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Music therapy: priming and timing motor responses

The power of entrainment is something we tap into daily when working with individuals with motor and speech challenges.

Entrainment is "a temporal locking process in which one system's motion or signal frequency entrains the frequency of another." (Thaut et. al, 2014).

Because entrainment occurs within motor and sensory systems in the brain, auditory rhythms can be utilized to cue movements and movement patterns.

"Sound signals and rhythmic music can prime and time muscle activation."

(Paltsev and Elner, 1967; Rossignol and Melvill Jones, 1976)

We use music to "prime and time" movements with our clients each day. Steady auditory rhythms create stability in the system and provides the system with an anticipatory cue so that the body can prep itself for movement.

Similarly, the cueing and stability created when motor and sensory patterns entrain with auditory rhythms can be utilized with oral motor patterns required for speech production. Rhythmic entrainment combined with the repetitive nature of songs is a strong combination for targeting speech production.

Here is a in-depth look at rhythmic entrainment in this article by Michael H. Thaut, Gerald C. McIntosh, and Volker Hoemberg:


Thaut MH, McIntosh GC, Hoemberg V. Neurobiological foundations of neurologic music therapy: rhythmic entrainment and the motor system. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;5:1185. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01185.

Paltsev Y. I., Elner A. M. (1967). Change in functional state of the segmental apparatus of the spinal cord under the influence of sound stimuli and its role in voluntary movement. Biophysics 12 1219–1226.

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