“Music Therapy and Speech Disorders: From Brahms to Broca’s Area”, a lecture by Dr. Andrew J. Knight

Dr. Knight started his lecture by explaining that this study, which deals with application of music therapy in speech disorder cases, was possible thanks to a research grant awarded for this purpose. He stated that speech has been a subject of interest since primordial times. He cited the Greek philosopher Plato as one important figure that had interest in language, speech, and communication, as well as Darwin, who asked himself about the importance and purpose of speech, according to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Several others names were mentioned, including the famous American composer Leonard Bernstein, who used to teach “Grammar of Music and Music of Grammar,” at Harvard University, during 1950-60.

Closing the introductory part, Dr. Knight talked about two modern neuroscientists that have shown special interest in music: Aniruddh Patel and Teri Bellis. Aniruddh Patel does research on music cognition that deals with music perception. On the other hand, Teri Bellis studies language processing, working with communication disorders.

Moving on, Dr. Knight spoke about a commercial that was aired on television that showed the impact of drugs on the brain. He said that after watching the commercial, scientists came out with the idea to investigate how music could be related to drugs on the brain, by means of effect evaluation. On this path, a group of people, specifically non-musicians, was selected for a study.  They would have their brains scanned through a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine while been exposed to music.

This study showed that some specific parts of the brain react when people are listening to music. Moreover, this brain reaction seems to happen as the brain attempts to understand what is coming next in the music. Once the brain understands the musical happening, it relaxes. Consequently, it changes its response, by no longer reacting. After observing this, neuroscientists raised another question: what are those parts responsible for?

By comparing the final results with studies on brain anatomy, they made some conclusions. For instance, its is known that the brain’s right hemisphere is more visual and processes information randomly. By contrast, the left hemisphere is responsible for language. Moreover, the area that controls speech function is located in the left inferior frontal cortex, and it is called Broca’s area. Furthermore, the motor cortex is responsible for voluntary movements.

As the results showed that different parts in both brain’s hemispheres reacted while been stimulated by music, they concluded that music is happening everywhere in the brain. Also, those same results demonstrate that brain mechanisms of speech (Broca’s area) can be stimulated by music (Brahms).

Finally, Dr. Knight explained that whatever reason one happens to have a “stopping process”, music could be used as a way to access those neuropaths, since it provides unique stimulus without being invasive. For those who have autism, Alzheimer’s disease, or traumatic brain injuries, music therapy may be seen in the future as another way of coping trough brain stimulation.