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Serenna Wagner, Music Therapist

How Neurologic Music Therapy can help clients with brain injury


Brain injuries can have devastating effects on clients and their families, affecting  cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning. Neurologic Music Therapy uses the inherent power of music to engage the brain in a unique way, and is able to offer a wide range of benefits for individuals who have experienced brain injuries. Please find below an overview of some of the key areas where Music Therapy can help those who are recovering from a brain injury.

Sensory and Motor Rehabilitation

One of the primary ways in which NMT aids in brain injury recovery is through sensory and motor rehabilitation. Music engages multiple sensory systems simultaneously, stimulating neural connections and promoting sensorimotor integration. By incorporating rhythmic patterns, melodic structures, and motor movements, NMT helps individuals regain coordination, improve muscle control, and restore overall physical function.

Cognitive Rehabilitation

Brain injuries often result in cognitive impairments, such as memory deficits, attention problems, and language difficulties. NMT offers a structured and engaging approach to cognitive rehabilitation. By utilizing specific musical techniques, such as melodic contour training and rhythmic entrainment, NMT helps improve attention, memory, and language processing abilities. The repetitive and structured nature of music facilitates cognitive reorganization and promotes neuroplasticity.

Emotional and Psychological Well-being

Brain injuries can significantly impact an individual's emotional and psychological well-being. NMT provides a non-verbal and expressive outlet for emotional expression and communication. Through improvisation, songwriting, and active music listening, individuals can channel and explore their emotions, reducing anxiety, depression, and frustration. Music Therapy sessions create a safe and supportive environment that fosters emotional healing and promotes a sense of empowerment.

Neuroplasticity and Brain Reorganization

Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize and form new neural connections, plays a crucial role in brain injury recovery. NMT exploits the brain's neuroplasticity by utilizing musical stimuli to activate and engage various brain regions. Music engages multiple brain areas simultaneously, facilitating cross-modal activation and strengthening neural pathways. This, in turn, promotes brain reorganization and facilitates functional recovery. I have found that an element of a ‘therapeutic music lesson’ for some individuals who would like to play an instrument in a more structured/traditional way has been a very powerful and rewarding way of engaging all the areas of the brain.

Pain Management and Stress Reduction

Pain and stress are common challenges faced by individuals with brain injuries. NMT can help alleviate pain and reduce stress through the release of endorphins and the activation of the brain's relaxation response. Music interventions, such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and personalized playlists, provide individuals with brain injuries with tools to manage pain, reduce stress levels, and improve overall well-being.


Neurologic music therapy has emerged as a valuable and effective approach for aiding the recovery of individuals who have experienced brain injuries. By harnessing the power of music, NMT offers a holistic and multidimensional therapeutic approach that addresses physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of rehabilitation. Its ability to stimulate neuroplasticity, promote sensory-motor integration, and facilitate emotional expression makes it a valuable adjunct to traditional rehabilitation methods. As further research and clinical evidence continue to accumulate, neurologic music therapy holds the promise of revolutionizing brain injury rehabilitation and improving the quality of life for countless individuals.

Relevant research articles

Thaut, M. H. (2015). Neurologic Music Therapy in Cognitive Rehabilitation. Music Perception, 32(2), 188-195.

This article discusses the application of neurologic music therapy in cognitive rehabilitation for individuals with brain injuries, focusing on the principles and techniques used in the therapy.

Särkämö, T., Tervaniemi, M., Laitinen, S., Forsblom, A., Soinila, S., Mikkonen, M., ... & Hietanen, M. (2008). Music listening enhances cognitive recovery and mood after a middle cerebral artery stroke. Brain, 131(3), 866-876.

This study explores the effects of music listening on cognitive recovery and mood in individuals who have had a stroke, highlighting the potential benefits of music-based interventions for brain injury rehabilitation.

Magee, W. L., & Davidson, J. W. (2002). The effect of music therapy on mood states in neurological patients: A pilot study. Journal of Music Therapy, 39(1), 20-29.

This pilot study investigates the impact of music therapy on mood states in neurological patients, including those with brain injuries, suggesting that music therapy can positively influence emotional well-being.

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