Saylists: How one Dublin firm is using music to aid speech therapy

“Saylists” was launched on Apple Music last week to help young people with speech-sound disorders.

Irish business Rotho was behind the idea, which has been created in partnership with Warner Music, that aims to help people learn through music.

Rotho analysed the lyrics of over 70 million songs, isolating the ones in which problem sounds occur in particular patterns that are helpful for speech therapy.

The playlists have been filled with songs that have been analysed for patterns of repetition which have genuine therapeutic value

Alan Kelly is the Chief Creative Officer at Rothco, an advertising agency based in Dublin which he says is interested in ‘what if’ ideas.

He outlined to Tech Talk with Jess Kelly where the idea for ‘saylists’ came from and how the playlists can help with speech therapy.

“Saylists is a collection of playlists that combine music and technology to highlight key phonetic sounds,” he said.

The custom-built playlists Rothco have created include ‘Don’t Stop Now’ by Dua Lipa, for the D playlist, ‘Good As Hell’ by Lizzo for the G playlist, and Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here Right Now’ for the R one.

Saylists: How one Dublin firm is using music to aid speech therapy

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“It’s estimated that one in 12 children have some sort of speech sound disorder,” Mr Kelly continued.

“In the field of speech-language therapy, one of the most successful strategies is the repetition of difficult words, syllables or phrases.

“The problem is, repetition can be tedious, particularly if you’re a child, and that’s where these saylists come in.

“The idea is we turn music into a universal speech therapy tool which means that it’s a really accessible and fun way for children to practice the sounds they struggle with.”

Mr Kelly gave the example of a child who might have difficulty with the ‘cuh’  sound. They can find a saylist with loads of songs that feature the ‘cuh’ sound that they can sing along to and practice in an enjoyable way.

He explained that the innovative idea originally came from a colleague, Rob Maguire, whose sister is a speech and language therapist.

“What she was finding when she was working with kids was that, obviously repetition is a really important tool to overcome those difficulties, and she was using storybooks that would be part of the traditional way of helping kids repeat different sounds,” he said.

“But the attention span of a kid isn’t very long and with those stories, while they might have had an impact the first time around, that dwindled quite quickly and they became boring.

“She took to sort of making up stories herself to try and keep their attention and to keep the repetition fun.”

Mr Kelly said that when she was telling his colleague Rob about this, “his brain went into overdrive” and he started thinking if there were other things that could be done to make the repetition less boring, which ultimately culminated in saylists.

Rothco’s first step in exploring the idea of saylists began with the firm approaching Warner Music.

He said Warner were “particularly keen” about the concept as a lot of artists and musicians have speech impediments and have used singing to overcome those disabilities.

“That was the perfect partnership for us, but what was difficult was we needed access to create the saylists, we needed access for the algorithm to look at lyrics and go through reams of songs that repeat a certain sound,” he explained.

“Then we needed access lyrics, and that’s where Apple Music came in because Apple Music have an enormous library of lyrics.

“Between Apple Music, Warner and ourselves, we were able to put together saylists.”

People wanting to access saylists can do so by searching for the term on Apple Music.

They can then look for the particular sound that they or a kid might be having difficulty with.

Main image: Dua Lipa performs during the filming for the Graham Norton Show. Picture by: Matt Crossick/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated: April 3, 2021 — 2:40 pm

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