As I sit here and work on a new song about compound words for my Kindergarten class, I think back to the question…why do I do this? Why do I push so hard to use original songs in my music therapy sessions with children with special needs? Here are a few of the most important reasons in my mind…

To differentiate myself from a classroom teacher…and from a CD recording.
Throughout the day, the teachers sing songs such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “The Alphabet Song,” and “Down By the Bay.” These are all fabulous songs that have their own place in the classroom setting, but I want my music therapy sessions to sound different. I have the ability and creativity to compose songs that are specific and goal oriented. Also, we as music therapists perform our songs live. We have the ability to be flexible in the moment, something which a CD recording cannot do. For example…

We have the skills, expertise, and training to manipulate musical elements to cue behaviors.
As music therapists, we have unique training on how to compose songs with creativity and manipulate specific musical elements (think rhythm, tempo, lyrics, etc!) to cue behavior. Rhythm can be used to cue gross motor movement. V7 chords can be used to build anticipation and cue a verbal response. Tempo of a song can be sped up or slowed down based on how the children are responding.  Key words in the lyrics can be emphasized (i.e. “Move your arms up and down!”)

Our songs are specific and goal oriented.
This part is extremely important. We can start off with a specific goal (to increase expressive language) or a specific academic concept (teaching days of the week) and write a song that directly targets it. For example, in one of my occupational therapy co-treatment sessions, we are working with a child on writing the letters of his name. So, I composed a song that teaches the steps of how to write the letter D (“Big line down, jump to the top, big curve around, and now you’re done. I can write the letter D look at me!”)

In addition to the aforementioned points, writing original songs is FUN! Once you get into it, it’s hard to stop! What are YOUR ideas on the benefits of using original songs when working with children with special needs?

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