Come Explore Music Therapy
Music therapy is the systematic use of music and music-based interventions (such as singing, instrument playing, or movement to music) within a therapeutic relationship to accomplish individualized goals. Music therapy goals are non-musical (such as ‘to increase expressive language or ‘to improve gross motor skills’) and may fall under the following domains: motor/physical, communication, social/emotional, cognitive/academic, and sensory.
How do music therapists address these goal areas in children and teens with special needs?
Motor/Physical: we strive to improve gross and fine motor skills, increase strength and endurance, and improve balance and posture through instrument playing, movement activities, and dancing.
Communication: we strive to improve and increase verbal communication skills through therapeutic singing and oral motor and respiratory exercises. We also strive to improve nonverbal communication skills through the use of sign language and assistive technology within the sessions.
Cognitive/Academic: we strive to improve cognitive functioning by using music and musical instruments to work on skills such as localizing and visual tracking. We also work closely with the classroom teachers and reference Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to address academic concepts (i.e. letters, numbers, colors, rhyming words, counting, etc.) in our songs.
Sensory: we use music and musical instruments to provide auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation.
* All songs I use during music therapy interventions with children with special needs are original, in order to ensure that they are directly targeting client needs. Songs used during music therapy interventions are upbeat, rhythmic, and FUN!
How is music education different than music therapy?
I love this question! To me, the main difference between music education and music therapy is the outcome. In music education the outcome is something musical (i.e. learning to play a major scale on french horn, learning the correct fingerings on the bassoon, or learning a piano concerto); whereas in music therapy, the outcome is something non-musical.
The goal of music therapy is for the client to learn or practice a functional, non-musical behavior – we are simply using music/musical instruments/music-based interventions as our therapeutic tool. Depending on the population, some outcomes for music therapy might be: improvement in gross and fine motor skills; improvement in articulation; elevated mood; or increased sustained attention.
* Visit the “Music Therapy in Action!” page to read about specific case examples and see pictures and videos from music therapy sessions!
Who can benefit from music therapy?
Music therapy can benefit many different populations, including: infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), children with special needs, individuals with mental illness, hospitalized patients, adults dealing with substance abuse, individuals with neurologic disorders, elderly adults, and hospice patients, among others.
Why is music an effective therapeutic medium?
Another one of my favorite questions! There are many reasons why music is an effective medium for bringing about functional changes in behavior. Here are just a few…
- Music is organized into patterns. Research has shown that when the brain takes in information, it prefers it to be in an organized, structured form, rather than discrete bits of information.
- Music provides concrete, multisensory stimuli. Musical instruments such as the ocean drum, cabasa, tone bars, and drums provide unique visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation.
- Music has a rhythmic component. Rhythm can be used to structure movement patterns, accent specific words or sounds, and help sustain a client’s attention throughout the therapeutic intervention and session.
- Research has shown that children with autism have a musical sensitivity and
perceptual preference for music. Music is our way ‘in.’ Music therapists can use music to engage children with autism so we can work on other skills, such as joint attention, expressive language, or socialization.
- Music can be used as a mnemonic device. “Chunking” (grouping information into smaller units) and repetition in songs allow non-musical information to be remembered and recalled more easily.
- Musical elements can cue specific behaviors. For example, high notes on a piano can cue a child to play their shaker high; low notes can cue the child to play low.
- Music is universal. Music crosses boundaries of age, gender, and culture. Nearly everyone responds to music in some way.
- Music is a fun, motivating medium! The music and the upbeat rhythm are what motivate the children to be engaged and participate.
If you would like to find out more information about music therapy, visit the website for the American Music Therapy Association.