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Music has benefits for stroke patients

July 1st, 2016 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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Kevin Draper started West Cork Music Therapy a little over a year ago. He recently completed research, which was published internationally, in the area of music therapy and stroke. He writes here about this alternative approach to rehabilitation.

Music therapy is an evidence-based profession which involves the planned use of music by a qualified music therapist to support people of all ages and abilities to achieve non-musical goals. Simply put, a music therapist will use music to help their client.

The Irish Heart Foundation estimates that 30,000 people in Ireland are living with disabilities as a result of a stroke. Disabilities vary depending on the severity of the stroke and area of the brain affected, and include paralysis or weakness on one side of the body and speech impairments such as aphasia. My work focuses mainly on damaged speech abilities of my clients.

The basics of music therapy techniques can be explained very simply. Singing and speaking go hand in hand – after all, singing is basically just an exaggerated form of speaking. When we speak we use rhythm and melody even though we don’t notice it. For example, while speaking our intonation changes constantly. If we exaggerate this intonation we are suddenly singing. This is the basis of my work with stroke patients.

I have worked with several stroke patients whose speech abilities were severely damaged and they literally could not speak two intelligible words together. However, when they listened to their favourite songs, these people were able to sing along and some of them were able to sing and pronounce every single lyric perfectly.

How is this possible? The explanation is that in our brain, the area responsible for speech is separate to our musical area. These patients’ speech centre had been damaged, but their musical abilities remained intact. The goal of the therapist is to train the musical centre to compensate for the damaged speech area of a stroke patient’s brain.

One technique I use involves an intense step-by-step process. We start by humming together. When the client is able to control their humming we move on. We will then hum together, the appropriate sound of the word ‘hel-lo’ in two syllables, until the client has control over this humming.

Next we start to open the mouth and sing the two syllables ‘hel-lo’. A client will often not be able to pronounce this correctly. The therapist’s role is to repeatedly model the sound of the word for the client and with patience and hard work the client will eventually be able to sing ‘hel-lo’.  This can be a major milestone.

We then work on singing ‘hello’ when promoted and lastly we move away from singing and start to speak it. The exact same process is used with longer sentences such as ‘How are you?’

This form of music therapy can be beneficial to stroke patients of all ages, who are looking for an alternative approach to their speech rehabilitation programs.

• Kevin’s full research article can be viewed at or if you would like to make an enquiry about therapy visit

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