Music therapy is often used as tool to improved communication skills for children and adults with a wide array of conditions. Children with communication disorders may benefit in many ways. Singing involves speech, language, auditory memory, pitchmatching and fluency. The therapist will design singing experiences to address the specific needs of each child, helping to improve their articulation, inflection, breathing and pacing. For example, to work on clearly articulating the letter “L,” a young child will enjoy singing the story of Linus the Lion. This experience designed by Julie Brock while an intern at Music Therapy Services engages the child with pictures of animals, objects, and activities that begin with the letter “L.” The child and therapist together sing about Linus and his friends Lana the Llama and Leo the Leopard as they prepare lunch, do laundry, and find a light for their cabin.
For those people who are nonverbal, music provides an avenue for expressing their feelings and thoughts. One parent reported she could always tell how her daughter was feeling by how she played the piano–lightly for happy, loudly for angry, slowly for sad. Sometimes people who do not speak, will sing. And for those who have dementia which impairs the speech areas of the brain, singing and playing music is still possible and provides an avenue for connecting with loved ones.
For patients with traumatic brain injuries, music therapy can be a powerful tool for relearning the skills of language and communication. Representative Gabrielle Giffordsʼ rehabilitation received a great deal of attention in the press. Most of the major news outlets featured stories of her music therapy treatment. In an interview where she could speak in sentences just a few words in length, she sang an entire verse of “Tomorrow” from the Broadway show Annie. Music therapists activate the music areas in the brain which are distinct from the speech areas. In some cases, normal speech areas can be reactivated in the process.