Neurologic Music Therapy: A Neuroscience Approach

“The brain that engages in music is changed by engaging in music.”

                                                                                                                  –Michael Thaut

Did you know that when we engage in music, whether it is singing, actively listening, or playing an instrument, all areas of the brain are activated? It’s pretty amazing. Areas of the brain where speech and language is processed as well as emotions, executive functioning, and motor functioning are all stimulated. This means that your body has an innate response to music, and is activated to respond in predictable ways based on musical input and interaction.

For those of you who are not familiar with Neurologic Music Therapy, I would love to take the time to share with you this amazing specialized field of music therapy. Neurologic Music Therapy is quite a different approach from traditional music therapy. NMT (Neurologic Music Therapy) was researched and developed by the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy in Fort Collins, Colorado. The first certification program of NMT was held in 1999.  Since then, Neurologic Music Therapy has been growing fast within the healthcare profession.

The founder of NMT, Michael Thaut and his wife (co-founder) Corene Hurt-Thaut, continue to teach the Neurologic Music Therapy Training Institute all over the world and it is endorsed by the World Federation of Neurorehabilitation, the European Federation of Neurorehabilitation Societies, and by the International Society for Clinical Neuromusicology. The training institute is also approved by The American Music Therapy Association.

So what exactly is the difference between Music Therapy and Neurologic Music Therapy?

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is based upon neuroscience research and provides specific, individualized, and standardized interventions for those affected by neurologic injury or disease.  NMT differs from traditional Music Therapy as it views music not as a social science model for well-being, but as a neuroscience model, where music is a hard-wired brain language.

NMT is the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions due to neurologic disease of the human nervous system.  Treatment techniques are based on the scientific knowledge of music perception and production and the effects thereof nonmusical brain and behavior functions.

Neurologic Music Therapy focuses on using music to help train functional skills and build pathways in the brain for better communication, coordinated motor movements and cognitive skills.

Neurological Music Therapy focuses on 3 key goal areas:

1. Speech & Language        2. Sensorimotor        3. Cognition

Speech & Language

When speech is lost due to brain damage, often the ability to sing is still present. NMT can be used for injuries and/or diseases such as Aphasia, Stroke, and Apraxia. NMT can help reverse the damage done through a series of specialized interventions such as Musical Speech Stimulation, Vocal Intonation Therapy, and Melodic Intonation Therapy. Using techniques such as Melodic Intonation Therapy and Rhythmic Speech Cueing, clients can regain functional phrases through singing the phrases.

Vocal quality can also help be improve through Therapeutic Singing techniques and Rhythmic Speech Cueing to help clients speak more clearly and in an audible volume.


NMT can also target gait, gFullSizeRender_3ross and fine motor skills. Elements of music such as rhythm, meter, pitch, dynamics, and melody can be used in NMT techniques to help improve motor coordination and motor planning which in turn help improve functional motor movements and patterns. One particular technique called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation is used for Stroke patients in gait training. The technique uses rhythmic cues to retrain client’s walking patterns to be more safe and functional.


Cognitive skills such as sustained attention, multi-tasking, decision making, planning and strategizing, and memory can be improved for clients with Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, Psychiatric Disorders, or Dementia using NMT techniques. NMT interventions are created to practice and retrain cognitive skills through interactive music making experiences.


The training is open to Board-Certified Music Therapists as well as music therapy students, and other health care professionals such as occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc.  Individuals who take the training and are not music therapist, can only teach in their scope of practice using these techniques, this training does not allow you to call yourself a music therapist if you are not Board-Certified.

For those of you who are music therapists, I strongly encourage you to attend this training at some point in your career and/or purchase the book “The Handbook of Neurologic Music Therapy.” I am so thankful for being introduced to NMT while I attended college at Western Michigan University because it helped shape my career goals and knowledge as a music therapist.

For more information about Neurologic Music Therapy feel free to contact me or browse The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy Website.

Here is a link if you wish to purchase the “Handbook for Neurologic Music Therapy.”



Music Is Science.


Invoking Holiday Memories with Music: St. Patrick’s Day


St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner which has me thinking about Irish songs.  In some of my music therapy sessions, I like to use my own songbooks. I try to create songbooks that have a specific theme or specific genre of music, such as “Patriotic Songs,” “Love Songs, “Spring Time Songs, or even “St. Patrick’s Day Songs.”  It makes it easier for my older adults to be able to follow along during sing-a-longs and it also helps with awareness, such as orienting them to the season, month, or holiday. For someone who may have dementia, they may forget that it is March, and that we are getting ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. So having a music therapy session based on a theme like a “St. Patrick’s Day Sing-a-long,” is a great way to reinforce times of the year and help orient them to the “here and now.”

Another great reason for having a song book for your group members is because this will then be a visual of what you will be singing in group. Visuals are always helpful for encouraging people to participate as well as help everyone feel connected in the group. Visuals and song lyrics are especially helpful if someone is hard of hearing within the group.

During music therapy sessions, I also really enjoy song discussions after the group sings a familiar tune together. Typically, I will try to encourage group members to reflect on the song and share personal stories or memories associated with that song. This may prompt another group member to share something, which will then increase social interaction among the group members.

I’ve been prepping for some Irish themed music therapy sessions and was able to compile a list of tunes. I’m looking forward to hearing my older adult’s memories/stories of these old Irish tunes!

Here’s a list of Irish songs I’ll be singing with my older adults this St. Patrick’s Day:

  1. “Danny Boy”
  2. “Harrigan”
  3. “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”
  4. “The Minstrel Boy”
  5. “My Bonnie”
  6. “Peg O’ My Heart”
  7. “Wild Irish Rose”
  8. “Molly Malone”
  9. “Rose of Tralee”
  10. “Sweet Rosie O’Grady”
  11. “Irish Lullaby”
  12. “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”
  13. “I’m looking over a four-leaf clover”
  14. “Galway Bay”


What are some of your favorite Irish tunes to sing?


Music Therapy Games: Musical Jeopardy for Older Adults

I find that when working with older adults, they love to play games.  Bingo of course is always a hit among residents and so are board games and card games.  In my music therapy sessions, I always try to keep things interesting and fun for the residents that I work with, so I came up with the idea of Musical Jeopardy. The great thing about using musical games in music therapy sessions, is that residents or clients don’t realize they are in a therapy session working on specific goals. They just think they are having a great time and it doesn’t feel like work!

For Musical Jeopardy, I designed a power point template. The template makes it very easy to be able to change the answers/questions for each game I play. Some of the categories I use are, “Name the Artist,” “Name that Tune,” “Patriotic Songs,” “Name that Movie,” and “Name the Instrument.” I also like to switch things up and use recorded music as well as live music. I display the power point slide show on a large projector screen so everyone can clearly see it. Here is an example of the template I created:

musical jeopardy

For “Name that Movie” I may play the recording of a song and then residents have to guess the Movie. For the category of “Finish the Lyric” I always sing the beginning of a popular lyrical phrase while using guitar or piano and the residents/team has to sing it back. In the category of “Name the Artist” I’ll play a particular song such as “Hound Dog,” and then the residents have to guess the artist, which would be Elvis Presley.  I also find that “Patriotic Songs” is a great category because most older adults know many patriotic songs and some may also be veterans. For one answer I may play a recording of a song such as “Stars and Stripes Forever” and for another I may sing the song live like “God Bless America.”

Musical Jeopardy is played just like the game show Jeopardy on TV. I put everyone into teams and each team takes a turn choosing a category. The residents then have to work together to come up with an answer and this is a great way to work on

MT Blog Picssocial skills and communication skills among residents. I always try to make the game challenging for working on memory recall and cognitive skills, but it is also very important to make sure the game is a successful experience for everyone. As a music  therapist, it is always important to be able to assess each individual’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can modify and adapt the session as needed.

I also always have some sort of prize for every participant, such as candy or dollar store items. In my music therapy groups, everyone wins.

Have you ever used musical games for older adults? What are some music therapy games you like to do in your sessions?!



Top 20 Love Songs for Older Adults

It’s that time of the year, Valentine’s Day! My older adults enjoy listening to love songs, musicals, country songs, and various songs of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, but this week they have all been in the mood for love!  I thought it would be interesting to take a survey of their all-time favorite love songs.

I was able to compile a list of the Top 20 Love Songs for Older Adults. Many of these songs I sing on a regular basis in my music therapy sessions since everyone tends to know them and can associate particular memories or feelings with them.  Love songs tend to tap into forgotten memories and bring out a lot of emotions which can be processed and reflected on during music therapy sessions.FullSizeRender - Copy

Here’s the Top 20 Love Songs for Older Adults:

  1. “I’m in the Mood for Love” by Frank Sinatra
  2. “L.O.V.E.” by Nat King Cole
  3. “Love Letter in the Sand” by Pat Boone
  4. “A You’re Adorable” (The Alphabet Song)
  5. “Cant Help Falling in Love With You” by Elvis Presley
  6. “I love you a bushel and a peck” by Doris Day
  7. “Let me Call You Sweetheart”
  8. “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin
  9. “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”
  10. “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” by Doris Day
  11. “Moonlight Bay”
  12. “Peg O’ My Heart”
  13. “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole
  14. “My Girl” by The Temptations
  15. “As Time Goes By” by Frank Sinatra
  16. “Dream A Little Dream of Me” by Ella Fitgerald
  17. “Love me Tender” by Elvis Presley
  18. “Bicycle Built for Two”
  19. “In the Good Old Summertime”
  20. “You Are My Sunshine”

I hope this helps anyone looking for some new love songs or some fresh music therapy session ideas!

What are some of your favorite love songs for older adults?

Where words fail, music speaks…