Music therapy and disability: rehabilitation and therapeutic strategies

 In Music Therapy

What effects can Music Therapy achieve on the development of people with disabilities, emotional disorders or motor disabilities? Music is a universal language in which everyone can participate and which can guide you through all inner conditions, from the most superficial and insignificant to the most profound and intensely personal. People with disabilities are often unable to assimilate life experiences, may feel confused because they are wrong in interpreting them, may misunderstand them, may have little or no confidence in the abilities of their own psyche. His responses to life can be distorted by fear or anxiety; he can live in a whirlwind of emotions or, on the contrary, his consciousness can only be interested in fragments of reality.

For the emotionally immature or disturbed person, the experience of the emotional language of music is inviting: the very existence of the melodies gives him security, induces him to use his body or his voice expressively. The rhythm-melodic structures thus become a support for his activities, an order that favors the control and coordination of movements, as well as a basis of experience for the development of his personality and for his integration, both individual and social. Of this potential, Music Therapy provides evidence that arises from more than ten years of activity. To those who experience it, it communicates the same human charge, of understanding and enthusiasm, which accompanies the weaves in a profound and engaging experience.

There is a lot of research showing that music is very motivating for children, (especially for those with disabilities) – explained Dr. Kate Williams – and it is very rare to find a child whose attention is not captured by music. Music and the brain work well together, and by stimulating the rhythmic areas of the brain, motor responses and reflexes can be stimulated; there are also connections in the brain between music and language. Much of this research has been done with adults, but the same applies to the disabled ”.


The setting of the laboratory activities aims to propose significant situations and actions, possibly attractive and captivating, capable of arousing curiosity, interest and motivation. Particular attention is paid to the responses and attitudes observed / received both by the individual and by the group, which act as a reference for constructing functional and adequate proposals for the therapeutic objectives. The stimuli suggested by the patients are necessarily enhanced, enriched and expanded through the reciprocity between the music therapist and the patient himself. The activities tend to involve all the senses, imagination, movement, emotionality, cognitive functions, through the fundamental use of all the potential of musical language and its mixtures with the use of the body: from singing to listening, from the sound of musical instruments to dance, sometimes also resorting to the use of other artistic mediators such as colors, poetry, fairy tales in music, rhythmic movement. 

The results are valued as elements of a process, both at a relational and musical level, regardless of their aesthetic value, because they are always able to create an emotional and / or empathic relationship both between therapist and user and between user and user. Through active and receptive techniques, which I advise you to deepen in the article Music Therapy What is and How to Practice, each meeting is conceived as a time and a sound-musical and relational space in which, once the basic coordinates have been fixed (represented from musical activities), situations occur, encounters are made, relationships are created, energies are stirred up. It starts with musical proposals (listening to recorded music) that tend to be calm and relaxed, characterized by slow rhythms and relaxed melodies, accompanied by guided breathing exercises and slow movements, with a limited spatial use of the environment, a marginal emotional / affective involvement, sometimes resulting in apathetic or even dysphoric symptoms; this start is aimed at promoting muscle awakening from a state of rest and contextualising the moment.

The musical workshop for the disabled continues with increasingly activating musical experiences through the use of percussion instruments, the execution of rhythmic sequences or dances, instrumental improvisation, and various forms of orchestration, in which progressively agogic and rhythm take on a increasing role until it determines the fulcrum of the intervention at its peak, stimulating in patients an increasingly engaging action on an energetic, physical, emotional level. The person is invited to get involved by appropriating the music through the movement of all parts of the body, both in sitting and standing posture. 

musicoterapia e disabilita


Another fundamental technique in the laboratory is body percussion. This type of activity favors the inclusion of everyone, even those with severe motor and cognitive disabilities, who being able to make music and work at the same level as others with positive effects on group dynamics. This technique allows to experiment directly on the body the musical elements such as pulsation, rhythm, the metrics of words, speed. It also implements motor coordination, attention in reproducing the proposed gestures, awareness of one’s own body and also allows for a socialization process among the members participating in this activity.

The activity ends with a return to an atmosphere of calm and initial relaxation to recover a balanced emotional state, which favors the relational dimension with oneself and with family members.


If there are innumerable benefits of music therapy in the treatment of disability, no less important is music for the parents of children or people with disabilities. Living with disability is a challenge that characterizes the life of parents, who are forced to fight every day. Fighting against disease, prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and who knows what else. All this is a continuous source of stress, which can be fought, or at least stemmed, with music therapy. In situations of discouragement or during particularly stressful periods from an emotional point of view, music always plays a prodigious anti-stress role. In fact, listening to particularly relaxing pieces of music acts on the neurochemical areas of reward, stimulation, stress and excitement.

We can therefore conclude by saying that Music Therapy, if proposed by qualified professionals, proves to be an effective tool suitable for all types of users not only to stimulate and bring out emotions but also to facilitate motor skills and enhance cognitive functions through stimulation of creativity.

As Plato argued, ‘music is for the soul what gymnastics is for the body.’

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