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  • SpeechEase Team

Connections Between Music and Language



Coming from a background in music, I often have had a deep interest and passion for the intersection of music and language. Music is universal afterall, and contains similar features to language such as stress, pitch and rhythm, as well as storytelling and expressive elements. Furthermore, there are structural rules that govern both music and language such as sentence and chord structure, and both music and language vary cross-culturally. 


Music can be a powerful tool for those living with varying communication disorders and abilities. Results from one study show that singing influences individuals with aphasia when trying to connect lyrics from a song and that access to the melody of a tune can be upheld with a wide array of speech and language abilities (Kasdan, A., & Kiran, S, 2018). 


It has further been proven to encourage the recovery of speech and language skills through the slowing down of pace, the lengthening of syllables, and the general engagement of the right hemisphere of the brain which can create connections across brain regions to facilitate the recovery of language and communication (Kasdan, A., & Kiran, S, 2018). 


Furthermore, another study shows that singing is not only beneficial for communication, but also resulted in a boost in confidence, better mood, and increased peer support (Tamplin, J., Baker, F. A., Jones, B., Way, A., & Lee, S, 2013). 


To me, music and language feel intertwine-able. One jazz musician, Jason Moran, begins a song with a short bit of speech which then is replicated by a piano and drums with a similar rhythm and melody that follows the patterns heard in the speech (Brandt, A., Gebrian, M., & Slevc, L. R. 2012).


A quote from a study on music in early language learning captures this idea nicely: 


“We don’t just speak to be heard, we speak to be understood – to make declarations of love, order a meal, and ask for directions. But while speech is symbolic, sound is the bearer of its message. Depending on how one listens, the same stimuli can be perceived as language or music. When one repeatedly listens to the same looped recording of speech, it can begin to sound like singing.” (Brandt, A., Gebrian, M., & Slevc, L. R. 2012)


For these reasons, the interest in music as a powerful and useful therapy tool stands as it not only engages the listener, but can also build important connections between the rhythmic, expressive and prosodic elements that music and language share. 


References: 


Brandt, A., Gebrian, M., & Slevc, L. R. (2012). Music and early language acquisition. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 327. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00327


Kasdan, A., & Kiran, S. (2018). Please don't stop the music: Song completion in patients with aphasia. Journal of communication disorders, 75, 72–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcomdis.2018.06.005


Tamplin, J., Baker, F. A., Jones, B., Way, A., & Lee, S. (2013). 'Stroke a Chord': the effect of singing in a community choir on mood and social engagement for people living with aphasia following a stroke. NeuroRehabilitation, 32(4), 929–941. https://doi.org/10.3233/NRE-130916


Written by: Kirsten Kwong, SLPa

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