Skip to content Skip to footer

Understand Neurologic Music Therapy & its Benefits, Techniques, and Research

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is an innovative approach to using music as a therapeutic tool to treat cognitive and neurologic disorders. 

This unique form of therapy is grounded in neuroscience and draws an intrinsic connection between music and the brain. 

NMT uses a holistic and client-centered approach that addresses various domains, including motor skills, speech, language, memory, and emotion. 

In this article, we will explore the techniques, benefits, and works with real-life examples of their application. 

Table of Contents

What is Neurologic Music Therapy?

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is a specialized form of music therapy that uses music as a therapeutic tool to address cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunction caused by neurological conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

It is based on the notion that the brain responds to music in distinctive ways that can be utilized to improve neurological function and is grounded in the field of neuroscience. 

NMT techniques can include rhythmic auditory stimulation, melodic intonation therapy, and patterned sensory enhancement. 

By using music to target specific areas of the brain, NMT aims to improve a range of cognitive, motor, and emotional functions and enhance the quality of life for individuals with neurological conditions.

A Brief History of Neurologic Music Therapy

NMT, which stands for Neurologic Music Therapy, is a medically recognized therapy backed by scientific evidence. 

According to MedRhythms, The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy in Fort Collins, Colorado, played a key role in researching and developing NMT. 

The first NMT certification program was conducted in 1999. Following this, NMT has experienced significant growth in the healthcare industry. 

It was the same year when the first clinical model of NMT is developed by certified NMT-Therapists in 60+ countries. 

One notable NMT technique, Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation for gait rehabilitation, has been incorporated into the official clinical stroke care guidelines in the US and Canada. Similar initiatives are underway in several other countries. Today, there are many various approaches accessible in the MNT, that we will learn later in the below sections.

How Does Neurologic Music Therapy Work?

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is a specialized type of therapy that utilizes music and its components to target and improve specific areas of the brain affected by neurological disorders. The primary work of Neurologic Music Therapy is achieving therapeutic goals that are tailored to the individual’s specific needs and condition. 

This specialized therapy approach specifically targets three key goal areas: Speech & Language, Sensorimotor, and Cognition.

3 Goal Areas Of Neurologic Music Therapy

1. Speech & Language 

NMT utilizes music-based interventions to address speech and language difficulties. Techniques like melodic intonation therapy and singing-based exercises engage neural pathways associated with speech production and language processing. It can aid individuals with aphasia, articulation challenges, or language comprehension issues, & promote communication skills.

2. Sensorimotor 

NMT focuses on improving sensorimotor functions, which involve the integration of sensory and motor systems. Rhythmic auditory stimulation and other rhythmic-based interventions can enhance motor coordination, gait, and movement in individuals with neurological conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease. By synchronizing movements to rhythmic cues, NMT aims to optimize sensorimotor integration.

3. Cognition 

NMT targets cognitive functions, including attention, memory, executive functions, and problem-solving. By engaging cognitive processes through music-based activities, NMT promotes cognitive retraining and enhancement. 

The structured and stimulating nature of music aids in stimulating neural pathways associated with cognitive processing, benefiting individuals with cognitive impairments.

By leveraging the power of music and its impact on the brain, NMT offers a versatile and evidence-based approach to improving the lives of individuals with neurological conditions across the functional spectrum.

Techniques Used in Neurologic Music Therapy

Techniques Used in Neurologic Music Therapy

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is a specialized branch of music therapy that utilizes specific techniques to address the cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions associated with neurologic disorders. Here are some commonly used techniques in Neurologic Music Therapy:

1. Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS)

It is a neurologic technique employed to aid in the rehabilitation of rhythmic movements, particularly gait, in individuals with neurological impairments. 

RAS leverages the impact of auditory rhythms on the motor system to enhance the control of movement and foster the development of functional, stable, and adaptable gait patterns. 

There are two primary approaches to utilizing RAS: 

  • It can be used as an immediate entrainment stimulus by providing rhythmic cues during movement. 
  • It can serve as a facilitating stimulus during training sessions to encourage the attainment of more functional gait patterns.

2. Patterned Sensory Enhancement (PSE)

It is a technique that utilizes various elements of music, such as rhythm, melody, harmony, and dynamics. 

PSE goes beyond the scope of Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) as it can be applied to non-rhythmic movements and provides cues beyond just timing. 

It employs musical patterns to organize individual motions into coherent and functional movement patterns and sequences. During training exercises, PSE delivers cues that encompass temporal, spatial, and dynamic aspects of the movements.

Patterned Sensory Enhancement (PSE) offers a wider range of applications compared to Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) due to two main reasons: 

  1. It can be applied to movements that are inherently non-rhythmic, such as arm and hand movements or complex functional sequences like dressing or sit-to-stand transfers.
  2. It provides cues beyond temporal aspects. By utilizing musical patterns, PSE combines individual, separate motions to form cohesive and functional movement patterns and sequences. 

3. Therapeutic Instrumental Playing (TIMP)

Therapeutic Instrumental Music Performance (TIMP) involves the utilization of musical instruments to engage in exercises that promote and stimulate functional movement patterns. 

Specifically chosen instruments are selected based on their therapeutic significance to target various aspects such as range of motion, endurance, strength, functional hand movements, finger dexterity, and limb coordination. 

In TIMP, the instruments are not typically played conventionally but rather positioned strategically in different locations to facilitate the practice of specific functional movements. 

This approach allows individuals to engage in purposeful movements while incorporating the elements of music into their therapy sessions.

4. Musical Speech Stimulation (MUSTIM)

It involves incorporating musical elements, such as songs, rhymes, chants, and musical phrases, to stimulate non-propositional speech. 

This technique employs familiar and over-learned musical materials to elicit functional speech responses. 

It can involve tasks like completing or initiating familiar song lyrics, associating words with well-known tunes, or using melodic phrases to prompt the spontaneous completion of familiar sentences. 

The goal of MUSTIM is to enhance speech production and encourage functional speech through the integration of music and familiar linguistic cues. 

Let’s suppose the therapist used a familiar song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for stimulating functional speech responses. By pausing or modifying the lyrics, individuals are encouraged to complete sentences or articulate specific words, utilizing musical cues and familiar melodies to enhance speech production and articulation skills.

5. Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT)

It is a rehabilitation technique designed for individuals with expressive aphasia. It harnesses the preserved ability to sing to aid in the recovery of spontaneous and voluntary speech. 

By utilizing sung and chanted melodies that mimic natural speech intonation patterns, MIT aims to enhance the linguistic and semantic aspects of verbal expression in individuals with aphasia. This approach focuses on increasing the functional aspects of speech utterances.

6. Rhythmic Speech Cuing (RSC)

It involves the use of rhythmic cues to regulate speech initiation and rate through pacing and curing techniques. The therapist may use the client’s hand, a drum, or a metronome to provide cues or establish a specific speech pace. 

RSC can be beneficial for individuals with apraxia (inability to perform skilled movements and gestures, even when there is the physical capability and intention to do so) by facilitating motor planning, aiding in muscular coordination for dysarthria, or assisting with pacing in cases of fluency disorders. 

This technique helps to enhance speech coordination and rhythm in therapeutic interventions.

Let’s imagine a person with dysarthria, a speech disorder affecting their muscular control and coordination. They can benefit from cues like a metronome, hand tapping, or a drum to establish a rhythmic pace for their speech. By synchronizing their speech with these cues, RSC helps improve motor planning, coordination, and fluency, enabling smoother and more controlled speech production.

7. Vocal Intonation Therapy (VIT)

Vocal Intonation Therapy (VIT) involves using intoned phrases that mimic the natural prosody, inflection, and pacing of regular speech. This therapy utilizes vocal exercises to train various aspects of voice control, including inflection, pitch, breath control, timbre, and dynamics. By practicing these exercises, individuals can enhance their overall control and expression of their voices.

In Vocal Intonation Therapy (VIT), individuals, such as those with Parkinson’s disease, practice exercises that focus on inflection, pitch, breath control, timbre, and dynamics to improve their vocal expression. 

This may involve imitating intoned phrases with varying intonation patterns to develop more expressive and varied speech. VIT helps individuals enhance their control and clarity of speech by working on voice modulation and intonation.

8. Therapeutic Singing

Therapeutic Singing (TS) is a technique that uses singing activities to aid in the initiation, development, and articulation of speech and language, while also improving respiratory functions. 

This versatile approach can be applied to various neurological or developmental speech and language dysfunctions, offering a therapeutic intervention that combines the benefits of singing with speech and respiratory exercises.

In Therapeutic Singing (TS), individuals with conditions like aphasia can engage in singing familiar songs to improve their speech and language abilities. By participating in singing activities, they practice speech production, enhance breath control, and work on articulation. 

Therapeutic singing combines the benefits of music and speech therapy to facilitate communication skills and respiratory functions in individuals with neurological or developmental speech and language dysfunctions.

9. Oral Motor and Respiratory Exercises (OMREX)

It incorporates musical materials and exercises, primarily focused on vocalization and wind instrument playing, to improve articulatory control and strengthen the respiratory function of the speech apparatus. 

This technique is utilized with populations experiencing developmental disorders, dysarthria, and muscular dystrophy, aiming to enhance speech and respiratory abilities through targeted musical exercises.

For example, a child with a developmental disorder may practice sustained vowel sounds or blowing into a wind instrument while incorporating musical cues. OMREX aims to enhance speech and respiratory abilities in populations with developmental disorders, dysarthria, or muscular dystrophy through targeted musical exercises.

10. Developmental Speech and Language Training Through Music (DSLM)

Developmental Speech and Language Training Through Music (DSLM) promotes age-appropriate musical materials and activities, such as singing, chanting, playing musical instruments, and integrating music with speech and movement, to promote speech and language development. 

This approach focuses on using music as a tool to enhance communication skills in a developmentally appropriate manner.

11. Symbolic Communication Training Through Music (SYCOM)

Symbolic Communication Training Through Music (SYCOM) employs structured instrumental or vocal improvisation exercises to enhance communication skills, language pragmatics, appropriate speech gestures, and emotional expression within a nonverbal sensory-based language system. 

This technique applies music as a tool to simulate real-time social interaction patterns and promote effective communication behavior with strong emotional impact and sensory structure.

12. Musical Sensory Orientation Training (MSOT)

Musical Sensory Orientation Training (MSOT) works with music, whether performed live or recorded, to stimulate arousal and promote wakefulness. It aims to facilitate meaningful responsiveness and improve orientation to time, place, and person. 

As individuals progress in their recovery, MSOT incorporates active participation in simple musical exercises to enhance vigilance and train basic attention maintenance, focusing on quantity rather than the quality of response.

13. Musical Neglect Training (MNT)

Musical Neglect Training (MNT) plays active performance exercises on musical instruments that are organized in time, tempo, and rhythm. 

The spatial arrangement of instruments is designed to direct attention toward neglected or unattended visual fields. Additionally, MNT may incorporate receptive music listening to stimulate brain arousal while engaging in exercises that address visual neglect or inattention.

14. Auditory Perception Training (APT)

Auditory Perception Training (APT) functions as a musical exercise to develop the ability to distinguish and recognize various aspects of sound, including time, tempo, duration, pitch, timbre, rhythmic patterns, and speech sounds. 

APT incorporates the integration of multiple sensory modalities, such as visual, tactile, and kinesthetic input, during active musical exercises. 

These exercises may involve playing music from symbolic or graphic notation, utilizing tactile sound transmission, or incorporating movement to music, enhancing auditory perception skills through a multi-modal approach.

15. Musical Attention Control Training (MACT)

Musical Attention Control Training (MACT) contains structured musical exercises, both active and receptive, that utilize pre-composed performances or improvisation. 

These exercises involve the use of various musical elements to cue different musical responses, providing opportunities to practice sustained, selective, divided, and alternating attention functions. 

The goal of MACT is to enhance attention control abilities through targeted engagement with music.

16. Musical Mnemonics Training (MMT)

Musical Mnemonics Training (MMT) involves using musical exercises to target different aspects of memory encoding, decoding, and recall. 

Immediate recall of sounds or sung words through musical stimuli can help address echoic functions. MMT also utilizes musical stimuli as mnemonic devices or memory templates, such as incorporating them into songs, rhymes, or chants. 

Additionally, musical patterns and chunks are employed to organize and sequence nonmusical information, aiding in its learning process. MMT harnesses the power of music to enhance memory functions and facilitate effective information retention.

17. Associative Mood and Memory Training (AMMT)

Associative Mood and Memory Training (AMMT) utilizes musical mood induction techniques to achieve two objectives. 

  1. To establish a mood congruent with the desired memory recall, enhancing the retrieval process. 
  2. To leverage the power of positive emotional states induced by music to access associative mood and memory functions, promoting effective learning and recall. 

AMMT recognizes the influence of mood on memory and utilizes music to facilitate optimal memory retrieval and emotional engagement in the learning process.

18. Musical Executive Function Training (MEFT)

Musical Executive Function Training (MEFT) involves the utilization of improvisation and composition exercises, both in group settings and individually, to enhance executive function skills. 

These exercises target various cognitive abilities, including organization, problem-solving, decision-making, reasoning, and comprehension. MEFT takes place within a social context, offering therapeutic elements such as real-time performance outcomes, temporal structure, creative processes, affective content, sensory structure, and opportunities for social interaction. 

Through the integration of music and cognitive processes, MEFT promotes the development and refinement of executive function skills while fostering meaningful social engagement.

19. Music Psychotherapy and Counseling (MPC)

Music Psychotherapy and Counseling (MPC) is a therapeutic approach that incorporates music as a primary tool for psychological healing and personal growth. 

MPC sessions involve the use of music and musical interventions, such as improvisation, composition, listening, and discussion, to explore and address emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral issues. 

Through the therapeutic relationship between the client and the music therapist, MPC aims to promote self-expression, emotional awareness, insight, and positive change. The unique power of music is harnessed to support individuals in their journey toward improved mental health and well-being.

Benefits of Neurologic Music Therapy

Benefits of Neurologic Music Therapy

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) offers a range of benefits for individuals with neurological impairments or conditions. Some key benefits include:

1. Motor Rehabilitation 

NMT techniques, such as Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) and Patterned Sensory Enhancement (PSE), can improve movement control and coordination, particularly in gait rehabilitation. By using rhythmic cues and musical patterns, NMT helps in restoring functional and adaptive movement patterns.

2. Speech and Language Improvement 

Techniques like Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) and Musical Speech Stimulation (MUSTIM) leverage the musical elements of rhythm, melody, and intonation to enhance speech production and communication abilities. NMT can be particularly effective for individuals with expressive aphasia or speech disorders.

3. Cognitive Enhancement 

NMT exercises engage various cognitive processes, including attention, memory, executive function, and problem-solving. By integrating music with cognitive tasks, NMT can improve cognitive abilities and facilitate neuroplasticity.

4. Emotional and Psychological Well-being 

Music has a powerful impact on emotions, and NMT promotes emotional expression, stress reduction, and mood regulation. It can provide a supportive and non-verbal means of processing emotions, reducing anxiety, and enhancing overall psychological well-being.

5. Social Interaction and Quality of Life 

Participating in music therapy sessions can foster social connections, promote a sense of belonging, and improve the overall quality of life. Group-based NMT interventions encourage social interaction, cooperation, and shared musical experiences.

6. Sensory Stimulation and Integration 

NMT utilizes the multi-sensory nature of music to stimulate and integrate various sensory systems. This can improve sensory processing, body awareness, and sensory-motor integration.

7. Motivation and Engagement 

The engaging and enjoyable nature of music makes NMT highly motivating for individuals, increasing their active participation and adherence to therapy. This motivation can contribute to better therapy outcomes and a more positive rehabilitation experience.

8. Neuroplasticity and Brain Reorganization 

NMT is designed to harness the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, promoting the reorganization and rewiring of neural connections. Through musical interventions, NMT stimulates brain regions involved in motor, language, and cognitive functions, facilitating neurological recovery and rehabilitation.

9. Emotional Expression and Regulation 

Music has a unique ability to evoke and express emotions. NMT provides a safe and creative outlet for emotional expression, helping individuals process and regulate their emotions effectively. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with emotional difficulties or trauma-related conditions.

10. Improved Quality of Movement and Function 

By incorporating rhythm, timing, and musical patterns, NMT can enhance the quality of movement, coordination, and functional abilities. This can be particularly relevant for individuals with movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke-related impairments.

11. Enhanced Communication and Social Skills 

NMT interventions promote communication and social interaction through musical interactions and group activities. It can improve social skills, turn-taking, listening, and non-verbal communication, fostering connections and meaningful engagement with others.

12. Pain Management and Relaxation 

Music has therapeutic effects on pain perception and can induce relaxation responses. NMT techniques, such as guided imagery, relaxation exercises, and personalized playlists, can help manage pain, reduce anxiety, and promote overall relaxation and well-being.

Difference between Neurologic Music Therapy and Regular Music Therapy

While both NMT and regular music therapy share the foundational principles of using music as a therapeutic tool, there are distinct differences between the two approaches that we will understand in the following details.

1. Target Population 

NMT focuses specifically on individuals with neurological conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurologic disorders. 

Regular music therapy, on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of populations, including children, adults, and older adults with various physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs.

2. Treatment Approaches

NMT employs specific standardized techniques and protocols that are based on scientific research and evidence in neuroscience. These techniques include Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS), Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), Patterned Sensory Enhancement (PSE), and others, which are designed to target specific motor, speech, cognitive, or emotional goals. 

Regular music therapy utilizes a wide range of interventions and techniques based on the unique needs and preferences of each client, but may not necessarily have a specific neurologic focus.

3. Assessment and Goal Setting 

NMT involves a comprehensive assessment process that includes specific neurologic assessments and standardized measures to identify individual strengths, challenges, and treatment goals. These assessments help guide the development of personalized treatment plans and interventions.

Regular music therapy assessments may focus on a broader range of domains, such as emotional well-being, social skills, cognitive abilities, and communication, depending on the client’s needs.

4. Research and Evidence Base 

NMT has a growing body of research and evidence supporting its effectiveness in rehabilitation. The techniques and protocols used in NMT are grounded in scientific research and clinical studies. 

Regular music therapy also has a solid research base supporting its efficacy across various populations and domains, but may not have the same level of specific neurologic research focus.

5. Adaptation of Music Interventions 

In NMT, music interventions are specifically designed and adapted to target the individual’s neurologic deficits and rehabilitation goals. The interventions often involve rhythmic and melodic elements of music to stimulate specific neural pathways and facilitate functional improvements. 

Regular music therapy interventions are more diverse and can be tailored to address a wide range of therapeutic goals, utilizing various musical elements and techniques based on the client’s needs.

Read more: A Complete Guide to Music Therapy

What Do You Do During the NMT Session?

NMT therapy sessions are highly individualized and tailored to each client’s therapeutic goals. With the Neurological symptoms checker, the therapist finds which types of neurologic disorders cause behavioral problems in the region of the brain. Depending on the client’s needs, the session may involve various activities and interventions. 

Clients working on speech may practice vocalization while singing along with rhythmic guitar playing or engage in exercises using wind instruments to strengthen their vocal muscles. Clients focusing on attention may be given a musical instrument to play while maintaining concentration. 

Those working on physical movement may engage in drumming activities in NMTSA’s walking track or therapy room. Throughout these interventions, the therapist prioritizes using rhythm to support the client’s specific goals.

Famous Neurologic Music Therapy Centers

1. Neurologic Music Therapy Services of Arizona (NMTSA)

Neurologic Music Therapy Services of Arizona (NMTSA) is a specialized therapy center that offers Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) services to individuals with various neurological conditions. NMTSA focuses on utilizing evidence-based music interventions to address the unique needs and goals of each client. The center is dedicated to providing high-quality, client-centered care to promote neurologic rehabilitation and enhance the quality of life.

  • Address: 3221 N 16th Street, Suite 201, Phoenix, AZ 85016
  • Phone: (602) 840-6410
  • Fax:  (602) 840-6431

2. The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy

The R.F. Unkefer Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy® was established in 2014 to disseminate, advance, and protect the practice of Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT)® worldwide. It provides opportunities for professional development in NMT to ensure best practices and maintain the integrity of best practices.

3. MedRhythms Therapy

MedRhythms is a neuro-rehab company that uses Neurologic Music Therapy to restore the lives and quality of life of loved ones afflicted by neurologic injury or disease. They provide interventions to achieve optimal outcomes in sensorimotor, speech & language, and cognitive goals.

4. Institute for Music and Neurologic Function

The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function is a renowned organization known for its pioneering research, education, and training initiatives in the field of music therapy. Their programs utilize the power of music therapy to support the awakening and healing of individuals affected by various neurological conditions, such as strokes, trauma, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. The institute’s work has gained international recognition for its significant contributions in this field.

  • Address: One Wartburg Place, Mount Vernon, NY 10552
  • Phone: 914-513-5292


Neurologic Music Therapy is not just a therapy—it’s a symphony of healing. It’s a testament to the remarkable ways in which music can reshape our brains, awaken our spirits, and transform our lives. 

By harnessing the power of music, this therapy offers a unique and holistic way to address the complex needs of patients and promote their physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. It aims to improve various aspects of functioning, such as speech and language abilities, motor skills, attention, memory, and emotional well-being.

As ongoing research continues to advance the field, Neurologic Music Therapy holds promise for further innovation and application in the realm of neurological rehabilitation. Advancements in technology, such as brain imaging and neurofeedback, are pushing the boundaries. We hope more innovative techniques and approaches that will further enhance the effectiveness of NMT and open up new avenues for exploration.

For now, let the melodies play on, and may the harmonies of NMT continue to bring healing and hope to those who need it most.