Monday, April 30, 2012

A-ha Moments

One of the best parts of my job as a music therapist is when I get to share in someone's A-ha moment. These are the times when something that didn't make sense previously all of a sudden is understood and is acted on. I am privileged to share in some of these moments with both my clients (children and adolescents with developmental and psychiatric concerns) as well as with my interns.

I love seeing those moments.

Recently, my intern has started to realize the power that music brings to a music therapy session. She has moved from the stage of overemphasizing her role in the session to the stage of emphasizing the role of the client in the session, but the role of music is starting to occur to her as well. She is starting to purposefully manipulate elements of music to increase or decrease the effect of music on clients' behavior. She is starting to recognize the changes in behavior that her clients are displaying and is relating those changes to the shifts in the music. A-ha!

I have a young man in individual treatment who has spent most of his time with me engaged in tapping a bottle on his hands. He has seemed wary of me and my music, but lately has been approaching me and rocking along with the music when it is played between 130 and 160 beats per minute. He is creeping closer and closer to the music instrument and to me, and he is starting to choose musical instruments as alternatives to his sound making bottle. His process has not been an a-ha, but has been more like an Aaaaaaaaa-Haaaaaaaaaaa.

I am looking for my own A-ha moment. I'm not sure when it will arrive or what it will look like, but I am searching for that moment. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Forced Creativity

One of the assignments that my interns have to do is to complete 75 therapeutic music experiences (AKA, applications, interventions, and SHUDDER, activities) to use with clients. I require 25 original songs to be included in the TME file, but the other 50 TMEs may be plans developed by other people and adjusted to fit my clients.

As each intern starts in my program, I emphasize that the TME file sounds like an easy assignment, but that each and every intern that I have trained has expressed that they should have started the original songs from the very beginning. Each time, the intern looks at me and nods, but each intern seems to find herself in the same predicament in month 4 - lots of borrowed ideas, but the original songs have to be forced to arrive.

Having just received the last batch of TMEs from my senior intern, I am amused that she followed the same pattern as the 18 interns before her. For some reason, the concept of writing original songs is not an easy one for music therapy students. I am not sure what the hang up is - difficulty remembering music theory concepts? Feelings of inadequacy? No expectation that you will have to compose your own songs in the future when in pre-internship situations? I simply do not know.

I remember the beginning of my own TME file. It started out as a classroom assignment and was 25 TMEs strong. The TMEs had to be split between 5 different populations, and I do not remember if we had to write original songs. I suspect we did not. I really started writing songs during my internship as part of my expanded TME assignment (which is where I got the idea to do this assignment in my own internship program - Thanks, Sheryl Kelly, ID-extraordinaire!!!). My first song that really was popular with clients was Wake Up, Body. My ID and supervising music therapists asked me to teach it to them, and they started using the song as well! I was thrilled that something I created was received so well.

I also, however, remember the crunch of completing my own TME file assignment many, MANY years ago. When creativity has to be forced - a certain number of original songs - in a certain amount of time, ideas seem to dry up. I have learned some tricks that work for me when I am in the creativity desert...

Here are some of my tricks...
  • Complete an old idea
  • Ask clients to finish a melody
  • Write a silly song about something absurd
  • Play modal patterns and chord progressions on the keyboard - am I a total music geek if I admit that I like the phrygian mode???
I may not be able to force great products out of myself when I am in a creative funk, but often, just playing with composition will produce useable and engaging songs or TMEs. It is amazing how it works.

Sometimes, you just have to sit down and be creative!

Look at my website, for information about an upcoming webinar series on songwriting and creativity for music therapists! Hope to see you there!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Creativity Surge

So, after yesterday's post, I finished the pumpkin visual that I had drawn forever ago, and then I launched off on a wave of creativity that resulted in ideas for seven file folders, one new song, a memory box, and a Pez display board. (The last idea was not at all for my music therapy clients, but for me and my ever-growing Star Wars Pez dispenser collection - I know, geeky on several fronts, but what can you do?)

Sometimes I find that creativity has to be nudged in order to bloom. By setting an expectation for completing one task, all of these other ideas were sparked.

Off I go to finish "The Present," Song Lines File Folder, Code Breaking File Folder, Ta-ti Note Game, Musical Road Signs Game, The Turkey Tango/Chicken Cha-Cha Visual, Notation Sliders File Folder, and the All About Me Rap! Oh, and to get started on that PEZ display board.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Visual Aids - Making My Own

Do you ever have a flash of creativity that takes over your entire being?

I do, sometimes. Now, unfortunately, these flashes do not come to me often or in a predictable schedule, but I have learned to take advantage of those flashes when I can!

Recently I have been in a creative slump. I get these every once in a while and have learned that there are just times when I will not have any new ideas. I have, however, also learned some techniques to spark some creativity in my life. I try these techniques, and they work for me.

Today, I am trying the tried and true method of looking through all of my previous notes about Therapeutic Music Experiences (what I call what I do with my clients in therapy sessions). From now on, I will refer to these things as TMEs. I have learned the hard way that an idea comes and goes. Many of the best songs I have ever composed have been improvised in front of a group of clients. As they have been occurring, I think, "Wow, this is a GREAT song. I really need to remember it." Then, I get involved in the session again and the song just dissolves. Since I have lost so many things to the fog of my brain, I now write down every idea as it occurs to me. All of the ideas go into some filing cabinets that I have dedicated to creativity. I occasionally go through those half-formed ideas to see if I can develop them.

I have a half-colored pumpkin visual that I have had in my folder for three years. The visual has a pumpkin and facial features to use to put together.

It goes along with song/chant that will promote emotional expression (hope-fully) in my clients. We will arrange the facial parts to reflect our own moods. Now, this idea has sat in one of my notebooks for 2 1/2 years, half-colored and not quite ready. Now is the time to finish it!
I have several rules for visual aids. First, if I ever intend on selling it or handing it out to others, the art has to be my intellectual property or creative effort. I drew this pumpkin all by myself!

Second, all visuals have to be able to be reproduced using the technology that I have available to me. So, my pictures have to be less than 8 1/2 X 11 inches so I can scan them.

Lastly, they have to be easily laminated. This means no crayons (they melt when heated), and no markers (I don't like the streaks). This is also part of the reason for the size requirements.

I will finish this visual aid this evening before I go to sleep. I need to color it, scan it, cut it out, and put it into a file folder ready to be laminated. While I do this, I will brainstorm other things I can do with the visual aid. Due to my space constraints, I have made myself a rule that all visuals stored in my room MUST have at least 6 TMEs associated with it in order to stay in the room.

I will post a picture of the completed project when I finish it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Big, Audacious, Hairy Changes

Change is difficult.

There are currently so many changes going on in my life that my head keeps spinning. I am sure that some of you have the same types of things going on in your lives. Changing ideas, paradigms, and "the way we do this" is often threatening when it is personal.

Change is something that must occur. If organisms do not change to accommodate their environment, they do not survive. This is not easier when I am the organism, but I have learned that adaptation is essential.

Change requires a completely new perspective. It is important to let go of the old ways and thoughts to be able to be a visionary. Sure, things may be fine as the status quo, but there are times when you have to go back to the beginning and start completely over. This is when the big, audacious, hairy changes start to occur.

(FYI: I love the phrase "big, audacious, hairy changes" - it was first introduced to me by Bishop Scott Jones of the Kansas East Conference of the United Methodist Church.)

Often, change is threatening. It is hard to leave the familiar and set sail for new horizons. How can I abandon what I know so well? What if the new situation is worse than what I know? What if...?

Sometimes we have to take a leap...a big leap into unknown territory. The thing is, we have to make a decision about making that leap.

I have decided to embrace change as it comes to me. I will take those leaps. I will boldly go into the horizon to see what happens.

 See you on the other side...

P.S. Isn't it interesting when the change comes in the form of NOT making changes??

Friday, April 13, 2012

Carrot Cake

This post has eluded me for quite some time. I have been sitting here, in my hotel room, before attending the ETAB Town Hall meeting at the Midwestern Regional Conference tomorrow morning, attempting to write something cogent and appropriate for a blog about music therapy. It hasn't happened yet, but I keep trying.

Tonight I went to a restaurant by myself and ate dinner. I always feel awkward sitting alone in a restaurant but often find myself in that situation when I am traveling. Anyway, I opted to get dinner in the Beefstro (seriously, that is what it is called) rather than getting room service. I ordered Chicken Parmesan and carrot cake to go. The carrot cake was complimentary since I am such an important member of the hotel rewards program! I brought the carrot cake back to my room where it is sitting on the other bed. I am anticipating that it will taste good in a little bit.

The anticipation of something is often more intriguing than the actual event.

As I am thinking about carrot cake, town hall meetings, driving through three states, and getting to sleep at some point, I continue to try to figure out a music therapy angle for all of this. 

How about this?

Nope. That didn't work.

Time to hit the carrot cake. There is definitely a song in there somewhere...

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


A mishmash of thoughts, comments, and things to know...

I will apologize for this blog post in advance. So, here goes my current state of mind word salad...

Worker's comp - a baffling tool when you need it. It is something that you never want to have to use, but it is nice to know that it is there if something does happen. Here I go into the world of comp doctors, examinations, and paperwork. Ugh.

Behavior Management - I wonder if folks realize that allowing a screaming person to have whatever they want is not the best idea if you want that person to stop screaming in the future.

Chinese food - When I have a day like the one I had yesterday (see the two topics above for a small glimpse into my recent experiences at work), the best remedy is food from Peking Taste, my favorite Chinese food place. They deliver, so I do not even have to go to them. They bring all types of delectable morsels right to my door. Yum!

Frustration - There are moments when I am stymied. I am currently in one of those moments. There are three particular clients that I have right now who are engaging in inappropriate behaviors to communicate what they need or want. I have always felt that behavior is communication, but I am not asking too much. I ask for an answer to the question, "Do you want a book to read?" Screaming, kicking, pulling hair, and tantrum behaviors are not appropriate responses to that question. Unfortunately, I am just stubborn enough not to allow him not to answer with a conventionally accepted word or sign. Screaming, kicking, pulling hair, and tantrum behaviors are not socially accepted as responses to most questions. Hence, the trip to Worker's comp later today...

Saturday, April 07, 2012

So, When Is the Right Time??

The most recent controversy in the music therapy world has come in the form of two position papers submitted to the AMTA Assembly of Delegates by the Education and Training Advisory Board. In the interest of full disclosure here, I am a member of the Education and Training Advisory Board (or, ETAB, as we refer to it using an acronym - whole other story) and was actively involved in writing both of the position papers, so please take my comments with all of the bias that is present from being actively involved in this situation...


These papers, available on the AMTA website at the following addresses:

Master's Level Entry: Core Considerations

Master's Level Entry: Moving Forward

...have been the topic of Town Hall Meetings and discussions around the music therapy regions of the United States this spring. It has been interesting to be a part of this discussion in one region, and I will be preparing to travel to a conference in my home region next weekend to continue the discussion.

One of the comments that has been offered on these papers is that "this is not the time" for a shift in our educational practices.

This comment has stayed with me and is challenging my thoughts on the proposed changes. Now, for the record, I am in favor of starting this change at this time. The comment posed above, though, has made me stop for a moment.

Now, I understand that change is often scary and that this change is a biggie, but what I want to know is, if the time is not now, then when we will know that it is time?

I am a person who enjoys structure, guidelines, rules, task analyses, and criteria. (This does have something to do with my points above, I promise!) I am seeking specific events or criteria that will indicate to us as a profession when the time has arrived to start this process. If you do not feel that the time is now, then when will you know that the time has arrived??