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I Want To Sing! A Music Therapists Top Tricks to Encouraging Non-Verbal individuals to Vocalize/Talk

Updated on June 20, 2013

I Want To Sing

There are many reasons both known and unknown why some individuals don't talk. I have learned through many years of working as a board certified Music Therapist with non-verbal children (ages 5-21) that not having the ability to speak is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence or ability to express oneself. Music can be a perfect way for non-verbal children (as well as adults) to communicate and/or express themselves. Clearly there is no guarantee my music therapy "tricks" will work for everyone, but they are techniques that have worked and can possibly work to aid in non-verbal individuals ability to verbalize, communicate, and/or express themselves.

Singing - Filling in the Blank

This technique has been extremely successful for me. Introduce a simple, common song. It can be any simple song, for example: Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Sing it to the non-verbal individual. Don't sing it passively (example: don't sing it while cooking dinner and child is in the other room), but rather sing it at a time you are interacting with the individual. Sing it all the way through (even if you think they aren't paying attention) for several weeks. Once you think they know the song, sing the entire song except the last word. Don't finish the song. In most cases the individual will want closure and will either grunt, vocalize a sound, or even sing the actual word. Once they respond regularly to "filling in the last word" try leaving out another word in addition to the last word. For example: "Row, Row, Row Your _______". See how far they go with it. Once one song is mastered add a new song. Continue singing, singing could spark vocalizing or actual words.

Play Background Chords on an Instrument

I used a piano, but guitar or other instruments capable of playing chords would work. Sometimes freely playing chords can spark singing. I once worked with a non-verbal child with cerebral palsy I'll call Joe (not his real name). I would sit Joe next to me at the piano and play slow, jazz chords. At first he would play on the piano with me. Out of the blue one session he started "scatting" on different syllables (ah, do, ma, ba). The amazing thing is that he always sang in key, in a strong, rich voice full of natural vibrato. His singing was filled with a lot of feeling and emotion, incorporating loud and soft, high and low in each of his songs. He never spoke or sang real words but his voice was so beautiful he could have been a professional singer.

Another example where I used this technique was with a boy with autism. He was able to speak a few words, but he was not able to use the words he knew to communicate, he would just randomly say words and they didn't mean anything. As I would play the piano he would wander around the room. He always sang as he walked around. At first I had trouble hearing what he was singing because he sang so quietly. As time went on he became more comfortable and I could hear what he was singing. He was singing stories about how frustrated he was about not being understood. He sang about feelings, as well as people in his life. I was amazed and video taped his sessions for his teachers, other therapists, and family. They were able to incorporate music in their work with him. Finding a way to communicate changed this boys life.


At the school I used to work for I was extremely lucky to have been awarded a grant for a multisensory sound lab. Part of the lab consisted of a floor that vibrated to the sound of your voice through a microphone and the act of vocalizing through the same microphone would also cause lights on a lumasound lamp to make colorful light patterns. Nothing would happen if you just held the microphone but vocalizing into the microphone created many multisensory effects. This created a lot of new singers.

Music can be a valuable tool in assisting non-verbal individuals in singing.

Give music a try!

© 2013 HeatherH104


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    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks Lydia!

      I've enjoyed your hubs as well.

    • Lydia Sweatt profile image

      Lydia Sweatt 4 years ago from Dallas, TX

      This is very interesting. I would have never guessed that singing could get non-verbal individuals to talk. The power of music continues to surprise me. Great info!

    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks TurtleDog! I appreciate you taking the time to read it. :)

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 4 years ago

      Nice Post! Very inspirational.

    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      It is always a treat to meet a fellow Music Therapist vocalcoach! This seems to be a good way to educate others how important our work is.

      Thank you for your great comment. I'm really enjoying your hubs too!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Well, Heather, as you probably have guessed this is a subject very near and dear to my heart. Like you, I have worked as a Music Therapist with blind children, autism,stroke victims and speech therapy.

      Your marvelous hub is inspiring. I particularly found the "Row your boat" approach to be most helpful. Those who you work with are indeed blessed!

      Thank you so much and voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and sharing!

    • HeatherH104 profile image

      HeatherH104 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks for your comment Larry.

      You are absolutely correct in all you've said. When you sing, your entire brain is stimulated as apposed to just the language side when you speak.

      Glad you took the time to read my hub!

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 4 years ago

      Singing is a useful tool for many speech related issues. I have a slight speech impairment that used to be a lot worse. Singing therapy was never used on me. However, there was another person who had a disfluency problem, or what most people would call stuttering. Singing helped him to improve the fluency in his voice. No, he was not a great singer, but he did develop the ability to take part in conversations with only a minimal amount of stuttering. There was a former Country Singer named Mel Tillis, who stuttered, but never missed a beat when he was singing. Some said he was faking the stuttering. He wasn't. Being able to speak clearly and properly is a gift that sometimes needs some adjustments. I know that music therapy can help in that task.