Florencia's Last Journicle Review: Music Salience and Gait Performance

The Effects of Music Salience on the Gait Performance of Young Adults

By Natalie de Bruin, Cody Kempster, Angelica Doucette, Jon B. Doan, Bin Hu, Lesley A. Brown

Reviewed by Florencia Rusinol, music therapy intern



The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of salient music on gait in comparison to metronome cueing, non-salient music, and no cueing, and to examine the effect of tempo cueing with salient music versus metronome cueing. In these two studies, salient music was defined as music that is both familiar and enjoyable. The authors of this study were all from Alberta, Canada and most belong to the department of Kinesiology at the University of Lethbridge. It is important to note that none of the researchers were music therapists. It even seemed that the article was not originally directed towards music therapists due to the brief history of music therapy included in the literature review. The authors included as the basis of this study, the foundations of rhythmic cueing and gait (what music therapists recognize as Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation, or RAS). They express that many clinicians use this method with their patients, but that a common difficulty is participation and engagement in the program, and that perhaps if commercial music did result as useful for this kind of gait training, it may increase engagement in the program.

The participants of this study were 25 typically functioning young adults (18-25). There were two studies conducted for this article. In the first study, the researchers wanted to determine the effect of salient music on gait, in comparison to no cue, metronome cueing, and non-salient music cueing, which consisted of unfamiliar, non-Western music. The tempo of the music matched the participant’s preferred walking cadence. In the second study, the researchers investigated the effect of cue tempo on gait with a metronome and with salient music, with the tempi set to 90%, 100%, and 110% of the participant’s preferred walking cadence. The salient music for each participant was determined through a survey of preferred music.

The results of the study showed that gait is influenced by music salience, specifically velocity, stride length, and cadence, more so than with a metronome. The researchers interpreted these results to say that, “enjoyment should be a central consideration when developing therapeutic exercise programs that require long-term participation.”  As a MT-BC candidate, this is not news to me. In fact, music therapists are always prioritizing client-preferred music. However, I have also never used the music tracks specifically engineered for RAS, so perhaps those who use them are the ones to whom these suggestions are geared. Any time I have ever used RAS, I have used client-preferred music, but I appreciate that this article substantiates that choice.

In the second study that investigated whether tempo influenced gait, it seemed that the tempo of the music did not significantly alter the participants’ gait. The researchers hypothesized that the reason the tempo changes did not alter the participants’ gait could have been that the participants were never explicitly instructed to match their gait to the tempo. I agree with this assessment because many times when I’m at the gym, I walk to my preferred cadence regardless of the tempo, but rather, my music listening has a more motivational aspect.

One thing I found interesting was that studies that include typically functioning participants with no illness or disability are not often found, but it seemed important that this be tested with a, sort of, control group of typically functioning people before it is tried with people who have added challenges. Some limitations of the study were the small sample size and the fact that different groups of people were used for each of the two studies. The authors recognize that not everyone has the same individuals have different levels of beat perception and that that could have altered the results of either of the studies.

Perhaps it is my own bias towards the fact that most research in our field is done by music therapists, but I found it very refreshing that professors of kinesiology and a doctor wrote this article. Obviously, the results of this study could drastically change when applied to individuals with illness or disability, so further research is necessary before it is truly generalizable to the populations we serve, but it is a good start.

De Bruin, N., Kempster, C., Doucette, A., Doan, J. B., Hu, B., & Brown, L. A. (2015). The effects of music salience on the gait performance of young adults. Journal of Music Therapy, 52(3), 394-419. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thv009

Jamie George


Jamie founded The George Center for Music Therapy, Inc. in 2010 in order to expand and increase access to quality music therapy programs in the metro Atlanta area. She is a licensed and nationally board-certified music therapist. Jamie holds additional certifications in Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Music Therapy (NICU-MT).

Jamie received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Western Michigan University, and a Master of Music with a concentration in Music Therapy, from the University of Georgia. She completed her graduate research studying music therapy and its effects on children with sensory processing disorder. Jamie completed her internship working with exceptional children in the Fulton County Schools Music Therapy Department in metro Atlanta. Jamie specializes in autism and other neurologic conditions. In addition to teaching and treating, she actively consults with parents, therapists, allied health, and therapeutic and educational programs across the country.

Jamie serves on the Ethics Board for the American Music Therapy Association, and serves as Government Relations Co-Chair for the Southeastern Region of the AMTA. She serves as Reimbursement Chair for the Music Therapy Association of Georgia, having previously served as Treasurer for the organization from 2007 – 2012.  Jamie also serves on the Georgia state task forceand the Georgia Secretary of State appointed Music Therapy Advisory Committee.

Jamie is an accomplished vocalist, and comes to Atlanta after having performed for several years in New York City and Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.

Check out some of Jamie’s work over on the blog!