Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

Well, we’ve survived our first full day of classes here at Overbrook!  I have to say this is the most Blog Posts I’ve ever made in a week, and while I have one more on Music with the Visually Impaired planned after this one, I do plan to give you readers (and myself!) a break or two over the next few days as Students and I here at the Braille Music Institute get accustomed to our schedules and the awesome curriculum and technology that are being offered.

Our mornings start around 7:45 when breakfast arrives from Lou, our fantastic cook (this morning it was scrambled eggs and toast, with an assortment of fresh fruit and yogurt for sides – yum!)

By 8:45 we’re in our first class, Touch and Sing, where students practice reading Braille Music in group singing exercises, and writing Braille Music Code on various note-taking devices in preparation for College Dictation Courses, where the instructor sings or plays a melody on the piano and the students have to write down what they hear – a big challenge for any musician, sighted or not!  The melody is played multiple times that first day, with fewer and fewer repetitions as the week goes on, but the greatest challenge to Braille musicians over sighted ones is the fact that everything I as a sighted musician see laid out vertically on a page (chords, staves, etc) has to be notated horizontally for a Braille musician with things like interval and octave signs.  So it takes them a little more time to dissect what they hear and lay it out on the page.  The instructors here are excellent at teaching techniques to help students make the adaptations they need to get by in a sighted Music class.

After Touch and Sing, the students split into one of three areas: Braille, Computer, or Theory.  In Braille they continue the concepts of Touch and Sing as applicable to their main instruments (like Piano, Voice or Guitar).  The instructors here send out requests to each of their students’ teachers months in advance of this Institute to get their Music submitted and Brailled so they can work on them here, playing and reading at the same time where they can (for instruments like the Voice, where your hands are free) or learning and memorizing the music for instruments like the Piano and Guitar that require both hands to play.  Again, time is the biggest disadvantage to Braille Music readers.  Those that can’t play their instrument and read at the same time need the advance acquisition of their Music to memorize it in time to play as part of an ensemble, but this year, as with last year and all the years I’ve worked with Visually Impaired students, I find that those students who choose to participate in Music and are determined to be part of an ensemble are highly motivated and fast learners, who by the time they leave here can catch an error by ear lighting quick, skim their hand down to check the Braille Music as a reference and move on without skipping a beat!  That’s the ultimate goal for their Braille Instructors here – efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.  In Theory, those Braille Music Skills are applied to looking at multiple parts in a piece of music – perhaps their own and 3-4 others at a time, analyzing how the notes fit together and play off of each other, also a crucial part of Collegiate Music.  Lastly computer ties it all together with lessons tailored towards inputting, editing and printing or embossing Music in accessible mediums.  We’ll talk more about that in our next and last post in this series!

There are 7 periods total in the day, from Touch and Sing at 8:45 to 2 periods each in Braille, Theory, or Computer (one of each in the morning and one in the afternoon) up to 5:00 in the evening.  At some point mid-day there is lunch, a brief break, and presentations or general fun planned – today it was a demo of some extra software we’ll also touch on in a future post, tomorrow it will be the Overbrook Aquatic Center where yours truly will enjoy a dip in the lazy river! – and then evenings are free for jamming, homework from the day’s classes, or just general hanging out.  In fact I think I hear Lady Gaga coming from down the hall.  Better go!

Coming up in a few days, our last post in the Overbrook series – Taking it on the Road: Technology for Visually Impaired Musicians. Archive Note: You can find the last post in this series HERE

Good Morning from Philadelphia, PA!

I am typing this first blog in my little mini-series on Music with the Visually Impaired from the Overbrook School for the Blind, which is located in Northwest Philadephia (near Drexel Hill).  The campus here consists of beautiful Spanish Cloister architecture, which can be viewed in photos on their website (as well as some of my own I hope to post soon!), making going to the various buildings a joy as you discover the little indoor gardens contained in each one.  It’s my second year coming to the Summer Braille Music Institute here, and it’s almost like I never left!  Here’s a little insight on the Summer Institute and what I’ll be doing here:

The Summer Braille Music Institute is organized by David Goldstein of the National Resource Center for Blind Musicians, which is a division of Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The Institute is open to “college-bound” visually impaired music students for the purposes of learning to read and notate Braille Music (there are actual “sight-reading” and ear-training classes here) as well as experiencing college-level theory and technology courses in order to practice those skills necessary to get by in a sighted music class and produce your own Braille materials.  My role will be to assist in the instruction of Braille Music with a few specific students, orchestrate a Musical Icebreaker game when they all arrive (I’ll be sharing a few of my favorites here Sunday!), and see to the overall well-being of each student while they’re here.  Over the next two days, more staff from around the country will be arriving and on Sunday we’ll welcome our first students for an intense week of working with programs like SharpEye, Lime, Goodfeel, and Sonar.  Sound completely foreign?  A year ago all these names did to me too, but as the week progresses here I hope to break them down into understandable and digestible parts that I hope you as readers will find interesting and educational, even if they’re not programs you’ll ever use.  You never know when you might come across a person who is Blind or Visually Impaired, and if nothing else, all this info will be a conversation starter for sure!

For a little extra background on Braille Music itself, check out my first MusicMoves post on Visual Impairment here. We’ll be revisiting this info and building on it over the next few days.  I’m excited!  I hope you are too!

Archive Note: for Part 2 in this Post Series, Click HERE

I’m baaaaack!  Summer is in full swing, and boy has it been a busy one!  Coming soon, another post on movement and music, after a Middle Eastern Dance and Drumming Festival has me all a-flutter with ideas and choreography, but first, as we approach Father’s day and enjoy the beautiful BBQ worthy weather this season is so notorious for spending with our families and friends, a post on a game I enjoy playing with my own friends and have come to find has tremendous potential as a therapeutic tool: Rockband.

Now, some of you may be asking. “What is Rockband?”  Rockband is a video game available for the Playstation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360 in which participants can sing karaoke-style, or play guitar, keyboard, or drum shaped controllers along with their favorite music.  Rockband 3 is the latest in the franchise, coming with everything from classic rock to German death metal in its setlists, with other songs from artists like Greenday and Lady Gaga available for purchase.  Through playing each song you can earn high scores and trophies to unlock other songs and materials within the game.

So why Rockband as a therapeutic tool?  And how do I use it? I believe that everyone deserves a game day once and while, if for nothing else than just to have fun and cut loose!  For my students, “Rockband Day” happens in the last week of every month.  On that day, we review the ground rules that serve as the basis for the other goals I think make Rockband such a valuable tool, particularly for my students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders:

1. Each student will get a turn to be “Team Leader” and choose a song to perform.  The team leader also gets to choose what instrument they perform the song on, and who their other team mates will be.  Once upon a time I had enough instruments for everyone, but as some of my groups go bigger, we have to share and rotate.  I ask team leaders to be considerate of those students who might not have gotten to play yet when it comes their turn. This kind of consideration for others is an important skill to build in kids with and without disabilities alike.

2. All students are to remain quiet while the team leader selects the song and their team.  This is a rule I enforce heavily early on, because I want for students to be able to make their own choices without feeling pressured by their peers or having to struggle for focus amidst unnecessary chatter.  If the team leader would like though I do allow them to ask their peers for suggestions.

3. Whether you’re playing or not, I ask students to be encouraging of their peers.  Once the music starts they are only to speak if they have something constructive to offer to their peers who are playing, or if they need help.  This helps again to cut back on unnecessary background noise that can be distracting, as well as improve focus and discourage trash talking.

4. To elaborate on the rules of encouraging positive discussion, being considerate of their peers, and asking for help if necessary, I ask lastly that if a student needs help that they ask for permission to pause the game before changing difficulty levels or backing out of a song.  This is probably the hardest rule for some students to follow.  Many of the students I see come from families where they have little control over their environments – they are looking for any opportunity to be in charge and thus solve problems like failing an instrument in Rockband themselves, but pausing the game without notifying peers can be frustrating for teammates a) because it interrupts the game, and b) because it may not give others an opportunity to make the same changes if they need to.  So, my students now have a key phrase (“Pause Please!”) before they break the game to give everyone a heads-up that the game will be paused, and allow anyone else who might be needing to make adjustments the opportunity to do so at the same time so we don’t have to pause more than once within a single song.

I’ve heard of some instructors and therapists who have their students play in “No-Fail” mode.  For me, this would depend on the population I was using it with.  At one of my Special Needs Highschool placements, we have Karaoke day at the end of every month.  It’s an opportunity for those students to just share their favorite music with each other and practice using their voices in a safe space.  With a population like that I would use the “No-Fail” mode in Rockband to help them meet those goals of confidence building and sharing.  With my Emotional and Behavioral students, I’m looking for them to work together to reach a common goal (finishing the song) and working with the possibility of failure I think is an important component to really grasping the value and importance of teamwork.  However, sometimes a song is just too difficult, and I never want for my students to feel as though they can’t succeed.  So, I encourage my students to be conscious of their own abilities and the difficulty levels of the songs they choose so they don’t find themselves in situations where success might be overly hard to reach.  But, if they do find themselves in such a situation, they have the option to either collectively lower their individual instrument difficulty levels or back out of the song entirely and choose a different one.  We rarely have to resort to the latter option, but whenever we do we always see success with choosing an easier song and adjusting difficulty levels to make it to the end.  Learning to be realistic with your goals is another valuable skill I want my students to learn.

There are other video games out there that work well with achieving these kinds of teamwork and confidence building goals: before Rockband there was Guitar Hero, and games like Disney Karaoke and Wii Music are also great vehicles for addressing interpersonal communication through virtual music play.  Of course, nothing beats live music making, and so Rockband will always be just a once a month thing for me and my students, but on that one day at the end of the month, and whenever I play with my friends after a good day grillin’ in the sun, we all enjoy a little time to cut loose and be Rockstars for a while!

Also coming this month: the next 12 Houses Drum Circle will take place on the Greenway in downtown Grand Forks (ND) at 8pm Saturday, June 25th.  We will meet outside of the old 12 Houses location on 3rd (near Widman’s Chocolates) before crossing the dike together.  As always, drums will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own, and encouraged to provide chairs and blankets for sitting outside.  Kids are also welcome!

This Saturday, if the world doesn’t end (Google “Doomsday, May 21st 2011” if you didn’t get that one), will mark 6 months since the creation of Music Moves and my first blog post on Area Voices.  In those 6 months, my perspective on social media, my profession, and how they both inform my day-t0-day life (and vice versa) has changed and grown drastically.  I remember just 1 month before that first post in December being told by a colleague I should join Twitter, to which I responded “I have zero interest in joining Twitter.” Yet here I am, an active “Tweep” and loving it!   I’ve always been a journal keeper, and in past years had ventured online with such hosts as Livejournal, Blogger, and even a Myspace blog (accounts that are long dead, and thoroughly embarrassing I assure you), but those had always been personal accounts.  Until I was approached about Blogging on my profession over Thanksgiving Dinner last November, the thought had never occurred to me that Blogging professionals existed out there, let alone that I could find and read a Music Therapists’ Blog or write my own.  But once I began exploring the “Blogosphere” I couldn’t stop, and I just had to join in!  Here’s what I’ve learned that’s got me so hooked:

1. Twitter is a great way to see what people are talking about. Commonly referred to as a “Micro-Blogging” platform, people on Twitter are literally and constantly posting their thoughts online, but with 140 characters or less available to do it in, you know anything a person chooses to Tweet about they must really find interesting.  The more a Tweet gets passed around (or “Retweeted” as it’s called) the more you know people are relating to it.  So, as a blogger, I can get ideas for posts from Twitter based on what people are talking about, interested in, and willing to read.

2. Twitter can be a networking tool. There was a Tweet being spread around the time I joined that was last attributed to Jason Derulo by the time I got it: “Facebook is for the people I went to school with, Twitter is for the people I wish I went to school with.”  I’ve mentioned here before that my Facebook account has always been a personal one – I only accept Friend Requests there for people I’ve either physically met or had extensive correspondence with.  Twitter, on the other hand, allows me the opportunity to “Follow” the Tweets of big names in the world of Music Therapy, and for people interested in what I do to follow me, regardless of whether or not we know each other personally.  As I follow those people  I am interested with, I’m connected with other people and subjects of interest, and am able to pass those people and subjects on to my own followers.

3. Blogging can be a personal tool. As I mentioned before, journaling (and even blogging) used to be something I did for personal reasons, as a way to get what was inside my head on paper or online, so I could put it out of my mind if necessary to process my day.  Now, even as I blog about my job, I find personal release, introspective learning, and renewed energy in writing about what  I do and the populations I serve.  By sharing all the information that I do with my readers, I am growing too!

4. Blogging is a totally customizable way to promote and educate. I’ve tried creating websites for my private practice before, but without much luck.  Stand alone websites are great ways to advertise a business or spread the word on relevant subjects by providing consistent information on services and events, but with a job as fluid and little known in this area as my own, I found a blog to be a more vivid and appropriate way to educate the community around me on what  I do and why I do it in regular posts and updates.  As the world around me and my profession changes, I can change my blog to reflect it.

5. Hashtags and HTML Code can be a pain, but are inevitably worth the effort. At the risk of getting too technical, let me briefly explain what I mean here: Hashtags are ways of categorizing your Tweets by subject matter.  For instance, if I want anyone interested in Music Therapy to read a given Tweet, I’ll include the phrase “#MusicTherapy” in the text.  This can take up space in your Tweet and sometimes be tricky to fit, but ultimately Hashtags can help people find your Tweets, and searching for a given Hashtag can also help you find other people’s Tweets.  HTML works much the same way.  Many of the links on this blog’s sidebar are created by HTML Code, which looks like a foreign language to me, but when I copy and paste it in the right places, beautiful icons like the ones enabling you to follow this blog via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed come into being, and those allow more people to find, read, and share MusicMoves.  In the same way I can learn from, read, and share other peoples’ blogs.

6. The Internet is a big Place. For every one of the above things I’ve learned, the more I’ve learned I really don’t know. So, I search, I put myself in as many places as possible (Youtube, Forums, Listservs, etc.) and I learn.  I encourage all my readers to do the same.  Like that line from the end of the children’s program Reading Rainbow: “Don’t just take my word for it!”  Follow the links included on this page, hop on Twitter and “Join the Conversation” as they say.  You’ll be glad you did!

This week also marks a sad anniversary for my family.  One year ago my father-in-law passed away.  As  I remember him, I am led to memories of how Music played a part in his own life, as well as in the aftermath of his death (for instance, I remember my husband burning a CD to play on the day of his funeral).  Next week on Music Moves, we’ll take a closer look at the role Music can play in Grief.  Until then, I encourage you to not only connect digitally with the world around you, but to hug those people close to you and tell them you love them.  You truly never know how long they’ll be with you, so celebrate the blessing of their presence in your life as long and as often as you can!

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!

I mentioned last week that a student had told me they used the song “Unbreakable” by Fireflight to relax and focus.  Now, no matter what you feel about the music, the lyrics are energizing at the very least:

“Now I am unbreakable, it’s unmistakable
No one can touch me
Nothing can stop me”

Now, picture this same student as one who, when I first met them, requested we listen to the song “I don’t care” by Apocolyptica (featuring Adam Gontier, lead singer of Three Days Grace).  That chorus reads:

“If you were dead or still alive,
I don’t care – I don’t care,
And all the things you left behind,
I don’t care – I don’t care”

Those words aren’t so uplifting, but reverse the order in which each of those song’s chorus lyrics were presented to you, put them in progression with each other as this student did in the “Mash-up” activity I’ll describe in more detail below and you’ve got a totally different, new message:

“All the things you left behind,
I don’t care – I don’t care,


Now I am unbreakable, it’s unmistakable”

Cool, huh?  Looking at those lyrics together, you get a sense of the person who requested them, and why they might have chosen to put them together.  “Mashing up,” or cutting-and-pasting existing songs back to back or on top of each other, based on how well their lyrics and musical styles fit has been the subject of a new project of mine at a variety of locations, predominantly with teenagers who are emotionally disturbed, have suffered abuse, or have criminal records.  As I’ve gotten to know the music they choose to listen to and enjoy, I’ve gotten to know them.

First, I ask them to tell me what kinds of songs they like.  We listen to them in their entirety, which can often take weeks depending on how many songs students share, discuss what we think the lyrics mean, what the artists’ intent may have been, and how the music reflects the lyrics and vice versa.

Second, after all the listening is done and each member of the group has had a chance to contribute at least one song to the list, we start choosing which songs we think will go well together, again based on their lyrics and style of music.  Apocolyptica and Fireflight have very similar musical styles and their subject matter fit well together – other songs selected by the peers of the student who chose those first two were Puke by Eminem, Bounce by Timbaland (both very different musical style and lyrics for sure, but the tempos matched almost perfectly) and Airplanes by B.O.B.  Each of those songs has merits in their own right and is worth looking up on Youtube or downloading on Itunes, but when put together they take on new meaning, not to mention that the process of putting them together is an excellent experience in team building and appropriate social interaction.  That’s the final step.

Third, and lastly, each group I did this with used the Free Version of WavePad Audio that can be downloaded here. From there, we would divvy up which student would take responsibility for which song, so in the group that did the mix including those songs above, some students had to share one song with another student.  Each team would choose what part of their song we would use, and then be responsible for editing it in the WavePad software.  They would trim the piece to its desired length, then make sure it transitioned well from the piece before it, asking feedback from the group after each edit, as I told them the finished product needed to be something everyone was happy with.  The end result was a pretty cool little mix of songs reflecting each student’s unique personality and tastes in a master work they collaborated to create.  (I would include it here if the sounds of Eminem puking at the start of the track weren’t such turn-offs for most weak stomachs!)  Now, this is no easy feat for some of these kids to accomplish.  Social skills like those required to handle another peer’s constructive criticism and learning to offer your own are built out of practice, something many of these kids don’t have the opportunity to do in a safe environment.  The experience of music making in this activity offers them that.  Plus it’s just plain fun!  Their assignment for next week is to think of two songs that we could stack on top of each other using another Free Audio Editing Software called Audacity, which you can find here. The idea is for them to come up with something like this Mashup of Man of Constant Sorrow and Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl, which I credit my Internship Director for showing me in Georgia during my time there – very cool!

Want to find more mashups?  Check out Mash-Up, where you can find visual representations of the 300+ songs used in the DJ Girl Talk’s album All Day.  The page shows you a bubble of each song being sampled as it goes by in every track, each of which are combinations from various genres and styles of music all chosen to fit together by tempo.  Be warned that there is profanity in just about all of them, so if you’re looking to avoid that, some good tracks to listen to are 5, 9, and 11 (all of those are clean for the first 2 minutes).  Now I have no idea how much time it takes to put something like that together (and I have no intention of finding out) but the outcome is pretty amazing and fun to aspire to in the little mixes my classes and I have been putting together.

Next week on MusicMoves we’ll take a look at Early Childhood and some fun songs and activities for that population – in the meantime, new events highlighted below have been added to the Community Page, now titled “Music Therapy in North Dakota:”

In Grand Forks

For Children:

FREE Sessions at the LISTEN Drop-In Center continue with Natasha Wednesdays, at 5pm (Elementary), and 5:30 (Prek/Family).

NEW Music and Me at UND (formerly known as MusikTanz) classes are going to begin Monday, Jan 24th.  There will be classes for infants 1-12 mo, 12 mo- 3 yrs and 3yrs to 5 yrs. For more information call UND Music Dept or call Emily Wangen at (218)-791-0908 (see below or on the Community page itself if number doesn’t show up here).  To register for classes go to and download the enrollment forms under the side bar named UND Children’s Music and Me at UND Classes.

Emily Wangen is also available for private Music Therapy services in Grand Forks (including a jam session for students with special needs for those interested in forming one!) and to cofacilitate ABA and Music Therapy together.

For Adults (Children Welcome)

FREE Drum Circle for the month of January is coming up!  Saturday, January 29th, 7pm at 12Houses

NEW EVENT LISTED: LISTEN Drop-In Choir, an inclusive group of Adults from ALL walks of life and ability, led by Natasha, is currently preparing for their Valentine’s Day Show!  Meets Wednesday nights at 6:30, 624 N. Washington.


A full time music therapist is available in Fargo for private music therapy and modified/adaptive music lessons for individuals with special needs.  She is available for consultation and is willing to travel to rural areas to provide MT services.  For more information contact Emily Wangen at (218)-791-0908.

…and beyond (also new)!

Music Therapy is also on the rise in Bismarck!  Natasha is currently in the process of developing a group there for children on the Autism Spectrum.  Updates that and other MT events and groups opening up statewide coming soon!

Check the community page often for more updates on new events as they become available – Maybe you’ll find one YOU want to check out!