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The Power of Music (Part 2)

Previously, we explored the many ways music can impact a child’s brain.
Just to recap, we know that we need both sides of our brains to fully function. The
combination of our logical thinking and our creative side helps us think critically and
appropriately in different situations.
Now, we are going to discuss the influence of music on adult cognition.

Singing incorporates melody, rhythm, and repetition, which allows new neural
connections to be made and strengthened in damaged areas of the brain.

When I was in my undergraduate studies to become a speech-language pathologist
(SLP), I was observing an SLP treat a gentleman who recently had a stroke. During one of the exercises, the SLP had the client recall the letters of the alphabet, to which he
“A B 3 D 4,”
With a puzzled look on his face, he was aware that he mixed-up his letters and
numbers, but couldn’t quite figure out how to fix it. Given additional instructions to “sing
the ABC’s,” he proceeded to sing the alphabet:
“A B C D E F G…”
Tears started to well up in his eyes with a surprised look on his face.
This gentleman was able to recall the alphabet through singing the ABC’s, but not just
by reciting them. The SLP was using an approach referred to as, Melodic Intonation
Therapy (MIT).
MIT is most commonly used with people who have had a stroke, resulting in a language
disorder known as aphasia. Aphasia impacts a person’s ability to communicate and can
vary in severity. MIT encourages the use of rhythm and melody to improve verbal
fluency and output. By using this approach, the undamaged, right side of the brain is
activated. Rhythm, prosody, melody, reduced speech rate, and continuous voicing used
in MIT reduces dependence on the left hemisphere.
What does melodic intonation therapy look like?

  1. Humming the target phrase on two pitches- a higher pitch and a lower pitch. For
    example, if our target phrase was:
    “Where are my keys?”
    The SLP would first hum the target phrase independently 1x, then sing the
    phrase 2x with hand-tapping each syllable. The client is asked to listen and
    rehearse in their head at this time.
  2. Unison Intoning: the client then joins in and sings the target phrase with the
    “Where are my keys?” while tapping each syllable
  3. Unison Intoning with Fading: SLP and client begin singing and tapping the
    phrase together, with the SLP fading out halfway through while the client
    continues tapping and singing
  4. Immediate Repetition: SLP sings and taps the target phrase while the client
    listens. The client immediately repeats by singing and tapping out the phrase
  5. Response to a probe question: After the client successfully repeats, the SLP
    follows up with singing a question, and the client responds by singing the target

“What did you say?” while tapping each syllable

The MIT approach is a great example of the effect music has on our brain. Below is a
list of ways music impacts the adult brain.

  1. Brain plasticity: Music has the ability to reshape and reorganize the brain’s
    neural connections. This is known as neuroplasticity. Playing a musical
    instrument can lead to structural and functional changes in the brain, especially
    in areas related to motor skills, auditory processing, and coordination. Music can
    be utilized as a therapeutic tool in rehabilitation settings, like the example
    mentioned above. It can aid in the recovery of stroke patients, improve motor
    skills in individuals with Parkinson’s disease, and enhance cognitive function in
    people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Cognitive enhancement: Music engages multiple brain regions involved in
    memory, attention, and executive functioning. The brain regions involved in
    processing music, such as the hippocampus, are also associated with memory
    formation and learning new things. Learning through music, such as using
    melodies to remember information, can enhance recall and cognitive
    performance. Research suggests that music can enhance cognitive performance,
    particularly in tasks requiring spatial-temporal reasoning. Learning to play a
    musical instrument can also have long-lasting cognitive benefits, such as
    improved memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.
  3. Social connection and communication: Music has the power to bring people
    together, create shared experiences, and strengthen relationships. Participating
    in group music-making activities, such as choirs or bands, can promote social
    bonding, empathy, and cooperation among adults. Music can serve as a medium
    for self-expression and communication, allowing individuals to convey emotions
    and connect with others on a deeper level.
  4. Emotional well-being & stress reduction: Music has the power to evoke a
    wide range of emotions. It can uplift spirits, ease stress, and provide comfort
    during challenging times. Through its melodies, harmonies, and lyrics, music
    stimulates the limbic system in the brain, triggering emotional responses. In our
    fast-paced, stressful lives, music serves as a powerful tool for relaxation.
    Slow-tempo music, classical compositions, or nature sounds can help activate
    the body’s relaxation response, reducing stress levels, heart rate, and blood
  5. Physical health and coordination: The rhythm of music can significantly impact
    physical performance and coordination. Research has shown that synchronizing
    movement to music or playing musical instruments can optimize motor
    coordination, endurance, and improve timing. This is because music requires
    precise timing, rhythm, and coordination of movements, which can strengthen the
    connections between motor areas of the brain.

So how do we integrate music into our busy adult lives?

  • Listen to music: Make a habit of listening to your favorite songs or explore new
    genres and artists throughout your day. You can incorporate music into your daily
    routine by listening when you’re cooking, commuting, or even cleaning. Create
    playlists for different moods or activities, such as exercising, relaxing, or when
  • Learn to play an instrument: Pick up a musical instrument you’ve always been
    interested in, whether it’s a guitar, piano, ukulele, drums, or any other instrument.
  • Sing along or join a choir: Engage in a community music group to connect with
    others who share your musical interests, develop your skills, and enjoy the social
    aspect of making and/or listening to music together.
  • Attend live performances: Check out local concert listings or live music events
    in your area. Watching live performances can be an immersive experience and
    provide exposure to different musical styles.
  • Reminisce with music: Listening to music from your youth can evoke emotions
    and memories from the past. Music is shown to have a powerful connection to memory, and listening to it can bring back cherished memories and spark conversations.
  • Dance to the music: Dancing is a fun way to express yourself through
    movement, promote physical activity, and connect with music while improving
    balance. Dance around your home or attend dance classes.
  • Explore music therapy: Music therapy is a field that uses music to improve
    cognitive function, physical rehabilitation, and enhance mood. Consider seeking
    professional guidance if you are interested in the therapeutic benefits of music.

There are numerous ways to integrate music into your life, so experiment and find what
is best for you. The impact of music on the brain is profound. From enhancing cognitive abilities and
promoting emotional well-being to shaping brain development and fostering social
connections, music strongly influences our neural pathways. Music is more than just an
enjoyable pastime for many of us– we can use it as a way to develop our cognitive
abilities for our brains to reach their full potential.


Valerio, W. H., Reynolds, A. M., Bolton, B. M., Taggart, C. C., & Gordon, E. E. (1998).
Music play. GIA Publ.