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Front Psychol. 2015 Feb 18;5:1185. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01185. eCollection 2014.

Neurobiological foundations of neurologic music therapy: rhythmic entrainment and the motor system.

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Center for Biomedical Research in Music, Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO, USA.
Department of Neurology, University of Colorado Health Fort Collins, CO, USA.
SRH Neurorehabilitation Hospital Bad Wimpfen Bad Wimpfen, Germany.


Entrainment is defined by a temporal locking process in which one system's motion or signal frequency entrains the frequency of another system. This process is a universal phenomenon that can be observed in physical (e.g., pendulum clocks) and biological systems (e.g., fire flies). However, entrainment can also be observed between human sensory and motor systems. The function of rhythmic entrainment in rehabilitative training and learning was established for the first time by Thaut and colleagues in several research studies in the early 1990s. It was shown that the inherent periodicity of auditory rhythmic patterns could entrain movement patterns in patients with movement disorders (see for a review: Thaut et al., 1999). Physiological, kinematic, and behavioral movement analysis showed very quickly that entrainment cues not only changed the timing of movement but also improved spatial and force parameters. Mathematical models have shown that anticipatory rhythmic templates as critical time constraints can result in the complete specification of the dynamics of a movement over the entire movement cycle, thereby optimizing motor planning and execution. Furthermore, temporal rhythmic entrainment has been successfully extended into applications in cognitive rehabilitation and speech and language rehabilitation, and thus become one of the major neurological mechanisms linking music and rhythm to brain rehabilitation. These findings provided a scientific basis for the development of neurologic music therapy.


auditory rhythm; entrainment; music; neurologic music therapy; rehabilitation

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