There you are cruising down the highway, going the speed limit of course, with the radio pumping through your speakers. I know your windows are closed because you are singing to some of your favorite tunes at maximum volume (don’t be embarrassed, we all do it). You have not a care in the world, especially whether or not you are singing in tune. I think we have all experienced that moment when singing your favorite songs can help you escape and deal with the stresses of everyday life. That is one of the most beautiful parts about music and the act of singing. But I am not exactly sure if you know how important singing can be. If you are curious, I know I can tell you what the coolest thing since sliced bread REALLY is. It is that language can be recovered through singing.  Yes, that is exactly right.

Now before I jump in, you should know that MIT is best suited for a person that had a stroke (or traumatic brain injury). A stroke on the left side of the brain, it can impair language. Insert clinical word: Non-Fluent Aphasia! Back in the early 1970s, we discovered that patients with severe non-fluent aphasia could sing words accurately but could not speak at all (Thaut & McIntosh, 2014).This was the birth of MIT.

What exactly is Melodic Intonation Therapy? Melodic means melody, which is a string of notes.  It’s how you recognize your favorite song and how you know you’ve been “Rick Rolled”.  It’s a combination of pitch and rhythm.  Intonation is the rise and fall of our speech. How do we understand each other when we talk? You might notice how your voice sounds different when you ask a question. That’s intonation, which is a lot like melody.

Let’s say I had aphasia. During MIT, I would learn to sing words/phrases like “bathroom”, “water”, and “thank you” by only using two pitches or two notes (Schlaug, Norton, Marchina, Zipse, & Wan, 2010).For example, the word “bathroom” can be changed into a two-note pattern. When I would slow down the word “bathroom” and sing it in two pitches, my right hemisphere would light up and it would activate language networks (Thaut & McIntosh, 2014). Lastly, rhythm is the other important component used during MIT.  (Fun fact: The right side of your brain controls the left side of your body, and the left side of your brain controls the right side of your body).Tapping my left hand while I sing each pitch and syllable will engage my right hemisphere’s sensorimotor network (Schlaug et al., 2010). After I overcome this challenge, we take it to the next level! MIT becomes more difficult by adding another pitch and longer phrases.

So why can people with non-fluent aphasia sing but not speak? Yes they cannot speak, but their right hemisphere isn’t affected, so they can sing. Music and singing engages the whole brain helping other areas of the brain recover function for the injured areas. This is accomplished by MIT because it changes speech pathways from the damaged areas of the left hemisphere to the regions on the right that are also capable of language (Thaut & McIntosh, 2014).

But there is something even more fascinating. A part of the brain called the arcuate fasciculus (AF) (not a dinosaur) is larger in professional singers than in non-musicians. This AF connects the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain to the frontal lobe.  It is involved in how we produce and perceive sound (Halwani, Loui, Ruber, & Schlaug, 2011). The vocal training that is the basis of MIT can make the AF bigger and stronger (Schlaugh et al., 2010). MIT is unique in that it engages the right hemisphere and strengthens the connections in between.  This also means that just singing songs actually strengthens connections to language (we take this fact, and structure focused interventions using our client’s favorite songs, termed “Therapeutic Singing”).

This is how and why neurologic rehabilitation is benefited by music.  This is how people recover language through what looks like singing.  This is Neurologic Music Therapy.  So that next time you’re singing Adele in your shower (don’t deny it!) you will definitely be impressed by the power singing can have on your life. Just remember to rinse and repeat.  #musicitsscience  #neurologicmusictherapy

Check out our video on Facebook featuring Peter for a quick demonstration of Melodic Intonation Therapy and Therapeutic Singing.

Have questions about Neurologic Music Therapy? Ask us!!

Written by: Steph Mathioudakis, MedRhythms Blogger


Halwani, G.F., Loui, P, Ruber, T, Schlaug, G. (2011) Effects of practice and experience on the arcuate fasciculus: Comparing singers, instrumentalists, and non-musicians. Frontiers in Psychology2, 1-9.

Schlaug, G, Norton, A, Marchina, S, Zipse, L, Wan, C. (2010). From singing to speaking: Facilitating recovery from nonfluent aphasia. Future Medicine, 5(5), 657-665.

Thaut, M, McIntosh, G.C. (2014). Neurologic music therapy in stroke rehabilitation. Current Physical Medicine Rehabilitation Report, 2, 106-113.