our brain, it has a better chance of having them connect meaningfully to activities. When used in a group setting it allows children and adults to engage and connect with others in a no-confrontational space and work on social and pragmatic components to communication, such as turn-taking and cooperation.
As mentioned, there is a robust neurological rationale for incorporating music into therapy. In sessions with my adult clients with acquired brain injury, I have engaged in the songwriting process. This has been an innovative way to connect memories and language development through sequencing past life events. The stories are then put to familiar chord progressions or melodies from childhood songs and evoke strong memories and lead to better retention of vocabulary. With younger populations with cognitive impairments, I will use gesture and actions to stimulate motor procedural memory.
The creative process of therapy is an ongoing one. The inclusion of different styles, approaches and methodologies to discovering effective treatment is made even more interesting with the addition of music.