Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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Posts Tagged ‘Early Childhood’

It’s been a busy week here in Grand Forks for Music Therapy!  First the Healthy Living Expo was a huge success for both the Drumming and Bellydance Demos, with a great number of participants and follow-up response from attendees, and coming this Saturday, April 16th, the Hands-on Learning Fair will be at the Purpur Arena from 9am to 12pm, at which Emily Wangen of Music Therapy in Motion and myself will have a table.  Then I will actually be leaving that event by 11:00 to race over to the School for the Blind where we are hosting our Family Weekend Event here in Grand Forks, an opportunity for families of children who are Visually Impaired to come together, meet each other, and share in a variety of learning experiences, of which brief Music Therapy sessions for the infants, toddlers and elementary aged children in attendance will be a part. All in all, a very busy week indeed!

So why attend any of these events with your children?  Why Music for learning?

Music uses multiple pathways in the brain, therefore putting more the brain to use during learning activities, making learning a more efficient process.

When people ask me what the difference between Music Education and Music Therapy is, I often use an example of two professionals, one from each field, walking into a classroom of preschoolers to teach them the ABC’s.  The Music Educator wants the kids to use their nicest singing voices and follow their cues to start and stop the song together.  The Music Therapist would love it if their students did the same, but that’s not their main focus: they want the children to just learn their ABC’s, and that will happen in both environments, for while just reciting the ABC’s would only use a few parts of the brain, singing them would use all of it to know when to start and stop singing, what words to sing and what rhythms to use.  All the more benefit to the brain if you signed the ABC’s while singing it to get the body physically involved!  The more parts of the brain you use to reinforce learning, the more solidly the information will stick, therefore since Music uses the whole brain, you will retain more information in a more efficient manner than just speaking or reading the information alone.  This is why you’ll always hear me as a big advocate for Music Education as well as Music Therapy – while Music Therapy is more concentrated focus on the use of music for those individuals who need it to attain non-musical goals, Music itself possesses inherent qualities that help us learn in a variety of areas, and Education in Music can play a big part in the overall brain development of the Young Child.

Most important to learning, Music is fun!  Kids are more likely to engage in the learning process when they are enjoying themselves.

Remember learning to spell the word “Mississippi”?  Still today I speak it in rhythm when I spell it – “M-i-SS-i-SS-i-PP-i!” The rhythm helped me to learn it as a child, and speaking it in competition with my peers at increasingly faster and faster tempos was a great game.  Now, as I use Braille in my work at the School for the Blind, I thoroughly enjoy typing up exercises on my Perkins Brailler (much like a typewriter) in rhythm – it helps me remember and enjoy the code.

So I hope those of you with small children in the Grand Forks area will come visit the Grand Forks Learning Fair.  Older adults and children are welcome at our next 12 Houses Drum Circle Saturday the 23rd of April, and I wish our readers coming into the School for the Blind’s Family Weekend or other events from out of town safe and dry passage to and from the Weekend’s Events!

Coming soon to Music Moves: more on Music and Sensory Impairments

Archive note: as this post was written in April of 2011, the events noted therein (the Hands on Learning Fair, Healthy Living Expo and April 12 Houses Drum Circle) are of course long over, and the next new post may or may not actually be about Music and Movement or Learning as mentioned at the end of the post, but I hope you’ll enjoy a look back on some of my first insights on Music and Movement here and keep tabs on the MT in ND page for updates on when the monthly drum circle and two annual events will be occurring again!

*Begin Original Post*

Hello everyone and welcome April (though it doesn’t look much like it outside here in Grand Forks)!  There is much happening this time of year; it’s Autism Awareness month and the month of the Young Child.  The Grand Forks

Hands On Learning Fair (you’ll have to scroll down on the linked calendar a little bit to see the details) will be coming up Saturday April 16th, where you will see many a young child, some of whom will have Autism, or other medical and/or developmental needs.  I encourage all Grand Forks families with small children to consider coming to this event, in which Emily Wangen (of Music Therapy in Motion) and I will be participating.

This coming Saturday (April 9th) I have been asked to be part of the 12 Houses booth at the 2011 Healthy Living Expo being hosted by the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.  I will be hosting two demonstrations: one on Drumming for Wellness at 10am, the other for Bellydancing for Core Strengthening at 11am.

Why Bellydance?

As a participant in a Healthy Living Expo, using dance as a form of exercise isn’t a new idea, but I find as a musician that the percussive elements of Bellydance can be really fun to engage in, and as you’ll read on below, percussion can have benefits for the body, mind, and emotions, all essential elements to overall human wellness.

Why Drumming?

There are many reasons to engage in Drumming for physical, mental, and social well-being.  I’ve included several videos from my last Drum Circle at 12 Houses to illustrate each.

Playing a Drum requires Physical Energy

The instruments I bring to my drum circles all require physical exertion.  The mere action of holding a large drum between your knees and striking it with one or both hands can be physically tiring.  In this first attached video clip, you’ll hear a steadily increasing tempo coming from a drum in the the left corner of the screen (me!).  As the tempo increases, you’ll also hear some laughs from folks who quickly realize what parts of how they’ve been playing their drums are sustainable and which parts aren’t, see them adapt their playing to fit as the pulse of the circle adjusts itself, and perhaps even imagine how heart rates are increasing  around the room.  We have drum circles that end with participants actually feeling as winded as if they’ve just finished a jazzercise class!

Drumming requires mental focus

I will often engage my drum circle participants in games that challenge their brains as well as their bodies.  One such game is in the next attached video: you will see me step into the center of the circle (wearing a little set of ankle bells, my latest and favorite Drum Circle Accessory!) and instruct one half of the circle to stop playing.  It takes a little time, but eventually one half of the circle is listening to the other play.  After a time, I invite the listening half of the circle back in to play together with the playing half for a time before instructing the half of the circle that got to play alone previously to stop and listen to the half that listened to them first.  A game like this gives the group a chance to refocus and really hear what their fellow participants are doing.  So it’s a social game as much as it is a mental one.

Another opportunity for mental wellness is the learning experience that can happen for children present at Drum Circles.  It’s a chance for them to learn about music and instruments from cultures that are different than their own, a vital step towards raising children that are socially aware in the increasingly multi-cultural world we live in.  In this final attached clip from my most recent 12 Houses Drum Circle, you’ll see the little girl in the video I linked to last post slip on a bellydance hip scarf and move around the circle, picking up various drums as she goes and experimenting with using claves as mallets (which may make some of you hand-drummers out there cringe, but don’t worry she eventually gets some felt tip mallets that are much gentler!).  It’s fun to see this little gal’s thought process as she essentially builds herself a little drumset!

Drumming is a social experience

The previous video has some examples of this in the way that the little girl checks with various members of the circle before taking the drums she ends up using for her set, as well as the interaction between her, myself, and the woman who kindly lends us her felt mallets to use for playing it.  The video I linked to last post was also a great example of the social experience that making music with a group of people can create, so I’ve included it again below.  Seeing that little girl go to her father and play his drum with him never gets old!

So…I encourage any of you who live in the area to check out the Healthy Living Expo, and my demos at the 12 Houses booth.  If you aren’t from North Dakota, find a Drum Circle or Bellydance class near you and find out how music can move you to a better state of physical, mental, and emotional well being!

Next Week:

More on Music and Movement/Learning

This morning, my husband was finally able to pick up the Nintendo 3-DS he’s been saving for all month, and as he enjoys the 3 Dimensional World now at his fingertips, I’ve been thinking about the world of technology at my own fingertips as a Music Therapist.  Many of my colleagues and other professionals I work with have become recent owners of Ipads, and it’s been great fun getting to know the Applications available to them to use with the variety of clients we all serve together.  I myself have to confess I am a Droid user (I’m one of those folks who was eligible for an upgrade after the Iphone came to Verizon and didn’t buy one.  I know, I’m crazy!) so I’ve been exploring that world and been very excited to see that many of the Apps available to Apple users are also available for Droids.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Ethereal Dialpad: A virtual synthesizer available for both Apple and Droid (you can click on the included links for actual barcodes you can scan with your high-tech devices to download the apps directly).  An easy-on-the-ears pentatonic scale is activated however you touch and move your finger across the screen.  Fast, slow, hard, soft, you call the shots!  You can set the screen to either light up and change colors as you touch, or follow your finger with a glowing line of light or stars.  Many of the clients I work with love it because it’s so stimulating, and I love it because any of my clients can do it with just the slightest movement.  Definitely worth a download!

The Wheels on the Bus App: Also available for both Apple and Droid, this App for kids is part of an ensemble created by Duck Duck Moose, some paid, some free  (The Wheels on the Bus specific App is $1.99, I have the free Twinkle Twinkle App on my phone) targeted towards putting kids in control of the music.  The more items they click on the screen, the more of the song will play.  Very cool!

I hear Ewe: Another App for kids, this one totally free, but sadly only available on the Itunes Market.  My search for the perfect Animal Sounds App for the Droid presses on, but “I hear Ewe” presents a great tableau of animal pictures (and even some vehicle sounds) that kids can select and watch as they zoom towards the front of the screen and make their individual noises.  As soon as I find an Animal Sounds App for the Droid as cool as this Apple one, I’ll let you know!

Drum Kit/Guitar Solo: These are two separate Apps, but I’ve included them in one category because I think having Instrument Apps is an essential part of any tech-savvy Music Therapist’s App List, and these are the two on my Droid.  I recommend checking out both Itunes and the Droid App Market to see what Apps work best for you, but definitely find yourself a good Instrument App or two!

Uloops/RD3: Again, two Apps in one category here – a loop generator.  These Apps are major hits with my teenage clients.  You can select different types of percussion and other synthesized instruments to layer on top of each other and loop in continuous patterns.  I find the RD3 platform easier to work with, but the Uloops one is free and lets you save your projects.

One set of Apps I wasn’t so happy to discover was the supposed “Music Therapy App” Series on the Droid Market.  A collection of Sound Waves categorized in different Apps for “Refreshment,” “Sound Sleep,” and more, it’s disappointing to me to see yet another entity calling their use of Music “Music Therapy” when it is not (see my post on Music Therapy Mythbusters for more on why this is important).  Please note I’m hardly suggesting that the “Music Therapy App” doesn’t do great things, but using the name of a credentialed field like Music Therapy is a poor choice on the part of the developers so it’s hard for me to use or support it.  The way I see it there’s no App for the experience of live music making under the facilitation of a qualified Music Therapist.  Note the beautiful interaction of a little girl with her father in this Video taken at our last 12 Houses Drum Circle:

There will be more videos and discussion on the experience of a Drum Circle soon.  Until then, one little bit of news: effective March 29th, MusicMoves will be part of the Erfurt Music Resource, a source for music related products, services, and information created and maintained by MT-BC Michelle Erfurt. [Archive Note: the Erfurt Music Resource Site was discontinued in April, but it’s Author Michelle maintains her own blog with awesome resources, continuing the affiliation with Music Moves and other former Erfurt Resource Sites at] We’re very excited to be announcing this partnership and hope you’ll check out Michelle’s page for further Music Therapy resources like those you’ve found here.  Enjoy!

Some spirited conversation stemmed this month [Archive Note: March 2011] from the GF Herald’s Article on Music Therapy and my subsequent letter to the editor. I’ve been intrigued to see homeschooling and other alternative takes on education enter into a few discussions, as I was homeschooled through the 4th grade and believe it can be done well with the right parents (mine are both educators who used a well regulated curriculum) and the right balance of social interaction (I took music and physical education with peers at a local private school before integrating completely in the 5th grade).  So, I find it especially well timed for me to offer, as once promised, some definitions and clarifications of terms common to Music Therapy and many other helping professionals, some of which were used in the article, and all of which I believe are important to know:

“People first Language”

This one is of the utmost importance to myself and many other professionals who work with individuals who have disabilities.  It is always preferred that a person with a disability be referred to as just that, “a person with a disability,” rather than being labeled as “disabled.”  So for instance, in my letter to the editor, I took issue with the term “Autistic” being used to describe my cousin in the article on me, preferring that he be referred to as my “Cousin with Autism.”


Contrary to the images that might now be cropping into your head of the popular A&E television series of the same name, a Music Therapy Intervention is a Session Activity targeted to address a specific goal or “Intervene” on a particular behavior or other disabling factor.  An intervention that was named in the Herald’s article was a “Sing-a-long,” which I clarified in my letter to the editor to ensure that the Intervention of a Sing-a-long was not confused with a Sing-a-long Session, like those my family and I used to lead in Nursing Homes when I was a child.  Sing-a-long Sessions are entire periods of time occupied by members of a group literally singing along with a leader.  There may or may not be any goals at work there.  A Sing-a-Long Intervention created by a Credentialed Music Therapist will use the elements of singing (breath, remembering lyrics, etc.) in a targeted fashion to address specific needs, like improving breath support and cognitive sharpness.  At the 12 Houses Drum Circle  that meets once a month(keep following the MT in ND page for details on that and other such community events in North Dakota – or Google one near you!) attendees see me leading stress-busting and energizing interventions to focus their minds and get their bodies involved in the physical activity of drumming.  Therefore, the services a Board-Certified Music Therapist provides can be more than just emotionally supporting, they can be developmentally and medically necessary to assist an individual’s functioning!

“IDEIA” and “Reimbursement”

A lot of people ask me about funding when I talk about Music Therapy.  Who pays for it?  Right now in North Dakota (to my knowledge) everything is privately funded.  Schools, Agencies, and Families all pay for MT out of their own budgets.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Music Therapy has been listed as a Related Service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (or IDEIA) since 1997, but it’s role was most recently clarified in June of 2010.  Credentialed Music Therapists can determine through Assessments if MT is “necessary” to assist an individual’s function, just like Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapists, and Speech Language Pathologists do nationwide thousands of times every year.  This is the case with Medicare as well, though Medicaid and Private Insurance Companies all have their own policies regarding the coverage of Music Therapy.  Most will agree however that if Music Therapy (or any other Nationally Recognized and Regulated Health Discipline) is found to be medically or educationally “necessary” for an individual with a disability, that coverage is justifiable, though it is especially important for me to note here that while these are the National Standards for coverage of Music Therapy, that is not what HB 1352 (The Music Therapy Bill ultimately merged with SB 2271) is about.  At the time of this post, all HB1352 stood to do was create a registry, or database, of Music Therapists who are already Credentialed and working in North Dakota. [Archive Note: after merging with SB 2271, the bill took on the additional role of establishing a Licensing Board for the field].  This is important for similar reasons to why MT is financially coverable (the establishment and protection of services for both MT-BC’s as professionals and the clients we serve) but HB1352, and ultimately SB 2271 were not bills created to mandate coverage of services by any agency at the time of their creation.


Those are the big three terms that I find myself asked about most… feel free to ask about any other terms you hear floating around about Music Therapy!  I am always happy to clarify.

Next post:  Music Therapy – Is there an App for that? (Some say “Yes!”)

Welcome to any readers joining us for the first time since the Grand Forks Herald’s Article on Music Therapy and my work across North Dakota.  Much thanks to Lisa Gulya for some great writing and John Stennes for a wonderful photo of me with my group at LISTEN Day Services:

I’ve written a brief letter to the editor that I hope will clarifying some terms used in the article such as “sing-a-long” and “Autistic” (People First Language is always preferred!) that I plan to touch on in future posts, but today I thought it might be nice to celebrate a little history of the field of Music Therapy, both for posterity’s sake and as an introduction for those individuals reading this blog for the first time (plus a little refresher course for me never hurts either!)

How did Music Therapy as we know it come into Being?

The use of music as a therapeutic tool dates back into ancient times, but it wasn’t until community musicians playing for veterans of World War 1 to address physical and emotional trauma led doctors and nurses to request the training and hiring of individuals to use music in medical facilities that the field of Music Therapy was really established.  Since that time, 77 universities have adopted curricula in Music Therapy accredited by the American Music Therapy Association (established in (1998 after the joining of two previous organizations) and thousands of Music Therapy Students have been granted the title of Music Therapist, Board Certified (or MT-BC) after completing their classroom training, 1040 hours in internship, and a National Exam put out by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

How long has Music Therapy been in North Dakota?

The Music Therapy Program at UND has been around for over a decade, training students in the prescribed use of music to assist individuals in meeting their cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and sensory needs.  Emily Wangen established Music Therapy in Motion after graduating from that program and has been serving the Grand Forks Public Schools for the past 8 years.  I returned to North Dakota from my internship in Georgia back in 2008 and have been working with Music Therapy in Motion, as well as the ND School for the Blind, the LISTEN Center, and a host of private clients since that time.  The ND School for the Deaf, Fargo Public Schools, Lutheran Social Services Day Report in Grand Forks, and 12 Houses (where I host my FREE monthly Drum Circle – visit the MT in ND page on the far right tab of our homepage for more info!) have all added Music Therapy to their list of provided services in the last year, and we hope to see more as families and agencies express interest in Music Therapy everywhere from Bismarck and Minot to Jamestown and Valley City – Emily in particular is fast at work establishing private Music Therapy services statewide!


We’re around!  Serving the state of North Dakota over the past three years has been my great pleasure and I hope to continue doing it for as long as I am able.  As I mentioned before, check out the Music Therapy in ND tab on the main homepage for updated information on events and news pertaining to MT in your local community.  And check back here for information and discussion on topics relating to the field of Music Therapy and Wellness, Specific Populations, and more that can be applied whenever, wherever you are!

“It’s so funny, ah-ha-ha!  Please excuse me, ah-ha-ha!”

So begins the English translation to the chorus of one of my favorite arias, the “Laughing Song” from Strauss’s Die Fliedermaus (you can see a clip with just the chorus here).  The character singing the aria is mercilessly mocking her scene-mate in public for the purpose of embarrassing him, but I’ve always loved the song for its portrayal of infectious laughter.  The kind that you try to keep down as long as humanly possible before it just bursts out of you and all those around you can’t help but laugh with you.

There are songs about laughter (like “I love to laugh” from Mary Poppins) and even more songs that utilize laughter in their lyrics, as the Mary Poppins song does, but they may not come up in a Google Search.  The one-hit wonder “They’re Coming to Take me Away” by Napolean XIV comes to mind in that category, as does Alanis Morisette’s “All I Really Want” , though it could be argued on that latter song that the “Ah-ya-y-a-y-a-ay-ay” that doesn’t typically appear when you search for the song’s lyrics may not be Alanis laughing at all, but perhaps crying, yelling, or just spouting nonsense syllables.  Maybe it’s all of the above, each “Ay” serving a different purpose each time, or perhaps every “Ay” is a laugh, a cry, a yell, and a little bit of nonsense all rolled into one sound.  Regardless it makes me smile every time I hear it, and laughter serves that many purposes (and more!) in our lives.  We laugh when we’re happy or excited, we laugh when we’re embarrassed (or at other people’s embarrassment), some people even laugh when they cry or when they’re angry.   So what, if any, effect do the things we laugh about have on our tastes in music (and vice versa)?  How does laughter affect us generally?  And how can laughter be utilized as a therapeutic tool, specifically in Music Therapy?

I’ll confess to being an occasional “stress response” laugher.  Lines like Morisette’s “Why are you so petrified of silence – Here can you handle this?” followed by approx. 3 seconds of silence (an eternity for those of us who can’t stand it!) really make me chuckle, but not for the cleverness of the lyrics – I laugh whenever I hear that passage because I’m trying to fill the silence, which is funny (or not so funny, depending on how you look at it) in itself.  So whether I’m feeling clever and confident, or stressed out an insecure (both feelings you’ll note in “What I really Want,” and other song lyrics across Morissette’s discography) you might find me listening to an Alanis Morisette Song because the duality of her lyrics elicits laughter from me that serves dual purposes as well, to either validate my current feelings or console them.

As you’re probably gathering, I’m a big fan of irony, but not just in lyrics.  Ironic or odd pairings of lyrics and the music they’re set to really get me going too – that’s part of why I enjoy Mashups so much.  Lyrics about one thing paired with music that makes you think of the complete opposite make me laugh, and I love to share these kinds of songs in my sessions with teens whenever I feel we could use a light discussion.  Covers of popular (or at least infamous) songs like  Richard Cheese’s Lounge Piano version of the Metal Song “Down with the Sickness” have become favorites for the sheer ironic placement of angry, profane lyrics in one of the most relaxed styles of music on the planet (so be warned, you and any passersby may not find it so funny if you click on that link with your volume all the way up in a public place).  Everyone’s view of lyrical and musical humor is different, and so everyone’s view on what makes a funny song will be too.  I feel bringing (or finding) songs that make me and my clients laugh helps me to learn more about them, and that’s a valuable part of the relationship necessary for any therapy to achieve results.  I’d be interested to hear some of your favorite funny songs as well!

So what benefit does laughter have for our lives?  This fun little page from cites a few interesting ways in which laughter affects us, that, not surprisingly, music offers too:

1. Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones and can help release the “feel-good chemical” Dopamine (Waddya know? So does making and listening to music!)

2. Laughter can be a workout, particularly for the abs (singing, anyone?)

3. Laughter can connect us with others (Remember my posts on Making Music as a Family? Am I starting to sound like a Sitcom Flashback Episode Yet?)

Note that third benefit of laughter (and of music) is of particular importance.  Laughter can connect us with others.  Laughter can also be hurtful, restricting, and invalidating.  It’s important to me as a therapist that I am none of those things to my clients, so I am careful to utilize laughter only in such a way that it celebrates the unity a client and I or a client and their peers might feel in any given moment.  For example:

A few days ago, a speech disorder client of mine was singing through the old song “Don’t sit under the Appletree” when the unfortunate placement of an “h” in the word “sit” changed the meaning of the song entirely.  Typically when such mis-placed sounds happen, I will stop the song to go back and correct it, but I thought to myself “I must have heard her wrong, that can’t have been what she just said,” and moved on, hoping it wouldn’t happen again.  But it did, and as I felt that familiar giggle rising in me (as it did when I learned what the French word “derriere” meant in 7th grade) I knew I had to stop the song and correct the error.  So at first I tried to do so without telling the client what the error was, I just stopped and said “Let’s go back to ‘sit,’ I need to hear don’t sit under the Apple Tree.”

“Why?” my client asked, “What was I saying?”

I paused.  She asked again, looking slightly nervous.

Then I told her.

Her hands flew up to her mouth and I cringed.  “It’s ok!” I said quickly, “no big deal-”

But then I realized she was laughing.  Genuinely, hysterically laughing.  So I smiled and let myself laugh with her.

“I guess you wouldn’t want to do that either!” she said after her laughing subsided a little.  We were outright rolling then.  It was a good time.  We were laughing together.  That’s the best benefit of laughter in music for me: the way in which a slip of the tongue creating a silly lyric, or other incidental moments in music (making it or listening to it) can bring us together.  That’s how I like to use laughter in my sessions – as a tool, planned or accidental, that celebrates our common joy and frailty (there’s that irony again!).  It’s like a comedian whose name escapes me once defined good humor: it’s the kind that reminds us we’re “all in this together.”

This coming Wednesday (March 16th) is St. Patrick’s Day.  A lot of Irish ditties have a little air of the silly about them – I’ll be using songs like “Michael Finnegan” with many of my clients this week.  I encourage you to find a silly song this week as well.  Irish or not, I think you’ll find the release from laughter to be quite liberatin’!

One last thought: to those readers who have contacted your Senators thus far about HB 1352 to create a Music Therapy Registry on the North Dakota Century Code, Thank You!  Testimony before the Human Services Committee occurred this past week, but the bill does still need to go to the floor for an official vote, so check out last week’s blog post for more details if you’d still like to get involved – input from citizens like you is what helps to make bills like that (and blogs like this!) make it.  We Music Therapists couldn’t do what we do without you!

A brief post today, as I prepare for a friends’ Oscar party [Archive Note: February 2011]:  with roles such as Colin Firth’s King George VI in the King’s Speech, nominated and critically acclaimed for his portrayal of an individual with a disability, I’ve found myself involved in a lot of discussion over the validity of such performances and the presentation of the treatments for the disorders portrayed.  I mentioned my excitement over seeing Music used by the King’s Speech Therapist Lionel Logue (played tremendously by Geoffrey Rush) and yet I found myself less excited over the use of music in last week’s episode of Criminal Minds on CBS, where a child with Autism was noted to play the piano as a “clue” to the time of day when his parents met their abductors.  So what is it that distinguishes the things that bug me from the things that excite me about the portrayal of music and/or music therapists in the media?  Here are a few….

Things that bug me:

1. Being called a “Musical Therapist.”  I think sometimes that it has to do with folks thinking along the lines of “Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Musical Therapy,” but to me it just registers as silly as “Speaking Therapy” instead of “Speech Therapy,” (though it’s “Speech Language Pathology” now, I believe!)

2. When people think that what I do is literal “healing” through music.  What I do is a process just like any other Therapy.  There are those who believe that music itself possesses innate healing powers.  I believe that music is a tool.

3. When people do not credit Music Therapy where it exists, or worse, calling something that isn’t Music Therapy Music Therapy.  This is what the bill currently in the Senate for the creation of a Music Therapy Registry in the North Dakota Century code centers around: the protection of not only our jobs as Music Therapists but the clients seeking quality services.  There are many of us working tirelessly across the state to see to it that those individuals seeking Music Therapy services in the state of North Dakota receive services from a Board Certified MT, and that we Music Therapists receive the appropriate credit for our roles in facilities statewide.

Things that excite me:

1. When someone asks me what I do for a living and follows my answer with more than “Oh that’s nice!”  I love telling people what I do, but I love even more being able to explain what Music Therapy is for someone who’s never heard of it before, or discussing it with someone who’s life has also been touched by it.

2. When facilities step outside their comfort zone to hire a Music Therapist and build a program.  I am forever indebted to those people and organizations that have chosen to take a chance on me and what I do – it has created many an opportunity to experience my third exciting thing:

3. The joy on the faces of clients and family members moved by Music Therapy.  To see that moment when a child does something their parents never thought possible, or an individual achieves what they had been struggling to do for years before discovering Music Therapy, my heart swells with every monumental moment.  It’s the best part about what I do!

I never tire of sharing and educating others on my passion here.  Feel free to comment below on how music moves you!

Late last night (Feb 19th) I returned from what is quickly becoming one of my busiest weeks of travel every month to Minot and Bismarck, ND, where Music Therapy is quickly on the rise (contact Emily Wangen at Music Therapy in Motion for more info there!)  Yesterday alone I completed 7 new assessments.  I always find myself feeling revitalized after assessments, not just because I’ve had the opportunity to meet and add new clients to my caseload, but because they help me check in with why I do what I do and what I’m always striving to achieve.  Many loved ones and professionals come into an assessment thinking, “we don’t use music much at home or in school, we just wanted to see what it could do,” and all of them come away amazed with just what the possibilities of Music Therapy are – some of them see their patient/loved one do things during our assessments they’ve never seen them do or thought them capable of before.

Let me first start describing my process by saying that every assessment is different.  Not only because every individual client is different, but because every therapist is different.  My assessment format began out of my experiences and assessment formats with the Clayton County Public Schools in Georgia, where I interned, and is constantly adjusting as I acquire experience with new populations and ideas throughout  my years in practice.

I always start with an interview portion.  I ask for all the basic facts of a client’s age and diagnosis.  Checking in to see if there are any seizure disorders, hearing loss, or other things that might affect their ability to interact with me and the music I use is always a must for me.  I want to know before I start interacting with the client what things I should avoid using or doing.  After getting the basics, I start getting into the specifics of how the family, client, or other professionals use music in the home or other environments, and how the client responds to it – physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially.  If the client is able to participate in this interview portion, I might ask them what kind of music they like, or “when you hear music, what do you like to do?”  How well they understand and respond to the question can tell me just as much (if not more) about an individual’s level of functioning as their actual answer itself.

After the interview section, which usually lasts about 15 minutes, we interact musically for 30-45 minutes.  I follow a typical session format (which I’ll be happy to share in future posts!) and I add little elements and questions here and there to see what the individuals’ capabilities are physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, etc.  For instance, I always start with some sort of Hello Song and end with a Goodbye.  During a typical session I might just sing Hello and Goodbye myself as bookends to the session, not requiring any specific input from the client (though remember every client is different and I may change it up from time to time!), but during an assessment, I always ask the client to get involved in the bookends somehow, perhaps to try learning each song with me to see if they can approximate or match pitch, or I might ask them to strum the guitar with me to see how developed their hand-eye coordination is, or if they’re able to strum with a relaxed, open hand.  With every activity we do I’m looking for clues as to how their body moves in general, how their thought process works when I give directions (and what kind of directions they best respond to – complex, simple, written, verbal, etc.), and how they connect emotionally and socially with me during the session.  I watch (and sometimes push) for signs of frustration to see where the limits of an indivual’s abilities are, so that I can see just what our possibilities are for goals and other areas we might address during future sessions.  When I feel that I’ve seen every ability and delay that I can in all of the areas on my form (physical – which includes sensory – cognitive, social, and emotional) then we end the musical interaction portion of things and move on to the post-assessment interview.

So, just as each session I lead has bookends of Hello and Goodbye, every Music Therapy Assessment has the bookend of an interview – before the session I ask what’s being done and seen already, after the session I ask what’s being seen now and what can be done for the future. I want for family members, other professionals, and anyone else in the room to tell me what they’ve noticed so that I can so I can ensure that we’re all seeing the same basic things and gauge how enthusiastic they are about the prospect of moving forward with therapy.  Then I can validate what they’re seeing with the additional insight my training gives me.  For instance, if a parent says, “they really seemed to be enjoying the music with you,” I can point to eye contact, vocal expressions, and other specific things I noted during my interaction with their child to say “I agree, they were very engaged in what was happening, I think music will serve as a great motivator for X, Y, and Z,” and from there we can segue into talking about goals and the future of treatment.

At that point I pull out my data collection form (which, like my assessment form, is always undergoing new incarnations and transformations!).  The current form consists of three large boxes at the top labeled “A” “B” and “C,” for writing the primary goals or “Target Behaviors” we want to address (i.e., “The client will do this” or “improve this”).  Underneath the Primary Goals, there is room for more specific objectives, like when or how often the client will do this and specific dates or benchmarks for completion of the goal.  Below that is a little table with blanks for each of my activities to be written in as  I complete them and to the right of each, miniature boxes labeled “A” “B” and “C” to coincide with the goals above.  I use those mini boxes to check or tally if and how often a client complies with the goals each letter represents for each activity.  I can then keep a grand total of how many activities or what percentage of the session the client was in accordance with their goals and write additional notes in the space below the table if necessary.  Thus, with all the information gathered from the pre-assessment interview and musical interaction, a plan can be set in place for when we (the client and I) will meet and how we will track and document each their goals, and the therapeutic process can begin.

Now, what can you as the reader take from this?  As I said early in this post, I find myself revitalized by assessments, not just because of the possibilities they provide for the new client and myself, but for the reminder of how what I do impacts lives.  It’s all in the little things – the slightest interaction or request can reflect so much, and cause a ripple effect that reaches further than I or that possible new client could ever see.  Take note of your day-to-day interactions with music, how they influence and sustain you, and take joy in knowing that every little note, every little interaction, counts, and has the potential to do even more for you the more energy and focus you devote to it.  So devote, I charge you – devote and enjoy!

This past week I had the opportunity to watch my sister perform in her high school’s version of American Idol.  I was proud to see her up on that stage, not just because she did well (which she did!  I look forward to seeing her reprise her performance at the Grand Cities version in a few months) but also because of what it represented: both of my sisters and I had been on that very stage at one point in our lives, singing.  And those moments which so strongly shaped who we have all become were made possible because of the musical environment my parents immersed us in very early in our childhood.

As kids, we used to go with my mom and dad to a nursing home in the small town where we grew up.  We would bring hymnals, my sisters and I would pass them out and sit among the residents, my mother would sit at the piano, and my father would take the microphone, leading the group in a sing-a-long.  As I grew older, I would lead the sing-a-longs.  We made many dear friends at the Nursing Home and the staff came to anticipate our visits.  I remember announcements going off on the loudspeaker when we arrived and going with the nurses sometimes to help various residents out of their rooms to come and sing with us.  I remember one resident in particular who always requested I come to get her, but that I knock and wait in the hallway until she had brushed her hair to come out – it was an event!  Only later when I began my training in Music Therapy did I realize how much of an impact what we were doing in that nursing home had, not just on the residents, but on me.  I think growing up seeing music used in a helping fashion inspired me to share it in that way for a living, and I think growing up making music with my parents established a bond that many other kids of my generation were not so lucky to have.

I mentioned last week that I’d have a video to share with you this week – Here’s a fun surprise: you get two!  Some families from my FREE Session at the LISTEN Drop-In Center were kind enough to grant me permission to use clips of their children for this blog and other educational purposes.  In the first clip, you’ll see a little girl playing a bell come up to me during our playing song (adapted long ago by another Music Therapist to the tune of Old Joe Clark).  She offers me the bell and then dances a little with me while I play it and sing.  Later on, in the second clip this same little girl trades her bells for a scarf during a transition song I improvised in the moment and brings it to her mother to place on her head.

Those kinds of little interactions are momentous occasions – they represent a child who is exploring the possibilities of sharing with someone she doesn’t know all that well, and then returning to the safety and comfort of making music with her parents.  She is exploring ways to gain meaning from a social interaction through music.  I never explicitly solicit or ask for these kinds of interactions, but the music makes them happen, and I celebrate them when they do!  Music brings people together, and as I’ve said before, we as human beings need affection to survive.  Affection is the giving of ourselves to another for the sake of their emotional, and ultimately physical preservation. It feeds our emotions in the same way food feeds our body.  Without either of those things, we die.  SO, seek out those ways in which you can give your child some emotional nourishment!  A music class is a great way to show your child new and varied forms of affection.

Our Drum Circle last week was another picture of how much opportunity for bonding as a family can be had by making music.  We had great turnout and several kids I enjoyed watching run and dance to the music, stopping to play only when they got too out of breath to move anymore!  We’ll actually all be drumming again very soon – due to my involvement with UND’s Feast of Nations, there won’t be a drum circle at 12 Houses the last week of the month in February, but I’ve been invited to lead a Drumming Energizer for another event I’m very excited about: V-day!  And the V doesn’t stand for Valentines, though that is coming up and we’ll talk about it later!  The “Monologues” celebrating a particular part of the female anatomy I won’t name here is an event I would recommend for older children and their parents as a different kind of bonding activity – my mother-in-law brought both her sons to see it when they were teenagers and said of the experience that it was a great opportunity for them to learn about and understand women’s issues.  And it’s for a great cause too – every dollar raised for ticket sales to the show will go towards the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks and to this year’s “V-Day Cause,” a Women’s Shelter in Haiti.  Click here for a link to information about the show Drumming will occur from 7:00-7:30 on Friday the 11th only.

Saturday, Feb 12th I will be participating in the first ever Hafla, or Bellydance party, at 12 Houses.  This will be a FREE, family friendly event for all ages, with Middle Eastern Food, Dance, and Drumming to occur starting at 6:30pm.  More information on that, Emotion, and Movement with Music in general to occur as we approach Valentine’s day.  Until then, go show some affection today!

Revisit an old song that has meaning to you and a loved one,

Make an instrument with your younger children using one of these fun ideas for homemade instruments,

Leave someone a note with a favorite song lyric in it

Just as my parents did with me, you may not see the results of your connection through music today, but whether it’s tomorrow or years from now, you’ll be glad you did!

It’s been a busy week in Music Therapy!  Music and Me at UND started this Monday with Music Therapy in Motion’s Emily Wangen (check out the MT in North Dakota page if you’re interested in registering – it’s not too late!) and students from across the state flooded into the School for the Blind for Programming this week, a time during which I serve primarily as a Braille Music Instructor.  This week has also been a week of advocacy for Music Therapy in General.  Colleagues of mine drove out to Bismarck this Wednesday to share information that will hopefully see our field recognized, regulated and reimbursable for families across our great state.  All in all the perfect week for a Drum Circle, which will be happening this Saturday, January 29th at 12 Houses from 7-9pm!  Now, you may be asking,

“What is a Drum Circle?”  and

“What Happens at a Drum Circle?”

Drum Circles are as varied as the persons who lead them and those who participate in them.  My personal definition of a drum circle is a gathering of individuals from all different walks of life, age, and ability who come together in a common love of music and their community to share in a common experience by contributing to a group musical effort.  When I pull up to the monthly Drum Circle at 12 Houses, I bring with me a bag of drums and other percussion instruments with the sole intent that they will be demonstrated on and made available to anyone who wants to play them, and I am always excited to see how quickly they get snatched up!  As one group member told me back when the group first started,

“Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you just have to grab a drum and start playing!  Every off beat becomes an on beat somehow.”

In the course of the evening, I might just play my drum along with the group, demonstrating different rhythms and facilitating group starts and stops or drawing the focus of participants to one instrument group or another, but more often than not, I’ll be singing: songs of welcome from countries around the world, songs of love and peace, silly songs, energizing songs, all based on where I feel the group is in the playing process and what style and message I think they would most benefit from in that moment.  Some circles we have lots of children and the group is lively and filled with dancing and improvising nonsense vocal syllables in a call and response, sometimes there are more adults and the circle is pensive, with songs recognizing our unity as human beings and celebrating our differences and how they enable us to each contribute something of meaning to our world.  Every circle is different.  Every circle is special.

So what’s the research to support Group Drumming?

A recent study found that infants as young as 5 months respond to music more than they do to speech.  120 infants were all subjected to different styles of music and their movements were analyzed by professional ballet dancers.  Their movements were found to be most frequent during songs with a steady, predictable beat.  The more children were able to synchronize their movements to the beat, the more they smiled.  There is research to suggest that physical exercise strengthens the brain as well, which would lead to the natural conclusion that…

If rhythm prompts movement and movement prompts brain development, then rhythm promotes a healthy brain.

The practice of Group Drumming (or indeed any type of Group Music-Making) has specific implications on social and emotional skills as well.  In a study published by NAMM, a global music products industry, Group Drumming with a group of low-income at-risk teens showed tremendous positive effects on such problems as withdrawal, depression, and anxiety.  As Ping-Ho, principle investigator of the study says:

“Drumming is inclusive, culturally relevant, stress reducing, and does not bear the stigma of therapy. It is an ideal framework for social-emotional skill building.”

When individuals engage in that type of hands-on music making, positive associations and connections with their peers are possible.  Imagine the possibilities of making music as a family!  Family music making is an excellent way to celebrate each others’ strengths and dig deeply into your own learning style and how you can use it in conjunction with the rest of your family to contribute to a group process.  The experience of making music with my husband is one of the most fulfilling, intimate things we do together.  When we have children, we’ll make music with them too – it just makes sense to us.  It fuels us.

So, give it a shot!  Try joining us at 12 Houses this Saturday at 7pm, and bring the kids!  As a new parent bringing her child to my family music class at the LISTEN Center found out just this week, even the most shy, reserved individual can be brought out of their shell to enjoy a music making experience, and it’s one you as a parent won’t want to trade for anything in the world.  The wonder and excitement on the face of this woman’s child  as he experienced Group Music for the first time is truly something to see and enjoy – it’s contagious!  In fact, I taped the very session at LISTEN in which that experience occurred, and I’ll be sharing clips from that recording in Part 2 of our discussion on Making Music as a Family next week.  **If you’re interested in joining the LISTEN group, we have now combined the Elementary and PreK groups into a general, FREE Family Music Time Group at 5:30 on Wednesdays. **

Whether it’s at LISTEN, Music and Me at UND or 12 Houses, we hope you’ll find some way to get involved in Music this week.  Find out what Music Therapy can do for you!