Rhythmic sound has been used in a range of therapeutic contexts with individuals with movement disabilities, e.g. Parkinsons’ disease (Unkefer and Thaut 2002). The Institute for Music and Neurology (Beth Abraham Hospital, New York) has been developing therapeutic techniques around rhythmic cueing to support motor rehabilitation, as has the Centre for Biomedical Research in Music (University of Colarado). Extensive studies with infants and adults show that periodic music/sound rhythmic stimuli create movement patterns (Winkler et al. 2009; Zentner and Eerola 2010). A sleeping 6-day-old baby is shown to respond at a neurological level, to the missing beat in a musical phrase (Winkler et al. Ibid), and a 6-month-old child who is sitting still on his mother’s lap suddenly starts moving and swinging its legs and body to a rhythmic phrase in a musical piece and stops when the phrase stops (Zentner et al. Ibid).
In language, we also experience movements in our body both whilst producing speech and whilst perceiving/responding to speech. Bavelas et al. (2000) suggest that a speaker cannot speak if there is no physical response from a listener, and non-face-to-face interaction analyses show that we need to move as we speak in order to speak. This suggests that our production and perception of sound, be it in music or language, are intrinsically bound with the physiological and motor system. Periodic rhythmic stimulus affords a degree of enhanced control of movement, and research shows that rhythm and movement are bound together in infancy (Malloch and Trevarthen 2009; 1974, Stern 1974; Condon and Sander 1974). Mother–baby interactions have been described as rhythmically synchronized and musical, with the proposal that such rhythmical synchrony is important for companionship, intersubjectivity, and empathy. Moving our bodies and voices together in time embodies a potent pragmatic purpose, that of being together. This is imbued in us from the moment we are born, evidenced in these studies of the proto-musicality of mother–infant communication.