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Neuro rehab therapies

Moving music: The implicit effects of music rehabilitation



Music rehabilitation is being increasingly promoted as a therapy due to its wide-reaching beneficial effects (DEL0340, 2020). Not only does it provide an outlet for expression, but it also links to physical and emotional outcomes, demonstrating its multi-faceted nature (Grau-Sánchez et al., 2022).

This article explores both of these domains, investigating the link of motion and emotion to music, elucidating the benefits of music rehabilitation.

Music and motion

Although it frequently goes unrecognised, the playing and creation of music is intrinsically linked to movement, as in making music, a series of scripted or unscripted movements are employed, based on the apparatus used. Consider the movements of an orchestra, the synchronised rise and fall of the violin bows, clashes of the symbols and coordinated patterns of moving fingers across the keys of a flute.

Captivated by the grand display of sound, we may neglect to notice the stringent physical activity needed to produce such a performance, but upon reflection, we can see that the body by extension becomes part of the instrument and music itself (Buchanan, 2005).

The link between music and movement becomes more evident when we consider the motivation behind playing and listening to music, rather than its creation. The repeated drumbeats of a marching band corresponding to their matched movements, the sways and steps of a waltz matching the classical music it is accompanied by, and even the dodgy disco moves thrown to ABBA after one too many at an event- listening to certain types of music prompts certain movements.

Pierce highlights this on an academic level, exploring the relationship between our bodies movement and the music that we listen to (Fort, 2015). She poses many links between the two, starting with balance and harmonic tone, increasing the complexity of movement as her book progresses. Through this, she demonstrates how music can allow us to become more ‘in tune’ with our movements. Reflecting further on the link between balance and harmonic tone only strengthens the link between movement and music, as both experiences are governed by the ear.

All of this illustrates the connection between movement and music and raises considerations for its application in rehabilitation. Music rehabilitation firstly employs the creation of music, which involves the aforementioned physical activity. Fine motor skills are a particular focus here as with digital music creation, production and DJing, there are many skills used that target and improve fine motor skills. Between mixing tracks on turntables, using touch pads and manipulating MIDI controllers, there are an abundance of potential practice opportunities that improve movement in this area.

Furthermore, during and after the creation process, movement is inherent. Music encourages foot tapping, finger wiggling and even full on dancing! Music rehabilitation can therefore create a covert opportunity for physical activity within rehabilitation, increasing its benefit from affecting solely cognitive aspects.

Music and emotion

The link between music and emotion has much more academic recognition than the link between music and motion, despite its less obvious effects. Music has been hailed as the “language of emotions” (Han et al., 2022), highlighting its direct link to this domain, with many studies reflecting on music’s ability to induce and modulate emotions, regulating mood (Grau-Sánchez et al., 2022). Emotion is extremely prominent in the creation, production and consumption of music, providing an expressive outlet for artists and listeners alike.

In exploring the link between music and emotion, neuroscience provides substantial support. The amygdala is key in modulating and regulating emotional networks- with its function maintaining and terminating emotions. Its function has also been noted in the processing of socio-affective information, including music (Koelsch, 2014)- with neurobiological pleasure responses from music correlating with activity in the amygdala (Blood & Zatorre, 2001).

The hippocampus can also be activated through music, and is associated with attachment based emotions (Koelsch, 2020), possibly explaining some of the link we feel between music and people. Finally, the auditory cortex is instrumental in the listening and processing of music, and this brain area also has connections with many limbic, paralimbic and neocortical structures that are important for emotional processing and regulation (Koelsch, 2020; Koelsch, 2014). Through neuroscience, we can therefore see the links between music and emotions, as structural understanding of the brain reveals that the two domains are commonly processed in the same areas.

Following an event that requires rehabilitation, such as a brain injury of a stroke, emotional therapy is extremely important. Alike how music rehabilitation provides covert opportunity for physical rehabilitation, emotional processing and music therapy can go hand in hand.

Through the creation of music, an expressive outlet is provided, allowing the individual to journey through their emotions in a controlled and creative environment. Self-esteem can also grow through DJing, as individuals are provided a new passion to work on, with performance opportunities allowing for growth in confidence. Furthermore, cultivating and committing to a new passion offers individuals a fresh dimension of their personality, providing them with an activity that they love and enjoy.


Music has the power to move us, both in motion and emotion. It is for this reason that music rehabilitation transcends its cognitive benefits to offer an extremely well-rounded programme of potential development, allowing for the development of many key skills needed for rehabilitation.


Blood, A. J., & Zatorre, R. J. (2001). Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 98(20), 11818–11823. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.191355898
Buchanan, H. J. (2005). On the voice: An introduction to body mapping: Enhancing musical performance through somatic pedagogy. The Choral Journal, 45(7), 95–101. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23555347
Fort, J. (2015). Incorporating Haydn’s Minuets: Towards a Somatic Theory of Music. Harvard University Press
Grau-Sánchez, J., Jamey, K., Paraskevopoulos, E., Dalla Bella, S., Gold, C., Schlaug, G., Belleville, S., Rodríguez-Fornells, A., Hackney, M. E., & Särkämö, T. (2022). Putting music to trial: Consensus on key methodological challenges investigating music‐based rehabilitation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1518(1), 12–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14892
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Koelsch, S. (2014). Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 15(3), 170–180. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3666
Koelsch, S. (2020). A coordinate-based meta-analysis of music-evoked emotions. NeuroImage, 223(117350), 117350. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117350
Parliament Written Evidence (2020). Written evidence submitted by British Association for Music Therapy (DEL0340). https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/10886/pdf/