Music Therapy and TBI’s

Traumatic Brain Injuries  
This month’s article is all about TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries) and how music therapy can help these individuals regain function that has been lost due to an injury to the brain.

According to MedScape, a TBI is the result of an injury to the brain from an outside force that can result in “permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial functions, with an associated diminished or altered state of consciousness.” Individuals that suffer from a TBI may suffer from loss or diminished speech, motor movements in any part of their body,  or even changes to their personality. No two TBI’s are exactly alike and vary greatly depending on the part of the brain was injured.

TBI-graphic (5)

Along with speech, physical, and occupational therapy, music therapy can be very beneficial in helping individuals regain some of the skills they had previously lost. Below are a few examples in the motor and speech domains.

Gait Training and General Motor Skills  

Gait Training is a specific motor skill and  technique to help individuals work towards a more typical gait, or walking pattern. This is done utilizing the ISO-principle, which is something I have talked about in previous newsletters. The ISO-principle basically meets the client where they are at and helps move them towards higher functioning in regards to their specific goal. In this specific instance of working towards more typical gait, it could be that the client is walking in seemingly sporadic movements. The music therapist would try to match that movement by playing sporadic music patterns in conjunction with the client’s movements. Once the therapist and client are synchronized, the therapist is trained to manipulate the music to slowly become more predictable and rhythmic to encourage the client’s movements to also be more predictable and rhythmic, thus improving gait. There are multiple YouTube videos of this that I encourage you to watch so you have a better understanding of this concept.

Music making is naturally a motor task and thus music therapy can be super beneficial to increase motor skills that might have been lost with TBI patients. I like to use drums, guitar, shakers, and tambourines to target gross motor skills. One example of gross motor skills I like to employ is utilizing familiar songs and have clients play the drums during specific phrases or with different hands depending on the structure of the song. For example, during the first verse the client will play the drum with the left hand and for the second verse it will be the right hand. Not only can we work on gross motor skills, but many of the instruments available require the use of fine motor skills. Castanets, rhythm sticks, egg shakers, xylophones, and many other instruments require fine motor manipulation and the music motivates clients to play those instruments even if those movements are difficult in other situations.


Music is a universal language in that everywhere in the world uses music and can elicit various emotions or stories through the music without using any formal language at all. When people don’t have the words to express themselves fully, we can use music to help convey those emotions through the feeling of the music. This can definitely be helpful if an individual’s ability of speech has been taken away due to a TBI. Instead of verbally communicating their feelings, they can convey them through the music.

Music therapy can also help with more concrete speech skills. We are trained to be able to manipulate the music in regards to tempo, intensity, dynamics, meter, etc. to help elicit responses that make progress towards their goals. Through preferred and familiar music, we can slow songs down and leave out words at the end of phrases for individuals to fill in. This is an especially useful therapy technique for individuals who have suffered a TBI. Slowing down a familiar predictable song helps individuals process what is happening and are better able to recall words to the songs that are such a huge part of their lives. We can also use the music to prompt verbal utterances using different vowels or sounds to increase any and all verbalizations.

There are a plethora of ways music therapy can help with speech production, but I only listed a few in this article. If you have specific questions or examples let us know at

Final Thoughts

Although I only mentioned a few areas in which music can benefit individuals who have suffered a TBI, there are many other areas that music therapists can help. Sometimes it is helping individuals process what happened to them and to process how it is going to affect the rest of their life. Sometimes it is to increase mood or decrease anxiety. Sometimes it is to help regain life skills. There are numerous goals and domain areas that can assist these individuals that can make such a huge difference in their lives.


YouTube Videos:

About TBI’s:


If you have any questions or would like more information about this topic email us at


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