What Happens in Music Therapy?

  • Laura Teutsch
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I recently started working with the children at Red River Early Learning Centre and it has been a joy for me getting to know them and introducing them to music therapy. I would love to introduce you to a typical group music therapy session with children. Here are some common features:

Hello/goodbye songs: At the beginning and end of every group session, I use a hello song/goodbye song. Often, I will use the same songs in each session so that the children can become familiar with them and eventually be encouraged to help me sing. These songs provide an element of structure and predictability to the session, which can be particularly important for youngsters who tend to prefer consistency and sameness. Hello/goodbye songs usually go through the process of addressing the group as a whole and then addressing each child individually. This offers children the opportunity to practice joint attention, social behaviour, and turn-taking, as well as addressing mental-health related goals such as feelings of self-worth and feeling appreciated by others.

Singing familiar songs: It is important for a music therapist to know their clients’ preferred music because often these songs will be the most motivating. Familiar songs can be adapted in a variety of ways to fit the needs and to address the goals of the client. For example, I recently used the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with a group of young children. I had the children name some different things that they have felt (silly, sad, excited, scared, etc.) and asked them what they do when they feel those things. This was used to help the children explore various emotions and understand how they express their feelings all while having the opportunity to make silly faces and do fun actions!

Instrumental music-making: Using instruments is fun! I always bring with me a selection small of percussion instruments, including an ocean drum, a small djembe, a tambourine, a cabasa, a hand drum, a ukulele, a jingle bell, and several shakers. Using instruments to make music can serve a wide variety of goals. These could include working on turn-taking, attention span, impulse control, fine and gross motor skills, cooperation, or leadership skills. Using instruments can also contribute to heightened self-esteem, self-expression, and self-confidence.

Quiet listening: Sometimes active music making can be over-stimulating. Some people are particularly sensitive to stimuli. It is important, therefore, for a music therapist to notice when this may be occurring and adjust accordingly. Quiet listening experiences offer opportunities to reduce sensory intake, to slow the heart rate, to reduce breathing pace, to practice patience, and to develop auditory perception and processing skills.

Music games: Music games can take on several shapes and sizes and can address any number of non-musical goals. One could create a game that encourages the development of academic concepts, memory, social skills, coordination, fine and gross motor skills, expressive or receptive communication, or self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image. And that’s just to name a few!

I hope this gives you a bit of an idea of what a music therapy session might look like, but it is also important to note that this is definitely not all of the things that could take place within a session! There are so many things that one can do with music, and I often find myself inspired by clients to try new activities or change the ones I had planned.

Remember also that the context of a music therapy session can vary widely. It can be in groups, it can be 1-to-1, it can be with children, adolescents, or adults, it can be at a school, a hospital, a private clinic, a long term care home, or a retirement home, it can be with clients with any special abilities and those who want to increase or maintain well-being!

If you have any questions or thoughts about music therapy, please feel free to reach out by email or phone!