Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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We are… Music Therapists! (and we are VITAL!)

Another Social Media Advocacy Month is drawing to a close! This Music Therapist has been so busy she almost missed it, but I couldn’t let the month end without sharing 2 things – FIRST, a fabulous guest post from the American Music Therapy Association’s Director of Government Relations, Judy Simpson celebrating this month and all that Music Therapy represents, and SECOND, a little video my North Dakota School for the Blind students created as a cover of the song Pompeii by Bastille, which seemed fitting to add to this month’s post.  In the midst of challenges and disabilities that might lead one to believe some peoples’ lives are less capable of being “full,” it’s always valuable to remind ourselves that Music Therapy is out there helping individuals across circumstances and abilities to see the “Bright Side” of their lives, something so simple and yet VITAL to any human’s general well being. So without further ado, take it away Judy!


A Guest Post from Judy Simpson, MT-BC

Director of Government Relations, American Music Therapy Association

When I started my career as a music therapist in 1983, it was not uncommon for me to describe my profession by comparing it to other professions which were more well-known. If people gave me a puzzled look after I proudly stated, “I use music to change behaviors,” I would add, “Music therapy is like physical therapy and occupational therapy, but we use music as the tool to help our patients.” Over the years as I gained more knowledge and experience, I obviously made changes and improvements to my response when asked, “What is music therapy?” My enhanced explanations took into consideration not only the audience but also growth of the profession and progress made in a variety of research and clinical practice areas.

The best revisions to my description of music therapy, however, have grown out of government relations and advocacy work. The need to clearly define the profession for state legislators and state agency officials as part of the AMTA and CBMT State Recognition Operational Plan has forced a serious review of the language we use to describe music therapy. The process of seeking legislative and regulatory recognition of the profession and national credential provides an exceptional opportunity to finally be specific about who we are and what we do as music therapists.

For far too long we have tried to fit music therapy into a pre-existing description of professions that address similar treatment needs. What we need to do is provide a clear, distinct, and very specific narrative of music therapy so that all stakeholders and decision-makers “get it.” Included below are a few initial examples that support our efforts in defining music therapy separate from our peers that work in other healthcare and education professions.

  •  Music therapist’s qualifications are unique due to the requirements to be a professionally trained musician in addition to training and clinical experience in practical applications of biology, anatomy, psychology, and the social and behavioral sciences.
  • Music therapists actively create, apply, and manipulate various music elements through live, improvised, adapted, individualized, or recorded music to address physical, emotional, cognitive,and social needs of individuals of all ages.
  • Music therapists structure the use of both instrumental and vocal music strategies to facilitatechange and to assist clients achieve functional outcomes related to health and education needs.
  • In contrast, when OTs, Audiologists, and SLPs report using music as a part of treatment, itinvolves specific, isolated techniques within a pre-determined protocol, using one pre-arranged aspect of music to address specific and limited issues. This differs from music therapists’ qualifications to provide interventions that utilize all music elements in real-time to address issues across multiple developmental domains concurrently.

As we “celebrate” 2014’sSocial Media Advocacy Month, I invite you to join us in the acknowledgement of music therapy as a unique profession. Focused on the ultimate goal of improved state recognition with increased awareness of benefits and increased access to services, we have an exciting adventure ahead of us. Please join us on this advocacy journey as we proudly declare, “We are Music Therapists!”

About the Author: Judy Simpson is the Director of Government Relations for the American Music Therapy Association. She can be reached at


Video Cover of Pompeii by Bastille from the Students of North Dakota School for the Blind

(adapted lyrics both in the video and in the description, all of which will load in a separate window).

Cover of Pompeii by Bastille, performed by Students of NDSB

This cover was done by using SONAR, a music editing software program which was taken up and altered by the creators of Dancing Dots (a company specializing in Adapted Music Resources for the Blind) to work with the Screen Reader JAWS, which many Blind users utilize to do things like access the internet and create Word documents, among other things.  Using this program and a simple audio interface, students were able to create something they didn’t have to leave to me to edit. ALL of the audio comes from real instruments they were able to play or sing into a microphone with and then manipulate through keyboard shortcuts with their own hands.  This was a first for all of my students and myself, as we usually record into Garage band, which I love to use, but sadly isn’t accessible for someone with a Visual Impairment, so in the past we would record through a microphone into my Ipad, then I would spend the time afterwards editing all the individual tracks down into one audio file from which I could make a lyric video.  With this song, I got to facilitate that editing process with my students, and then all I had make on my own was the video (though I hope to find accessible means to do that someday soon too!)

So as Judy says above, the music we MT-BCs use & create is more than just a tool wielded to meet our clients’ needs.  In this case, many of my students are just learning how to use JAWS, so creating a piece of music using JAWS accessible software was part of helping them learn to utilize a tool that they’ll benefit from the rest of their lives, but just as I added above as well, our tool of music is not just superficial, for many individuals it is VITAL – my students don’t just need JAWS to access the internet so they can surf Facebook.  They need it, and other valuable tools and skills, to further their education, to find jobs and other means to enhance the quality of their lives.  So creating a piece of music with accessible software has multiple benefits – learning to use an accessible tool, interpreting a piece of art and literature to draw from it elements that have personal meaning, then re-inserting into it pieces of yourself that you can share with the world.  THAT’s the VITAL stuff of life right there – learning, interpreting, sharing – THAT’s Music Therapy!


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