Tourette Syndrome and Music

Tourette Syndrome and Music

I was recently asked some great questions about Tourette Syndrome, as well as TS comorbids and the impact that music has on them. I thought I would share the responses here because it is great information to have. I am NOT an expert on this, but I do feel confident speaking to what I have noticed/observed/chatted about with others who have TS and comorbids, etc.

  1. Does music help Tourette Syndrome? If yes, how?
  2. Does playing music (more specifically the Kalimba, which is my music instrument obsession) help any of these:

    ADHD, OCD, Slow processing speed, Anxiety, Learning Disabilities, Mood Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorder (or Sensory Integration Dysfunction), Sleep Disorders, Migraines, and Phobias.


It has absolutely been my experience that playing music does very much help to short wire (or interrupt) tics, especially if I am in a tic fit.  I have heard from MANY TS’ers on this one and we have all had similar experiences. Most of us who play an instrument (or sing) experience the same sort of soothing/interrupt in our tics. My wife loves my Kalimba because she sees the impact it has on my TS and the break it gives me when I can stop the tics for a while. (Plus, my tics are annoying so I am sure she enjoys a break from that too LOL!)

To add to that, there have been a few studies done on TS and Music, and the results have typically found that there is a significant decrease in tics during the time when a person with TS is either listening to music, playing an instrument, or singing. Often, tics will stop or nearly stop completely.

You can do a google search and find all sorts of information on this, just be aware not all sources are trusted and because TS is a neurological disorder it is very misunderstood so there is a lot of incorrect information out there! So, in all research find trusted sources, then cross check the heck out of it all before believing and or spreading the information.

As for HOW it works? No one is quite sure yet. Some think it is about the part of the brain that misfires signals that cause our tics being the same area that we process music with, which seems to make sense to me.  It could be that our brain is just busy in general with processing music that there isn’t enough energy to tic (I like to think of it like ram in a computer LOL but I am an IT chick, so whatever).  It also could be that music is typically distracting. With the Kalimba in particular it is very relaxing! Tics can be caused by stress, so anything reducing that stress can help to reduce tics for many of us – and it is pretty hard to be stressed out when playing an instrument that sounds like the Kalimba!  Between  you and I, I often nod off while playing, and while that is not so helpful toward my musical goals, it sure is nice to catch a few winks because I do not sleep all that much!

Next answer:
Does it help with: any of these: (help being the key word, it is not going to cure/heal/fix any of these things, but as a valuable tool in the wellness toolbox, absolutely!)

ADHD: Yes. Music can help with ADHD for similar reasons to why it helps with TS, and more! Often because of beats, timing, rhythm, etc. These things can help those of us with ADHD focus, and music can also increase our dopamine response which helps to treat ADHD. Not to mention having a shared hobby that you can spend time socially with others to get some good dopamine hits too <3  I can speak to this one first hand.

OCD: I believe it can help with OCD in some ways just by relaxing us and easing the anxiety that comes with OCD, I think it is probably a fairly small connection here, and that mostly it is therapeutic.

Slow processing speed: Yes, for all the same reasons addressed for Tics and OCD. (I can speak to this first hand)

Anxiety: Yes, due to focus, relaxation, and concentration! Music has been proven to link to emotions, emotions can help to ramp anxiety up OR calm us down! When I am feeling anxious, I do often reach for my Kalimba because it helps to calm me. (I can speak to this first hand)

Learning Disabilities: Yes, music is ALWAYS good for our brains. Studies have shown that music DOES help strengthen the areas of the brain that affect our learning center. Once again, it also can make a huge difference on focus. (I can speak to this first hand)

Mood Disorders: Yup! Distraction, concentration, dopamine response, hobby, learning, social connection etc. All of these things help to not only increase quality of life, but they bring all the happy juices to our brain.

Sensory Processing Disorder (or sensory integration dysfunction): Yes! Depending on the type of SPD experienced. Speaking first hand – For me sound and texture are HUGE SPD issues. Kalimba makes a very soothing *to me* sound that is not jarring, loud, or aggressive. Kalimbas soft, gentle, bell like, tinkle tones are pleasant and calming for me. On top of that, the feel of the Kalimba on my hands is lovely. You have super smooth slightly cool tines, and you can FEEL the vibration especially on the deep rumbly notes, and all the different types of kalimbas have their own textures! For example, Wood – is it varnished or unvarnished? Is it textured or smooth? They also have temperatures based on what the body is made of, wood is usually warmer and acrylic is cooler, just as an example! I often find myself just running my fingers over the tines OR the body because it pleases my SPD. <3 so huge yes from me. I am a HUGE believer in musical therapy now.

Sleep disorders: I will say yes, I do NOT sleep very much but I do often nod off playing my Kalimba because my brain sort of goes into a relaxed state and I just drift off. It’s lovely (except for when I am trying to learn a song and cannot seem to stay awake to practice LOL!)

Migraines: No… Migraines are a beast and typically no light, no sound, and dark rooms are best. I cannot imagine trying to focus on music to play or listen to it when I have a migraine.

Phobias: No, I do not believe it would help other than as a calming mechanism.

So there you have it!  If you have TS, or any of these other disorders (or comorbids) and have not yet tried playing some type of music, I highly recommend you do! Pick an instrument that speaks to you for whatever reason, be gentle with yourself, have no expectations, and just play!

Thanks for the great question!