Music Therapists Need to Understand Speech & Language

Understanding speech and language is an essential part of a music therapist’s job.  So often we work with patients (children and/or adults) who have deficits or challenges with their speech.  Maybe they have a disorder or are the victim of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that has caused them to experience problems with speaking, or understanding what is being said.  How our brain processes speech and language is detailed in Dr. Elizabeth Stegemöller’s article entitled “The Neuroscience of Speech and Language.”

Dr. Stegemöller states, “Speech, language and music are defining characteristics of humans” (p. 107).  She not only details the path that speech travels through our ears, but explains in great detail each area of the brain affected by speech and language.  Since it is widely know that music affects more areas of our brain than speech, Dr. Stegemöller stresses the need for a better understanding “how music therapy impacts” (p. 107) the brain specifically when speech and language are impaired.  Two particular impairments, aphasia and dysarthria, are discussed.  “Dysarthria is an impairment of the motor speech production” (p. 110), while “aphasia is due to impairments in cortical regions involved in language processing and speech” (p. 111).  Of special note in her article are the tables, which define various areas of the brain and specific speech disorders.  One table includes a breakdown of the different regions of the brain, what their function is and how they are involved in either the production of speech and/or the understanding of language while the other table labels the disorder with its symptoms and what area of the brain is affected.  This information is vital to a therapist trying to identify what area of the brain is affected, but also gives guidance to the therapist in seeking the best treatment option.  This article does not begin to be exhaustive in nature, but is the beginning of a better understands for the music therapist in helping their clients with speech and/or language disorders.

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Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapy Fellow

Stegemöller, E. L. (2017). The neuroscience of speech and language.  Music Therapy Perspectives, 35(2), 2017, 107-112.