What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is the systematic use of music and music-based interventions 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.
Here are some examples of how music-based interventions are used to address therapeutic goals with individuals with special needs:
Motor/Physical: Instrument playing, movement activities, and dancing are used to improve gross and fine motor skills, increase strength and endurance, and improve balance and posture.
Communication: Therapeutic singing, oral motor and respiratory exercises (like kazoo playing!), and singable stories are used to improve articulation and increase verbal communication skills.
Social/Emotional: Instrumental improvisation, musical games, and group movement activities with props (like the parachute) are used to improve social skills.
Cognitive/Academic: Musical instruments are used to practice skills such as localizing and visual tracking. Music therapists 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: Musical instruments provide auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation.
Why Is Music An Effective Medium For Therapy?
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. We use all original songs during our music therapy sessions with children, in order to ensure that our interventions are directly targeting client needs.
“The therapy with Yank’l has been going great. Daniel is really loving it and he looks forward to Tuesdays for the session. The whole day he says ‘I want teacher Yank’l!’ We are truly happy with Yank’l and the therapy.”
Lisbeth Prieto • Mother of Daniel