Joan's Innovative Technology Treatment Solutions

Using Music in Therapy

Top picks for music apps to help people who have communication and cognitive challenges such as autism spectrum disorders, aphasia and head injuries

(This post is reprinted from the Innovative Technology Treatment Solutions Newsletter dated 1/22/13)

image of muscial notes image of musical notes

It is well known that music is a wonderful tool that can be used to enhance communication skills and make therapy more enjoyable for people young and old. 

I have recently worked with a number of nonverbal individuals who have responded better to my attempts to help them improve speaking/total communication and thinking skills when I have used music apps than when I use more traditional speech therapy materials. I am not a music therapist, but rather use music in my speech therapy efforts. A few of the individuals were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, one with dementia and another with cerebral palsy. As with other apps, it's very important how you use these tools to engage people and motivate them. It's not just about purchasing the apps and giving it to the person to use independently.

Engaging the individual in meaningful and motivating interactions and modeling appropriate responses are critical parts of the therapy process for the apps to be effective teaching tools.  I generally hold the iPad and remove it when a turn is over so that the individual needs to communicate or respond in some way. Some of the apps turn the iPad into a musical instrument, some provide lyrics or up close lip movement while singing and others can be used to play favorite musical selections.  It's always a good idea to explore them prior to using them in therapy. People almost always enjoy when rhythm and melodies are introduced into sessions. The apps can be an integral part of the learning, a way to calm a person down or as a reinforcement/source of motivation. Try out the different options for those that have customizable features. Another great way to learn is to search on for video reviews.   I have used the apps in the following ways.

Encourage the individual to:

  • experiment with touching and learn about cause/ effect
  • initiate a yes/thumbs up/ head nod if the person likes the music
  • show you" more" or "finished."
  • engage in rhythm and  sound generating activities
  • sing along
  • tell the therapist what the person wants to listen to or how the person feels about musical selections

Here are a few of the apps/online sites with music that I find myself using repeatedly to make our sessions more fun and effective. There are hundreds of music apps available. All of the apps or sites listed below are available for iPad, some also for Android apps or online. I linked to the free versions when possible. I often prefer the paid versions to avoid ads or obtain maximum ability to customize the experience for success.

If you would like to set up an in-person session in the Washington, DC area or an online visit to learn more about using music to help someone who has a communication or cognitive challenge- please contact me at or call 1-800-478-2550.