Music Therapy Benefits for Parkinson’s Patients

Jay Anderson, Minding Music – Music Therapy

We love listening to music for sheer joy; to dance, to change our mood, enhance fond memories, and to exercise.  How we feel listening to our music is closely allied with the Music therapy health profession, but it is much more. 

     Clinical music therapy focuses on the intentional use of music and music-related therapeutic interventions applied by a professional music therapist. The aim of music therapy is in obtaining, managing, and maintaining symptom control to reduce clinical disability and improve quality of life. Parkinson’s Disease Music therapy can assist in recovery from a variety of emotional, mental, and physical diseases, illnesses, disorders, or discomforts. 

A Tool for Treating Neurological Disorders

Music is a unique tool in treating neurological injury because it can activate parts of the brain that have not been afflicted by the disease. Music therapy may help improve motor activity in those with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders by attuning them to beats and rhythms, that in turn, “prime” muscle movement. 

     For those engaging in music therapy, musical talent or training is not necessary, and all types of music can be useful to effect change and reach therapeutic goals.  Musical preferences, treatment needs, circumstances and goals of the individual or group, help determine the types of music a music therapist might employ. 

     Music-based movement therapy combines natural cognitive movement strategies, rhythmic cueing techniques, balance exercises, and physical activity while focusing on the enjoyment of moving with music, within individual limitations. Neuroscience research and clinical evidence show that music-based movement therapy can be effective in addressing physical limitations and challenges, so it is an effective intervention to improve gait and gait-related activities.  Studies support improvements with speech and communication deficits through individual and group singing. There is evidence that noninvasive music-based therapy is effective in helping voice quality and range, coupled with the absence of a decline in speech quality. 

     Studies also show that certain types of music and music therapy can have a positive effect in stimulating the production of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters reduced with Parkinson’s Disease.

Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation

“Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) is a neurologic technique used to facilitate the rehabilitation of movements that are intrinsically biologically rhythmical, most importantly, music-based gait. RAS uses the physiological effects of auditory rhythm on the motor system to improve the control of music-based.”

— M. H Thault – Rhythm, Music and the Brain

Movements are led by the measured beats of a metronome. The idea is to use rhythm to strengthen connections in the auditory part of the brain to the region that controls muscle movement. Thaut’s work revolves around the concept of “entrainment”: the notion that stimulating the portion of the brain that perceives sound and rhythm can, in turn, synchronize other areas of the brain, including the region responsible for movement.

Neurological Music Therapy

Scientific research and pioneering studies by Michael Thaut, Ph.D. and his colleagues have demonstrated that neurological music therapy (NMT) can improve gross motor signals vital to maintaining gait and balance in stroke patients and those with Parkinson’s and other neurological movement disorders. Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) is defined as the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions due to neurologic dysfunction of the human nervous system. NMT is recognized by the World Federation of Neurologic Rehabilitation, the European Federation of Neurorehabilitation Societies, and the International Society for Clinical Neuromusicology.

     We can use neurological music therapy (NMT) to improve fine-motor skills, essential to everyday tasks; writing, eating, and cleaning—not to mention enjoyable activities like playing cards, games, knitting and playing the piano. The conceptual framework rests on using entrainment to find “another switch to neurologically light up the motor area of the brain, which Parkinson’s slowly affects. The latest research points to the work of NMT to encourage and benefit movement by going through pathways in the brain that are not affected by Parkinson’s. 

     NMT interventions are standardized and evidence-based. They can support rehabilitation goals related to coordination, range-of-motion, balance, strength, endurance, and activities of daily living. Using the musical elements of melody, rhythm, and dynamics, NMT interventions may be used to cue and support movement or to improve perception of the target movement.

Quality of Movement: Precise parameters and the spatial and temporal aspects of the movement represented by musical elements increases the quality of the target movement, allowing for increased rehabilitation potential.

Practice of Purposeful Movement: The clinical use of instrument playing can target and encourage specific movements. The use of instruments also provides an auditory feedback cue, supporting the feedforward-feedback loop in movement execution. 

There are no claims about the potential long-term effects of NMT. As all people age the brain loses plasticity, the ability to change and adapt to stimuli. That presents an additional challenge for treating people with Parkinson’s, many of whom are middle-aged or older. Still, finding ways to slow the progression of the disease is important to help preserve our quality of life. 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows that individuals process music in many areas of the brain. Current work in the neuroscience of rhythm and rhythmic synchronization mechanisms has produced results in 3 major areas: 

Empirical data of how the brain synchronizes rhythmic movement to external rhythmic stimuli;

Evidence for perception of auditory timing information below the level of conscious perception, which the brain uses to guide timing of rhythmic movement;

Brain mapping technology to describe neural networks involved in rhythmic synchronization.

In Conclusion

Music, rhythms, and tempos elicit specific motor sensory responses by combining sensory stimulation and rhythmic movement. It is thought that new neural pathways are being formed to replace those damaged by disease.

     Music therapy sessions can consist of rhythmic and free body movements; rhythmic auditory stimulation, active stretching and balancing to music, rhythmic gait training, singing, and voice exercise. 

A clinically informed music therapy program for individuals with Parkinson’s disease is an effective and integrative method for motor rehabilitation and emotional well being.  In most cases, clinical music therapy is covered by insurance after being prescribed by the physician.

Jay Anderson joined the Wellness Village in February 2019.

PRO is inspired by his commitment to the Parkinson’s world.

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Updated: August 16, 2017