At Wholesome Harmonies, we are dedicated to sharing our passion about music therapy. We offer a variety of services, including individual and group music therapy, and traditional and adapted lessons on guitar, piano, ukulele, voice and drums. All of our board certified music therapists specialize in working with children with autism and other special needs.
Are your students as into “Old Town Road” as mine are?
You know, the one by Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X?
I hear about that song in pretty much every session. So, it worked out perfectly that this week’s theme at the Children’s Resources summer camp (for PreK-5th grade students) was Wild Wild West.
I knew this was the perfect time to listen to this song on repeat (much to my husband’s dismay) and brainstorm how I could possibly use it to target my clients’ therapeutic goals.
I created three colorful sheets each showing a 4-beat rhythm pattern that fit for the A, B, and C section of the song. Each pattern was repeated four times.
Section A (starts: “Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road”) – Section B (starts: “I got the horses in the back”) – Section C (starts: “Can’t nobody tell me nothin'”) –
In the music therapy session:
I began by showing the students the rhythm sheets. I asked if they knew what the symbols on the page were and what they meant. In each class there were few students that knew the symbols were music notes and that the quarter notes were “ta,” the eighth notes were “ti ti,” and the sixteenth notes were “tika-tika.”
We practiced each rhythm sheet by clapping and saying the rhythm name (ta, ti ti, or tika-tika).
After they were confident playing and saying the rhythms, I handed out rhythm sticks and pulled up the clean version of “Old Town Road.” We played through each rhythm sheet as it corresponded with the song.
It was a success!
The students were THRILLED they were able to hear their favorite song multiple times, and I was pleased that they had the opportunity to work on our therapeutic goals: sustained and selective attention, impulse control, and following directions.
As a variation for another week, I’m planning to assign different instruments to each rhythm section (for example, sticks for Section A, maraca for Section B, and drum for Section C.)
Every other Sunday, I drive up a palm tree-lined road to the Chabad Center of Kendall to facilitate sessions for Friendship Circle Miami.
I’ve worked with Friendship Circle since 2010 and it’s one of my favorite programs to work with.
This past week something very interesting happened in one of the sessions.
I had just completed an activity and was transitioning to the next one when I noticed that the group was very disorganized. Some of the teens were walking around the room, some were not paying attention to what was going on in the session.
The next activity was the Be Flexible Rap that I use to teach clients about being flexible in situations where things don’t go as planned. (More about that intervention here!)
As soon as the beat started playing, there was a noticeable change in the room. I started patting my knees to the beat and the ENTIRE group started patting along with me, in synchrony. Those who were standing moved to their chairs and sat back down. The clients who were disorganized were suddenly moving, in time, with the rest of the group.
We entrained to the rhythm and it organized our entire group.
This is because research has shown that when our brain takes in information, it prefers it to be in an organized, structured form, rather than discrete bits of information.
This rap track provided the organization and structure that the group needed at that time. And, it helped sustain their attention throughout the activity so we could work on the therapeutic concepts in the Be Flexible rap.
If you want to learn more about how to use rap tracks in your sessions with school-age clients and teens, check out the Tune In To Teens E-Course. You’ll get free MP3 rap tracks and learn how to use them to target attention, social, communication and motor goals (PLUS the “cool” factor will be through the roof when you hit play and your clients hear a hip hop beat!)
Hot temperatures, afternoon rainstorms, staying inside to soak up the AC. Yup, summer is definitely here!
At the Children’s Resources Summer Camp, there’s a different theme for each week of camp. I love this, because it gives me a creative jumping off point for planning therapeutic music experiences. Last year, we did a Musical Game Theme, a Pirate Theme, an Ice Cream Theme and a Camping Theme that was a blast for the students.
This summer, the first theme was Hawaii.
I decided to go all out – I broke out my Hawaiian lei, my sunglasses, and of course my ukulele.
To start off, we sang an Aloha Song with the ukulele, in lieu of our usual Hello Song.
Following that, I pulled up a YouTube video of traditional Hawaiian music. I found one that also had some pictures of Hawaii rotating through as the music played.
Then, I passed out blank paper, crayons, and colored pencils to each student.
I told the students that as they listened to the traditional Hawaiian music we were going to draw a picture of Hawaii or what we thought was being depicted in the music. For most students, it was more concrete for them to draw what was on the screen and that was just fine! They put their own spin on it, and I loved seeing all the creative touches they added: volcanoes, birds, and tropical flowers.
This activity was a way for the students to be introduced to Hawaiian music while also having the opportunity for express themselves artistically.
All the research I did for this session theme made me want to take a trip to Hawaii. Anyone else feel the same way?
The other day I was walking through Target and had a ‘Hallelujah moment’!
I was coming in for one item: a white t-shirt that my daughter needed for an art project at her preschool. But, like most times I visit Target, I never made it past the Dollar Section (does that happen to you, or is it just me?)
The Target Dollar Section is out of this world.
It’s perfect for music teachers, special ed teachers, regular ed teachers, speech therapists and of course, music therapists.
It’s always stocked with inexpensive flash cards, workbooks, picture cards, and other goodies that are a teacher and therapists dream.
On this particular visit, I found a few gems, one of which was a set of social skills cards. Target calls them: “Good Citizen Cards.”
I was super excited about this find because one of the primary areas of focus when I work with elementary and middle school students is social skills.
We definitely do spend our time on interventions like The Noun Rap that target academic skills and ones that target attention skills.But, social skills are so incredibly important for this age group that I make it a point to target them in every single session.
I wrote a song called “What Do You Do?” that fits perfectly with these cards I found. I wrote the song a few years ago to help a student with autism learn to respond flexibly to questions about different social situations.
For example: What do you do when you need help? What do you say when you don’t know someone’s name? What do you do when you want to sit with someone in the lunch room? Etc.
With the addition of the Social Skills/Good Citizen Cards, I added verses about what to do if someone is better at something than you are, what to do if you walk through a door and someone’s behind you, and what to do if you want to borrow something from somebody.
And that’s just to name a few!
The pack is stocked with cards about what to do in a variety of social situations. I am not an affiliate for Target (although I probably could be!), I just really want to spread the word about what amazing resources they offer therapists and teachers. Go check out the Target Dollar Section for yourself and see what you find!
I used to be kind of a snob when it came to using recorded music in my sessions.
As a board certified music therapist, I am a firm believer that we have a unique skill set that sets us apart from other music professionals. We play a variety of social instruments that we can use to accompany ourselves while singing live. (I’ve used everything from a maraca to a ukulele!) And, we can adjust the tempo and other musical elements in the song to meet the needs of our clients (more on that here).
For a long, long time (about 13 years or so!) I was a huge proponent of using only live music when facilitating music therapy sessions for children and teens.
The past few years though, as I’ve worked at Children’s Resources Educational Center with students grades PreK-5, I’ve ‘changed my tune’ on this a bit.
Recorded music does have a place in our music therapy sessions, as long as it’s being used with therapeutic intent.
Here’s the perfect example:
In January, I was working on a Nutcracker-themed session plan for my older elementary students. My goal was to use listening guides to work on attention and auditory perception skills. The students would be asked to use adjectives to describe the music they were listening to, to pick out specific instruments in the orchestra, etc. There is no way I could have recreated the music of the Nutcracker myself and targeted those goals as effectively – the best results came from using a recording.
Earlier this month, I led a Cinco de Mayo themed session with my students. I brought in a recording of the “Mexican Hat Dance” because I wanted my students to shake their maracas in different ways, based on the music they were hearing. For the short, staccato notes at the beginning, I asked them to shake up and down; for the legato notes that followed, I asked them to sway side to side and shake their maracas side to side. In this case, again, the recorded music was so much more effective than it would have been if I had tried to recreate this on a social instrument.
I’m happy to say that after 13 years working as a music therapist I’m still learning, still evaluating what works and what doesn’t, and still changing my approach based on these observations.
I’d love to hear your input below.
Do you use solely live music, solely recorded music, or a mix of both? Let us know why in the comments below!
Rockin’ and Readin’ is a program I created to bring music therapy sessions to the libraries in our area.
Our focus in April was on toddlers and young children with autism and other special needs and for this round of sessions, all my activities were spring related. I incorporated a butterfly movement song, a musical egg hunt, a spring-themed instrument playing activity, and of course a singable spring story.
I chose the book “Five Little Ducks” because many children and adults are familiar with this song and can sing along (which helps them feel successful!)
I’ve used this singable story before, but this time I decided to incorporate one thing that made it stand out from all the other times I’ve done it. One thing that grabbed the attention of the children who were distracted and reengaged them in our activity.
What was that one thing you ask?
The duck quacker!
If you are not familiar with the duck quacker, I highly recommend you check it out.
This silly sounding instruments sounds JUST LIKE A DUCK. The toddlers and children I work with absolutely love it. Every time we got to the part in the song where the mother duck says “quack quack quack quack,” I played that quacker as loud as I could. The group erupted in laughter because I had hidden it behind the book and they couldn’t see what was making that noise.
Was it a real duck?!
The key takeaway here is this: think about what you can incorporate into your sessions that will grab the attention of your clients and refocus their attention back on you. If you work with toddlers and young children like I do, you know we need to have an endless amount of reengagement strategies in our back pocket.
Maybe it’s the duck quacker, maybe it’s the thunder tube, maybe it’s the castanet. Leave a comment below to let me know what’s worked for you and your clients!
I used to be a huge Backstreet Boys fan. I mean HUGE. One of those embarrassing fans. I knew all of the guys’ birthdays, their favorite foods, and the kind of car they drove. My best friend and I spent hours making collages of their faces on our binders and writing fan letters that I don’t think we ever sent.
So, when the BSBs came back on the scene a year or so ago, I have to admit my former teenage self was a little giddy.
Their music doesn’t quite hit me the way it did when I was 17. But, it’s fun to think back on how much fun I had singing every word of their Millennium album and learning all the dance moves to “Backstreet’s Back.”
Why am I shamefully admitting all of this?
Because their new song “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is one of the additions to the updated version of my Pop Song Hot List. The Pop Song Hot List is a quick reference guide to the songs that are at the top of the charts right now. It can be overwhelming to figure out what songs are “cool” and “in” right now, because what’s “cool” and “in” seems to change weekly, am I right?
I just added a brand new section at the end of the list that I think you’ll love. It’s called Positive Pop Songs for Therapy. This is a list of songs that never go out of style because of their positive message and lyrics (which can be tough to find these days!) AND their potential for use in our therapy sessions.
If you’re overwhelmed by ALL the music that’s out there and don’t know where to start when it comes to finding the music your students and clients like, check out one of the resources mentioned above. The Tune In To Teens E-Course is a comprehensive resource for music teachers and music therapists who work with teens with special needs.
In the course you will:
Find out exactly where to go to find the top new pop songs
Learn creative ways to determine your clients’ unique musical preferences
Learn how to add musical variety to your sessions by incorporating genres like bluegrass, dubstep, salsa, Celtic, classical & reggaeton
Find out my #1 resource for finding the top songs that teens are listening to right now
When you live in Miami, one season tends to blend right in to the next.
Winter feels like Spring and Spring feels like Summer. Nonetheless, I like to acknowledge the change of seasons in my sessions. Thus, I have a ton of ideas in store for my Spring-themed sessions next week.
I work at a school called Children’s Resources here in Miami, providing group music therapy sessions to the PreK – 5th grade classrooms. For the children who are sensory learners (those with severe and profound intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder), I bring in experiences that target ALL the senses.
Let’s focus today on my personal favorite – the sense of smell.
To provide olfactory stimulation I bring in the following Spring-y scents:
PRO TIP: Go to the Dollar Tree and stock up. You will not be disappointed. You can find lotions, candles and room sprays in a variety of scents.
To facilitate this experience, I ask the teachers to pass around one scent at a time while I sing this original song:
I love to see eyes widen as the children get a whiff of coconut or mango. Yum! If you’d like to use this song in your upcoming sessions: And be sure to check out the Sensational Songs & Activities E-Book for more sensory ideas, sheet music, & themed session plans:
I said this at a recent session with a group of middle schoolers and they just stared back at me. I think I heard actual crickets. Apparently AI is’t cool anymore?!
Even if it’s not still cool, I’m still watching. Want to know why?
A few weeks ago there was a contestant named Shayy who’s audition touched me. Shayy shared her story of being legally blind for the past year because she has hydocephalus and a tumor was discovered in her brain. Following her story, she belted “Rise Up” by Andra Day and there was not a dry eye in the house (the ‘American Idol house’ AND my house!)
The audition reminded me how truly powerful music can be and how perfect this song is.
I had heard “Rise Up” before, but after hearing it again on American Idol, I pulled up the lyrics and immediately went into “music therapist mode.” I started thinking of all the ways I could use this song therapeutically.
Watching American Idol (and some of the other music reality shows out there) is just one of the strategies I share with my E-Course students who’re looking to find songs to use in their sessions with middle schoolers and high schoolers. In Tune In To Teens I share a variety of other creative ways you can discover what songs are cool and “in” right now.
When we use music that our clients actually like and listen to, we’re more likely to engage them in the intervention and they’re more likely to accomplish their goals.
More than that, when we accept our clients’ music, what we’re communicating is that we accept them. More on that here:
To sum it all up, I will continue watching American Idol. Not only because I find Katy Perry amusing, but because it’s a wonderful (and relaxing) way to discover great music that we can use in our sessions.
But I now realize, three months down the road, that I’ve forgotten to apply all the incredible things I learned in the presentations. What good is attending a conference if you’re not going to apply what you’ve learned in your clinical practice?
I did organize all my presentation notes right after I got home, so that was a win. Now, I plan to go back to all those notes and pull out five things I’m going to apply in my sessions in the upcoming month. Would it be helpful for you to do the same? Even if you didn’t attend conference last year, you can pull out your notes from a previous year or a past presentation. Then, pull out five ideas that you can apply directly to your clinical practice next month.
Conference is a great time, but we certainly don’t want all that effort to attend to go to waste!
Join me in dusting off those conference notes and applying what you’ve learned in your sessions next month.