In music therapy, professionals focus on a variety of domains including fine and gross motor skills, emotional recognition and regulation, cognitive skills, behavioral skills and social skills. One of my favorite areas to address using music is the communication domain. In my experience, a person’s inability to communicate affects how they cope with frustration, challenging tasks or negative situations. Furthermore, a communication deficit can cause emotional distress and a person may resort to harmful behaviors to increase expression. Have you ever been mad to the point that you want to scream or throw something across the room? Imagine all of the emotions you experience on a daily basis but are unable to put into words. Individuals who are unable to communicate may feel similarly and it is beneficial to take perspective.
Here are a few examples of how music therapy addresses communication deficits:
- Music therapists use interventions that increase automatic responses. For example, we might sing a song, such as, Happy Birthday and omit lyrics that are in pivotal points of the music, like “Happy birthday to ______.”
- Music therapists use instrument play interventions that focus on increasing a person’s ability to identify objects, colors, sounds, tastes, etc. I often sing through the book Brown Bear Brown Bear while having my client play the corresponding color bell to the color of the animal in the book. I also focus on increasing clients’ ability to label animals as we sing through this book.
- Music therapists use vocal exercises to increase oral motor coordination. We might use a simple song that repeats certain words, sounds, or encourages the client to practice changing the inflection or pitch of their voice.
- Music therapists use individualized interventions for each person to practice expressive language skills. One intervention I use in my practice is to prompt the client to listen to a piece of music and discuss how it made them feel. If the client is nonverbal, I will adapt the intervention by using instrument improvisation or visual aids.
- To improve functional communication skills music therapists focus on improving a person’s ability to describe objects. This can expand a person’s vocabulary and their ability to communicate. For example, if the client is unable to remember the word for “drum” they can use descriptive words to assist them in communicating their thoughts to another person.
These are just a few examples of how music can address communication and language. Additionally, there are other ways music therapists can address this domain. If you have questions about how music can address a language concern or if you would like to share how music therapy has helped someone you know, please feel free to comment below!