London: It's a method therapist Lionel Logue was shown using to help stuttering monarch George VI in 'The King's Speech'. Now, scientists say they have discovered why singing is so effective at treating a stammer.
It has nothing to do with the melody but instead is based on the rhythm, according to scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
The researchers found that highly familiar song lyrics and formulaic phrases expressed rhythmically had a strong impact on articulation - regardless of whether they were sung or spoken.
The results, they said, may lead the way to new therapies for speech disorders.
In the past patients had trouble talking but could often sing complete texts relatively fluently. Singing was thought to stimulate areas in the right hemisphere, which would then assume the function for damaged left speech areas.
Recent research has shown that changes indeed occur in the right brain hemisphere of patients after singing formulaic phrases like "How are you?" over a period of months.
To find out how singing works, the Max Planck researchers conducted a study in which 17 stroke patients with resulting speech problems had to articulate several thousand syllables, which were sung and recited with rhythmic or arrhythmic accompaniment
The texts selected were linguistically similar but varied greatly in their level of familiarity and how formulaic they were.
The results showed that singing was not the decisive factor for the patients. Singing the texts did not produce better results than speaking them rhythmically.
"The key element in our patients was, in fact, not the melody but the rhythm," said lead researcher Benjamin Stahl. The level of familiarity with the song lyrics and whether the texts contained formulaic phrases was found to be even more important.
Daily expressions like "How are you?" are highly automatised at the motor level, and common song lyrics can be recalled from long-term memory.
Benjamin Stahl is presently conducting further studies which aim to tap into the resource of rhythmic and formulaic speech for rehabilitative therapies.
This could offer exciting prospects for improving the quality of life for patients, he said.
"Even small gains in the ability to speak can mean a lot to aphasics, who sometimes have been unable to communicate easily for years," he added.