Saturday, January 31, 2015

I Have Nothing to Say...

So, it's the early afternoon, and I am just now starting to write my post for this blog. I actually tried to start a post earlier, but it just ended up being one rant after another and then I had to go to an Online Conference for Music Therapy executive board meeting, and then I had to arrange a presentation for this evening, and then I just was not interested in writing anything, so I read for a time trying to take a nap!

Well, the nap didn't work, but now I have something to say...I think.

Who knows if this will be successful - I've already deleted a paragraph that was starting to feel like a rant... hmmm.

Here is a simple truth.

Music therapy is important.

You, music therapist, out there in the world, using music to assist others towards their own personal goals, are important.

Please don't ever forget that fact.

That's it.

Thank you for sharing this profession with me.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Favorite Things Friday - Inspiration from Nothing at All

Do you ever have one of those A-Ha moments that just stops you in your tracks? I get them occasionally, and often when I am in the middle of a music therapy session. Sometimes it happens in Wal-mart. Other times it happens when I am in between sleep and wakefulness.

Lately my A-Ha moments have been completely unrelated to my work situation and completely related to where I want to be in the future.

My interns have asked me to tell them how I come up with ideas. I have to say that I don't really know how I come up with ideas. Most of my ideas pop into my head, and I try to remember them long enough to write them down. Most of my great ideas just pass through my head in and out in a moment. Some of them stick. I like it when they stick. It doesn't happen as often as I would like.

Today's goal?

Find one thing that inspires a Therapeutic Music Experience for my current clients.

I'm going to go out into the world with my eyes open. I'm going to look at my theme list, on the internet, in my materials box, and all of my other stashes of stuff to see what makes me think and envision.

I'll keep my post-it notes close so I can write down any and all ideas that flit into my head.

Maybe something will happen on this Favorite Things Friday.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sometimes Thing Just Don't Gel

On Monday, I had one of the worst sessions that I've had recently. The kids were completely uninterested in anything I had to say, none of them responded to reminders about points, and they just ran rough-shod over everything I had to share with them. Their staff members weren't helping, and the little bit of help that they tried just plain old did not work. i had planned something that I thought they would really enjoy. They didn't. It was just a mess from beginning to end!

I left the session feeling a bit defeated. These feelings were enhanced by the fact that I was coming down with my annual bout of bronchitis, but most of the issues were based on my perception of failure with this group. Now, when I look over this session, there were some good things going. The kids were socializing with one another (not something that happens often), and they were united in their decision not to engage with me (very unusual - I can generally get at least some of them going along with my ideas).

Now, we knew that this would probably be a challenge this week. We have recently had a bunch of new kids admitted to the program and not many kids have left. So, the new kids are unknown to us and the "old" kids are not used to changes in their status quo. We (the support service staff) are trying something new this year - groups that are arranged based on client strengths and needs. Since that is our new way of doing things, we have to meet the kids before we assign them a group. So, this week, when we had five new kids, we placed them in the aforementioned group and another group. I didn't think it would be this much of a problem, but it has been. One of the other support service staff members stated that they were horrible for her as well.

We know who needs to move. This client is very sophisticated when it comes to getting others to do what the client wants. Removing that client from this group will make this group more manageable and more cohesive. The problem is that this client will disrupt any of the groups. The charisma is just that strong.

So, we will meet at some time on Friday to re-sort kids into support services group. 

I hope next Monday will be more like the other Mondays. I'm looking for my clients to gel into a cohesive group. We will see. If it works, then great! If it doesn't, then on to Plans B, C, and so forth.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

40 Degree Swings

There's an interesting phenomenon happening right now in my area of this world. We are having daily temperature variations of 40 degrees. The day starts off hovering around the freezing mark and gets warmer until the temperature is similar to that of Spring. Today it's currently 33 degrees Fahrenheit and is supposed to be about 72 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon. It's the type of day where you need to open up the windows and blow the winter out of your house. So, that's what I'm going to do.

(I'm also going to go to the doctor to get my annual antibiotic for my seasonal bronchitis, but that's typical for this time of year as well.)

The weather swings are wreaking havoc with my allergies, bacteria, and general ability to do my job. There are robins frolicking in the trees (a sign of Spring?? I'm thinking the worst of this winter is yet to come). Insects are coming back with a vengeance - we need the freezing winter to help cull the numbers of bugs - it really hasn't happened yet. We haven't had any snow days yet. Not really unusual, but I would love to have three snow days this year. The weather is having an effect on my students as well.

We have entered the time when my kids start to realize that they haven't been able to spend lots of time outside in the sunshine, fresh air, and open area. They start to get restless, and the staff members get just as restless. These days are wonderful for all of us, because we can go outside just to soak in the wonderful mild temperatures, but we start off with a cold, gloomy day. We dress for the cold and end up in the warm. We still have to lug our coats around because we will definitely need them in the morning. The change in the temperature often has barometric changes associated as well, and I think we all feel changes in the air pressure.

So, what's a music therapist to do?

Originally, I thought I would have kids throw balls at drums. Then, I changed my mind. Then, I changed it back. Monday and half of Tuesday was spent in a cacophony of sound - we did a Big Instrument Round Robin. Everyone had a chance to play one of the big instruments. It was loud. It was chaotic. Kids loved it! Yesterday afternoon, however, I hit my wall of exhaustion and sound tolerance level. So, I changed back to my original idea. That is what kids will do today without me. Basically, we place all of the big drums on the ground and then throw Splashballs at the drums. We turn on some music and go. It's also noisy, chaotic, and loud, but it offers an opportunity for us to use some of our excess energy in a way that still works on musical expression and work on our impulse control. That's what we'll do for the rest of the week.

We'll find a way to express ourselves through movement and music. We'll find a balance between the shifting temperatures and uncertain weather patterns that happen lots here in January. If one thing doesn't do it, we'll swing to another thing. 
Meanwhile, Bella has decided that she needs to directly supervise the writing of this post. Here she is!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TME Tuesday - Looking for Something New to Do

At this moment, right now, most of the posts on Music Therapists Unite are of the "What are your favorite...?" ilk. "What songs do you like to sing with people who are [fill-in-the-blank]?" These types of posts both baffle and intrigue me. Maybe it's a function of my longevity in this profession - I remember a time when you were completely on your own with a library card to help you find ideas. Maybe it's a function of how I was raised - my parents always offered us with challenges to be creative and expand our view. Maybe it's a function of my life in this profession - I don't often have the opportunity to talk to other music therapists about what they do in sessions. When I do, I am often the leader, not a participant, so I don't have much that I can absorb and learn from...

I don't often answer those types of posts. Occasionally I will, but I reserve my comments for times when I think my idea will truly enrich the sessions of specific clients or therapists. I also try not to overwhelm the group with advertisements for my blog - I find that practice annoying - so, I will occasionally respond to a request, but not often.

The fact is this type of question comes up in my own music therapy practice on a regular basis.

I have moments (days, weeks, months...) when I am bored with what I am doing with my clients and need some inspiration, so I can understand the motivation behind many of these posts, but I've learned how to answer my own question.

Here's my conversation...

"I am SO tired of singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle' with Client L. It's time to do something else."

"What else will engage Client L as much as 'Twinkle, Twinkle?' "

"Well, she seems to like to sing 'Old MacDonald' about as much. Maybe we could shift the focus from 'Twinkle' to 'Old MacDonald'."

"What are some other children's songs that Client L might also like that could expand her repertoire and offer me some more options?"

"I don't know. Let's go exploring..."

Google - Pinterest - Children's section at the library - YouTube - Wee Sing Songbooks - books of poetry - my sister the second grade teacher - my mother the occupational therapist - Client L's classroom teacher...

Steps to using the information found during the search:
  1. Write everything down. Seriously, write everything down somewhere that you will be able to keep it and look at it whenever you need it. For me, with my addiction to index cards, I use different colored index cards for different things. Song lists for specific goals go on cards coded for each of the domains that I address in my practice - motor; sensory; behavioral; cognitive; academic; communication; social; and other.
  2. Develop one idea at a time. Think about how you could use each of the things that you have found with specific clients. Again, write EVERYTHING down somewhere. You never know when an idea can be used with a client. Even if the idea seems silly - WRITE IT DOWN! It may not seem as silly in three years when a client has the specific treatment goals that can be fulfilled by that silly idea.
  3. Keep your eyes open for possibilities. One of my favorite things to do is to go to the Dollar store and browse. I go up and down the aisles, looking for things that I can use with my clients. I look everywhere - toys, crafts, bath stuffs, storage containers - you name it! I have found ways to use things from all of these categories within my practice.
  4. Share your ideas with others in a way that respects your intellectual property and ownership. What does this mean? I share my ideas through my website and this blog. Each one establishes a date of publication. This way, everyone can use the idea in their sessions, but it is clear that the protocol and TME is my original thought.
Gather your stuff together. Expand on it at least weekly. Be creative. Learn how to do this on your own. What would happen if you could not access others through social media? Could you still access your thoughts, ideas, and therapeutic music experiences?   

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's My Turn for the Ick

January and February are prime times for my entire facility to come down with a bug. This year, most of my clients and fellow staff members have had a particularly nasty stomach virus. In addition, Influenza A has been going around. These months are not the best for folks in schools. The cold temperatures keep us all inside in the heating where germs seem to thrive. It's going to be a long winter.

So far, I have avoided the viruses going around. This is my typical pattern. I don't usually get what everyone else has - I get my own brand of ick. This is starting up right now. Two weeks ago, I woke up with a full sinus and lots of sneezing. Everything indicated allergy reaction (my typical January/February reaction), so I started my heavy-duty allergy medication. You know, the one that knocks me out for 24 hours, makes me dizzy, gives me terrible dry mouth, and tries to up my blood pressure? That one. I stayed home for the day so as not to fall asleep during my commutes and so I could get over the initial side effects and get accustomed to the side effects. I've been taking the medication every since.

When I went to sleep last night, my throat was scratchy. When I woke up this morning extremely early, I had a full-blown bronchitis cough, scratchy throat, and had completely torn up my bedding - restless night, I guess. I can feel it starting.

My particular brand of the ick starts with an allergy reaction which leads to bronchitis. It is rarely associated with a bug or virus, it seems to just be me and my reaction to winter in this state. The ick starts off with little to no symptoms, just a tickle in my throat and a specific type of cough. The doctor won't do anything for me right now except look at me and say "It's a virus." It's not a virus, it's bacterial, but it doesn't look like it yet. So, I'll wait until I can prove it's bacterial, then go to the doctor. In the meantime, I'll be drinking peppermint tea and lots of water, monitoring my temperature, using both my allergy medications and my inhaler, and waiting for the turn. Then off to the doctor!

I am a strong believer in using sick days when they are necessary. It is much better to stay home when you are contagious or sick than to spread your germs to everyone else. I work with some students who have compromised immune systems, so it is important to keep contagion away.

I am not contagious, so I am going to work.

I have certain session plans that I keep in reserve for times like these. Times when I'm not feeling great but still need to be at work. I have a couple of TMEs that I have to do this week - theme-stuff - but the rest can be less therapist-intensive than some of my other session plans. We'll probably get out all the big drums and throw balls at them. It's a good stress-release TME. My students usually take the basic idea and then morph it into more. We often end up exploring basic ideas of geometry, physics, and team-building. It starts as a stress-release and ends up so much more. Meanwhile, I will spend some time sitting back, trying to stave off the transition from small ick to pneumonia.

I hope you avoid the ick this year.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Synthesis Sunday

Here we go again - time to change the Sunday post focus.

(I tend to get bored with my Sunday topics much more frequently than the Tuesday or Friday topics for some reason. It's curious to me, but I can't figure out why this happens.)

I've been spending time reading my music therapy textbooks - both new and old. I take notes when I do this, because I am a visual learner with touches of kinesthetic learning - if I read it and then write it, it gets into my brain twice. I am able to remember it pretty well. 


I have several notebooks full of notes and thoughts and assimilations and ideas. So, why not use them on these Sundays.

Now, I haven't really transferred this into reading the music therapy journals, but I should. If you are interested in journal-type discussions, head over to Janice Lindstrom's BlogTalkRadio. She and Meganne Masko spend some time talking about current research on a regular basis. This month's podcast is about Music Therapy Perspectives, and I highly recommend their discussions (as well as everything else that Janice presents on her podcast).

Again. Anyway.

So, today I will kick off this new series with some of my thoughts about A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy: Theory, Clinical Practice, Research and Training by Tony Wigram, Inge Nygaard Pedersen, and Lars Ole Bonde. This book was published in 2004 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. The entire APA reference is included at the end of this post.

I started reading this text in May 2014 when I was thinking quite a bit about how much "Stuff" we music therapists need to know about music, about humans, and about how music and humans interact. I chose this book because I find that I really enjoy readings from Tony Wigram. I find his writings easy to understand and apply to my own clinical practice. Here are the thoughts that I found particularly relevant to me.

page 11 - "music therapy has developed as a clinically applied treatment administered by trained professionals where the development of graduate and post-graduate level training and clinical practice has resulted in qualified and recognized practitioners."

When I look at this statement, I start to see parts of a definition of music therapy emerge. "Music therapy is a clinically applied treatment administered by trained practitioners..."

page 11 - "the therapist is actively using music-making through the medium of clinical improvisation in order to establish a musical relationship with the patients through which he or she will be able to help them understand the nature of their problem."

This part of the conversation seems to focus more on the therapist than on the client. I'm not comfortable with that as part of the definition, but it is an interesting take on our profession.

All of this is just from the introduction. We haven't even started into the chapters yet.

Synthesis: I am interested in how we define ourselves. For me, the idea about a definition of music therapy always starts and stops with the writings of Kenneth Bruscia. I'll save his book for a later post. It seems that we all want a definition of music therapy that is easy to say, easy to understand, and easy to explain to others. The issue that we have is that our job is not easy to define. How can we find the words that encompass both a music therapist who is using music for sound-assisted childbirth and a music therapist who is doing community music therapy? As such, our definitions - the words we can all agree on about what we do and who we do it with - are often unsatisfying. Our definitions do not offer satisfaction. They just increase our quest for a definition.

Now, I don't think that Wigram, Nygaard Pedersen, and Bonde meant to offer parts of a definition, but that's how I perceived those particular statements. (At the time, I was looking for a universal definition of music therapy. It's interesting that our own needs often provide the filter for how we read and synthesize information. I bet I would think a bit differently about this right now.)

Has anyone else read this book? Any comments that you have about the introduction? Please share with me! 

Wigram, T., Nygaard Pedersen, I., & Bonde, L. O. (2004). A comprehensive guide to music therapy: Theory, clinical practice, research and training. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Favorite Things Friday - West Music

This post is going to be a blatant advertisement for West Music Company. I am just thrilled with them on a regular basis. We sent in an instrument order on a Monday, and everything arrived on Wednesday! It was better service than Amazon!! I loved getting my new instruments that quickly. I have also always been able to talk to them about getting bulk instruments for good prices. I was able to negotiate a great price on a set of Orff instruments. When they heard it was for a music therapy program, they helped me out immensely. I have learned that it pays to ask for assistance when you need it.

So, today I've had to talk about West Music.

Now, there are some things that I will not buy from West Music. I do not like their scarves. My clients shred them. I don't purchase many materials or props from West. I prefer to buy my books from other vendors - don't know why, but I do. Most of the basic percussion instruments that I need I buy through West. 

(I also like Music Is Elementary, but I don't tend to purchase bulk amounts through them. I use them for the more original or unique instruments that I have.)

Thank you, folks from West Music, for being advocates for music therapy and helping out music therapists with limited budgets to stretch those budgets to the max!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Some Days, Working with Kids is a Mixed Blessing

I love my clients.

I love my clients.

I love my clients. Sometimes it takes a mantra to remind myself that I really do have a form of love for each and every one of the developing humans that walk into my music therapy room. This form of love helps me remember important things like, "Even when they are kicking or biting me, they are still learning a valuable lesson if I keep my actions kind, calm, and consistent," or "I cannot believe this is happening right now. I am the adult in this situation, and I will remain calm."

What could happen you may ask?

Every day is an adventure when you work with other people. I don't care if you are working in an office building, a hospital, or in a school like me - every interaction with another human is an adventure. I bring my part of every interaction, but the other side of the interaction is completely up in the air and dependent upon the other human. That's what makes interacting with others an adventure.

My students are wonderful for my self-esteem, insecurities, greatest dreams, and biggest fears. They remind me of why I feel this profession is so important. My students never forget something that they like or dislike, and they do not hesitate to tell me so. They have little to no tact at times, and are some of the most honest people that I know.

Last Wednesday was a day for screaming.

Every group session that I led had at least one person screaming, and in one  group, everyone was screaming or in tears for at least half of the session. They entered the music therapy room that way, so I don't think that music therapy was the precipitating event, but I'm not entirely sure of that. At moments like those, I feel that my job is to assist students in calming using music to help. We do some reflective improvisation incorporating their sounds into the musical environment. Once I have their attention, we start to vector our moods - iso-principle! My session plans went out the window, and we went with the moment.

This week has been a week of back-handed comments.

"Someone smells like armpits. Is it you? You? You? Is it you, MJ?" [giggle]

"Remember that time you made a mistake and brought two Africas?"

"I think Katy Perry sings that better than you."

"Do you have arm wings?"

All I can say is that it is always an adventure with these kids - and the staff members that work with them. For the record, it may have been me who smelled like armpits - I had been outside working hard and had built up a sweat, but it was likely it wasn't me. I do have arm wings. I do remember when I made the mistake of the two Africas, and I am perfectly fine not sounding much like Katy Perry.

People - what an adventure! 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Creativity Camp - A Place to Play

I am toying with the idea of running a creativity camp - online, of course - a place for music therapists to develop unique and meaningful materials and Therapeutic Music Experiences (TMEs) for specific clients.

I like making things.

Over the years, I've learned how to make mallets, file folder activities, jingle bands, lots of pitched as well as unpitched percussion instruments, adaptive cuffs, visual aids for things like Orff instruments, and various and sundry other things as well. I know that there are lots of us out there who like to make things, so why not share with one another?

What would you like to learn how to do? Make recordings of clients? Learn how to use green-screen replacements to make videos? Sew parachutes? Make client-specific schedule boards? Web-based assessments?

Now, I don't know how to do most of these things right now, but I am always interested in learning more and would be willing to try these things out and post about them, or start camp so you can learn first-hand how to do these things.

Let me know if there is anything out there that you have always wanted to learn about - creativity camp??

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TME Tuesday - The Database

How do you organize your Therapeutic Music Experiences? You know, the things that you do with your clients? Do you organize by music? By goals and objectives? By something else? How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you keep them all in your head? Or do you write them down?

I write many of them down, but not all of them. I make my interns write theirs down as well. Once they are written down, I had to find some way to organize them - hence, the database...

Currently, my database is simply an Excel workbook. I list the TME title, the goal areas addressed, the original author/composer, and the person who developed the TME. My TME database is never going to be complete, but it is as complete as possible at any given time. I try not to print out things on paper anymore, but the TMEs are all hyperlinked to the database so I can click on the link, read the TME, and print, if necessary. This is how I currently organize my "bag of tricks."

It isn't enough for me, though. I want more.

I think about a database where I can search based on goals, types of music, themes, and other kinds of organizational information. I am trying to figure out how to do it, but I am wondering what others do out there.

So, what do you do to organize your thoughts?

Monday, January 19, 2015


During my internship, way way back ago, I participated in what I was told was the first ever Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, the holiday hadn't been recognized as a state holiday, even though it was a federal holiday in 1983. After the citizens of Arizona voted against recognizing MLK Jr Day in 1990, the state lost the Super Bowl. So, in 1992, (when I was a young intern in the state) voters again addressed the question and finally recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday as well. So, I got to go to the first parade.

At the time, it wasn't a big deal to me. I didn't realize that some states marked the holiday and others did not. My main states, California and Kansas, did. The state where I was working as an intern, Arizona, had not until that year, 1993. I have spent most of my life learning about Dr. King and his famous I Have a Dream speech, so there wasn't anything new for me to experience, but the people in Phoenix certainly did have something to celebrate!

I now know that this parade was the first official recognition of the Civil Rights movement from the 60's and of this man in particular.

I don't have many clear memories of what was happening on that day, but I do remember the mild weather of Phoenix, lots of things that make up a parade, and expressions of joy from the people who lined the streets of downtown to sing, whoop, and applaud for those in the parade. It was the culmination of someone's dream, and it has become pretty meaningful to me as a memory and an experience.

What type of dreams do you have as a person? As a therapist? As a music therapist?

My dreams are simple. I dream of a day when music therapy no longer needs to be "proved" to have educational merit for students, but it is an automatic referral. (Look, I said the dreams are simple - not necessarily how to get to the culmination of said dreams!) I dream of a day when iPod listening programs are simply what we do when we cannot get a music therapist to arrive soon enough. I dream of a day when we no longer have to explain what music therapy is to every single stranger. (Believe it or not, that day is coming much faster than I ever thought it would.) I dream of a music therapy world where we can agree to disagree on all ideas and topics, and proceed to disagree with a modicum of sensitivity and respect for all ideas and viewpoints.


Interested in more about how Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday? Here you go:,_Jr._Day

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Song Switch Sunday - Timbre

I really enjoy moving music from one setting into another. I've been really making many of my students angry these days because I insist on playing our choir songs using the guitar or piano instead of the iPod! They are quite angry with me when I start to play the piano. It doesn't sound like Katy Perry's version of whatever song we're singing, but it's as close as I can get to it!

The advantage to changing how the music is presented (iPod to instrument) is that I can use the musical elements to adapt the music for my students to provide them with success in getting the words out and singing appropriately. The disadvantage is that they often do not recognize the song without the original timbre.

I wonder why this is, and then I remember that my students do not have an easy time of abstract thought and the concept of music staying the same even when the sounds change a bit is an abstract one.

Taking a familiar melody from the original setting to another is a good way to assess how people process sounds. Changing the instrumentation (and the timbre) alters the music that is presented in ways that assist the therapist in assessing whether the client depends on the entire sound or can isolate one sound within the whole. Many of my students cannot identify their favorite songs if the drum pattern and guitar riffs are removed. They process a song by the entire instrumentation and format rather than by melody line. If I sing just a melody, they cannot identify the song. It's fascinating to me.

That's all I got today...

Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Favorite Things Friday - Trips

I love to travel. I have been to many places here in the States and a handful of places outside the States. I love train trips, plane trips, boat trips, even car trips. The only thing I haven't done is go on a long bus trip. My perfect job would include traveling on a regular basis!

In my travels, I have roamed many places for music therapy purposes. The AMTA National Conference happens in a different place every year, so I get to go someplace new every year. Next year? Kansas City - not so exotic, considering that I currently live very close to KC, but still... who knows where I'll be in November. I've been to the World Congress of Music Therapy in Australia and hope to go to Japan in 2017. I've gone places to be a music therapy consultant and presenter. Traveling is a great adventure.

I'm getting ready for a trip at the end of next month.

Like many of the other trips, this one will be music therapy-related. The Online Conference for Music Therapy is starting the process of becoming a non-profit organization. To do this, we have to have a face-to-face meeting of the Executive Board. So, we are going to meet.

I'm excited about this for several reasons. First, I'll get a chance to actually see people who I have never seen in real-life before. Second, this is an important step for OCMT as an organization. Third, it's a trip!! In February!!

I am enjoying the planning of this trip as much (if not more than) the actual trip itself.

Does anyone else want to welcome a music therapist to their part of the world? I'm in the mood to travel. Where do you want to go?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Follow-Up to Five Music Therapy Advocacy Conversations... My responses!!!

So, in light of Music Therapy Advocacy Month, here are the ways I answer the questions posed by others just looking to get a bit of knowledge about our wonderful profession. Just so you can tell, my answers are italicized.
  1. Look, it's the music lady/man! Easily recognized by bags full of instruments that jingle, shake, and thump, your persona becomes completely linked with your job. "I know. You can probably hear me coming from two hallways away. I always say you can hear a good music therapist coming from a mile away!! Here comes the MUSIC THERAPIST. (I often add a musical hit right here with the jingle bells!) Brrrring!" Why do I say it like this? It's good to have an identity and to be associated with what you do, but it's a casual way to emphasize that there is much more than just making noise to what I do. It also puts my official title in front of the remarker. They may never use the title officially, but it will sink in. One day, they will be speaking to another music therapist and will remember that they once knew a music therapist who made good music.
  2. You are so good at making people happy. My favorite variation on this particular theme? I kid you not! "Happy children making happy sounds!" "I'm glad that it looks like my clients are enjoying this therapeutic process. That's part of the process. We are actually working on many different goals and experiences simultaneously. Isn't it amazing how you can address motor goals, social goals, cognitive goals, and all types of things during a music therapy session? What else do you see or hear the clients doing during this time?" Education is the key to most of what we have to do as advocates for music therapy. Many of the people that I work with do not know that what I do is therapy, even though I talk about music THERAPY all of the time. In fact, I have a meeting with someone tomorrow who constantly refers to what I do as "music class." I will take the opportunity to, once again, re-educate him to the fact that I am a music therapist and my clients (also his clients) are actually engaging in therapeutic experiences when they are in the music THERAPY room! Reframe what is said into something that accurately reflects what is happening during the session - education, education, education!
  3. What is it that you do? Followed by three seconds of stunned silence and then the follow-up question, "So, what is musical therapy, anyway?" This one always makes me giggle. First question - "I'm a music therapist." Second question - "Using music and musical experiences as a medium to assist clients in achieving their personal goals." Then, I often start to see what they already have experience with in their own lives. "We all use music in our lives to help us do different things. Exercising, for example." Most of the time, by the first example, they start to offer their own examples. "Oh yeah. I learned all the state capitols when I was in fifth grade when we learned a song about it." "That's a GREAT example of using music to accomplish a goal. We music therapists use music to help others reach all sorts of goals. For one client, we might use music to prompt memory of a topic or a procedure, kinda like what you did in the fifth grade. For another client, music is used to stimulate their walking, similar to how we use music to motivate us to exercise. For yet another client, we might use music to express emotions about life situations. For someone else, music might be used to help them relax in stressful situations. In all these cases, a trained (and certified) music therapist knows how to use music to make things happen for the clients that need music therapy." Almost always, the response is, "That is really interesting." I heartily agree!
  4. Oh, I know what that is. My niece plays music to the elderly. Well. There's a bit more to it that that... "I am glad to hear that your niece enjoys sharing music with others. Is she a trained and certified music therapist? No? You may want to encourage her to examine the profession. There is so much value in what she does, but there is also so much more to what music therapists do with clients. Here's my card. Please let her know that I would love to know more about what she does and that I would also love to talk to her about becoming a music therapist." This has to be a genuine offer, one that does not have any hints of trying to kick out this poor niece from her music gig, but one that is aimed towards education and possibly recruiting another person into the profession.
  5. I do music therapy with my clients/students/pets/children/etc. We have an iPod. Bahahahahaha! This one is a doozy to address!! "iPods are great for targeted music listening, but there is so much more to music therapy than just listening. In music therapy, a trained and certified music therapist is able to change the music in the moment to support what a client is doing. For me, the best example of the difference between listening to the iPod and live music is when I am trying to exercise. (NOTE: I use exercise as an entry-example often because it is rare to find someone who doesn't listen to something while exercising.) Now, I'm not the best athlete in the world, and there are times when I just can't keep up with the exercises at the speed of the music. That's when a live musician comes in handy. They can slow down so I can keep up. My iPod doesn't do that. Music therapists are trained musicians who know how to change and adapt the music to support their clients' progress towards their goals. Also, one of the best things about being a trained and certified music therapist is that I know how to use music for so much more than listening."
I am a music therapy advocate. I advocate for my profession one day at a time, one stranger at a time, and one client at a time.

Happy Music Therapy Advocacy Month!!

Go out there and do great things, therapists!! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

5 Music Therapy Advocacy Conversations Every Music Therapist Will Have... At Least Once!

It is Music Therapy Advocacy Month here in the States, and it's time for an advocacy post! Here is a collections of advocacy moments and conversations that all of us will have at one time or another. How do you respond to these conversations? (I'll post my responses tomorrow!)

  1. Look, it's the music lady/man! Easily recognized by bags full of instruments that jingle, shake, and thump, your persona becomes completely linked with your job.
  2. You are so good at making people happy. My favorite variation on this particular theme? I kid you not! "Happy children making happy sounds!"
  3. What is it that you do? Followed by three seconds of stunned silence and then the follow-up question, "So, what is musical therapy, anyway?"
  4. Oh, I know what that is. My niece plays music to the elderly. Well. There's a bit more to it that that...
  5. I do music therapy with my clients/students/pets/children/etc. We have an iPod.
What other advocacy conversations do you have? 

The rest of this post is completely based on my own opinions and experiences. You may certainly disagree with me. Also, feel free to skip the rest of this post, if you are not a fan of opinionated music therapists going on and on and on about how their opinions are the best ones...

The key that I've found during conversations like these is patience. There is lots of misinformation out there that keeps perpetuating even though our profession's visibility and name recognition have increased by leaps and bounds over the past four years (Yes, it's been only about four years!) There is NEVER a reason to treat ignorance with challenges, bullying, or argument. Ignorance is best addressed through gentle education. If you do come across misrepresentation, however, let your regional representative to the Professional Advocacy Committee know about it. Here's the way to do that (Thanks to Carolyn Dobson who posted this on Facebook just a bit ago!!). 

"Suggestion: When you run across a misrepresentation of music therapy in the USA and want to post it, please post something in the tag indicating that. Also what region (city, state) so the appropriate PAC committee member can be alerted if necessary. It may or may not need attention but may be ignored if wording isn't used to bring it to light."

Being a good advocate for music therapy often means being a calm responder. When we go in to a situation of misrepresentation in full rant, we often come across as unreasonable people who want to control every piece of music and every musical experience that happens anytime, anywhere! I've found that a gentle approach and conversation that seeks a common pool of meaning is much more effective than going in and telling people that they are wrong, wrong, wrong! Often folks are just not aware that there is so much more to music therapy than plugging in an iPod - they are unaware of the depths that we have in our practice - but they have direct experience with the benefits that you can get by listening to music on an iPod, so that's what they use to try to understand what it is we do. Once you've had that initial conversation, it's time to let folks on the PAC know about the situation. They will decide how to proceed and do!

Go out there and be an advocate for music therapy. Not just in this month, but in all interactions from here on out!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TME Tuesday - Mirror, Mirror

Today's choice is Mirror, Mirror, a TME designed to increase self-esteem and self-awareness. It's old school, so here are the cards...

It's a chant, not a song. I don't tend to use this one very often, and almost always with groups that are made up of one sex rather than a mixed group. Adolescents tend to share more self-esteem type things when they are not having to engage in posturing behaviors in front of their crushes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Week's Themes

One of the pods at my school has figured out themes for each month, and, after years and years of asking teachers to give me some guidance about what they are talking about in the classroom, one of the teachers FINALLY did! So, I know what they are talking about at some time during this month!! I'm taking advantage of that fact to coordinate a part of my music therapy treatment for these classroom groups.

There are four themes each month. For January, we are focusing on Kansas (because we have to celebrate Kansas Day by the 29th - state mandate), Winter, Letters, and something else that I wrote down at work and have planned, but cannot remember right now... [head hung down in shame]. This week we are doing Winter and the something else I cannot remember right now. (NOTE: I think it is traveling in air vehicles...)

I am not a therapist who likes to plan out a script and follow it regardless of what the clients are doing. I am a therapist who likes to have basic ideas of how I will address client goals and objectives, but who has the moment evolve organically - taking cues from the client. BUT, this theme idea has some merit.

For one thing, using a theme for a portion of my session means that everyone is doing something that will enrich their learning in another area - the classroom. For another, I am only planning one theme-based TME per session. That offers me other opportunities to address clients' needs in the moment which is what I think a therapist has to do to be most effective.

So, what are we doing this week?

We're going to choose clothing for us to wear in the winter. I have some picture sheets in sheet protectors that we will use to point to our choices for winter garb. We're also going to sing a social story about riding on an airplane - complete with pictures.

One of the best things, for me, is that I have some structure for TME development. I have to come up with something that will address each one of the themes, and my year is laid out in front of me. So, today as I am engaging in some of my valuable planning time, I can sit down and write my TMEs for the airplane social story. I can arrange my materials so students can access them easily.

Off I go to talk about winter clothing.

Do you ever do anything with themes?  If so, what??

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Song Switch Sunday - Lyrics

This is one of the easiest ways to switch up the musical interaction in your music therapy sessions - change the words!

It often seems like a "duh" kinda thought, but changing lyrics to familiar melodies is a quick and easy way to increase novelty and direct attention towards the therapist or the music. When songs are familiar, they may not make much of an impact on a client who gets into a routine easily. It is easy to tune out and just go with the routine, so changing the words can shake up the routine.

Think of the tune to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. It's a culturally familiar song. Here in the USA, this song is a ubiquitous element of early childhood development. There aren't many people in this culture that do not know this song. Yet, members of the culture automatically know what to sing when you start to play. They sing Twinkle Twinkle, or The ABC Song, or Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. It is an interesting exercise to start playing the song and watch clients start to sing (without leadership from the therapist) to see which version they are thinking about at the moment. I can tell you what will happen - some people will start singing one song, notice that someone else is singing another set of words, and then change to follow that someone else. It usually tends to be the strongest personality that acts as the leader and makes the decision about which words to sing.


Piggybacking new lyrics onto a familiar melody is a great way to introduce some novelty into a session.

All of a sudden, the words are different and start to demand attention. I often piggyback directions into my songs. We may start with the song as I originally decided to present it, but the lyrics start to change to instruct my clients as to what I want them to do. There is never a reason to tell someone when you could sing to them! 

I am a MUSIC therapist, after all!

So, the point is that lyrics are a powerful tool for music therapists to use on a regular basis. I'll eventually talk about more than just piggybacking, but seriously, start with changing the words to familiar songs to increase novelty and change your musical interactions with your clients.

(By the way, if you are interested in learning how to sing new words to familiar songs, you can investigate preschool theme songs on the internet to see many, MANY examples of new words to sing to familiar songs... I like typing general themes such as "Thanksgiving Songs." There are always TONS of resources that pop up. Check it out!)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

"I am NOT amused!"

Today's post is courtesy of my mother, evil plotter, who made me do this!
(That's my story, and I'm sticking with it!)

This is Bella-Leia. Do you notice the far-off look in her eye? She's contemplating how to slowly shred the skin off my body when I am least expecting it! Ms. Bella-Leia has retired to the bedroom right now - lots of busy napping to do - while I get to spend some time with folks from the Online Conference for Music Therapy - it's almost time for the conference, and then go to my part-time job to take down the Christmas decorations before tomorrow's church service. After that? Who knows!!

The days are getting more and more full of things I SHOULD be doing. That SHOULD goblin shows up more and more around this time of the year. Maybe it has something to do with it being a brand new year and all, but I really start to get overwhelmed during these long, cold days.

I think I'll keep this picture nearby so I can be immediately refreshed by the wisdom and calm in this picture (somewhat deceptively so since I had to wrap the cat in a towel in order to take the picture...). It will remind me that there are things in life that are not completely serious - for one, a cat in Leia buns.

Happy day, all!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Favorite Things Friday - My Music Therapy Friends Out There

When I really make an effort to sit down and count them, I realize that I have many, MANY music therapy friends and acquaintances out there in the world. These men and women continuously celebrate, challenge, criticize, and support me in my music therapy life.

Before the advent of social media (yes, children, I am THAT old!), it was difficult to make music therapy friends unless you were geographically close to them or met them at conferences. Now, in this age of faster-than-light communication, I can interact with music therapy people from everywhere! This is both good and not so good, but we're going to focus on the good part here in this blog post...

One of the things that I relish about my music therapy friends is the opportunity to understand different practice areas and theoretical constructs. I can see music therapy through their eyes and through their training. Every interaction widens my view of what music therapy is and can be.

Something else that makes me value my music therapy friends is that we're all in this together - the music therapy day-to-day. There is no one who understands the challenges of constantly explaining what you do better than someone who does the same thing - over and over again. We understand the joy that happens when a client starts to interact with the music in a way that leads them towards their treatment goals. We understand the need for creativity and figuring out how to engage our clients in effective treatment. We can talk about it, celebrate with each other, and commiserate as well.

We are becoming a more cohesive group of professionals, in my opinion, than ever before.

I know, as well, that my music therapy friends enrich my life on a daily basis, even when we are far away from one another!

Thank you, friend! 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Thursday. Here It Comes!!

Today is Thursday.

Now, in the range of things, the fact that today is Thursday is not really all that big a deal. I mean, they happen once per week, don't they? For me, however, a Thursday coming around means that I have a long therapy day with limited opportunity to sit quietly and contemplate things that need to get done. The contemplation has to start early in the morning.

What is there to contemplate?

Not much regarding the actual daily work that I have to do. The teachers from the Novas Pod gave me a copy of their educational themes for the year. I've taken those themes and determined Therapeutic Music Experiences (TMEs) to do each month that support and enrich the thematic materials.This week's themes are Letters and Kansas (Kansas Day is coming up on the 29th). We did Letters on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday contain a Kansas themed TME - we're going to sing Home on the Range (the state song). Theme accomplished! The rest of the session will be based completely on what the clients are doing at the time. The other pods are working on assembling Orff instruments and then playing the typical Blues riff of tonic, subdominant, flat third (flat median??), tonic. We're also improvising some Blues lyrics, taking off the F's and B's and then just playing together. Therefore, I don't have to spend any time thinking about what I'm going to do with my clients today. The planning is finished.

Most of the contemplation that I need to do today has to do with a peripheral job that I have. I am a member of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports team. That lofty title means that there is lots of work to be done towards changing our treatment paradigm and changing the treatment milieu to emphasize the positive things our students do during their day rather than focusing on the negative things and behaviors of concern. There is a bit of resistance to the change in ideas coming from the teaching staff, but I am working on that, one person at a time. This is where most of the contemplation has to occur.

There will not be much time to think today. I go from session to session to meeting to session in a fevered pace. Tomorrow will be a day of contemplation during the day. I need to get music lessons arranged and then small group treatment groups going. I think choir will be happening, and it will be easy to keep things going during the day.

I will need to sit down and focus my task list as soon as I can.

I have found that task lists help me focus on one thing at a time. I am also able to move from idea to idea without losing any progress that I've made on other tasks. I can schedule in a time for thinking about specific things.

Well, I'm off to think deep thoughts and trivial ones as well. We're going to sing about our state. We're going to sing about the Wintertime Blues, and we're going to make good music today in my little bitty music therapy room.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

I Just Plain Old Forgot...

...that yesterday was TME Tuesday!

Yesterday morning, I woke up, finished a big audacious project that required my attention at the computer, left for work, and completely spaced out that it was a Tuesday. Yipes! I need to get back into my routine of weekly posts again, but it's a bit difficult right now with lots of other projects also needing to be done. I will make a better effort to work on a schedule, but life is kind of interfering here, so it will be what it will be.

How do you manage yourself when things start to get piled up higher and higher?

I try to keep going until I hit a wall of frustration. Then, I have a meltdown, make some lists, and get going again. This time around, I am trying to avoid the entire process of hitting a wall of frustration, so I am making lists right now.

My process in this new year has been to choose three things to focus on each day. I have one task left from yesterday - something that needs some attention for the Online Conference for Music Therapy, but that is all! I am pleased with how this is working.

Today's tasks include contacting CBMT about some questions that I have for the paperwork for our upcoming Online Conference (OCMT - happens on February 6th - 8th depending on where you live on the globe). Another task is to cook the chicken that has been ready to go since yesterday. The last one? Send in my letter to AMTA placing my internship on inactive status. I can do that now...

Again, apologies to you if you were looking for a new TME idea yesterday. I'll get back in the routine on Friday.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Falling Behind, and It's Not Even Work Time Yet

Well, that's not really true. I did go back to work on Friday, but it was an inservice day, so that really doesn't count in my book. I only feel like I'm working when I'm actually doing music therapy, and you kinda need clients to be doing music therapy. Today is the day I get to go back to work!

I love the first day after a long break. Kids are happy to be back to school, and we have lots of discussions about what happened over the break. We are all happy to be part of our school routine, but that happiness doesn't really last long. The second day after break is never as smooth. We all have to get up yet again, and the routine is not as attractive as the idea of sleeping in and staying home. The second day is much more challenging. By day three, we are still working on making the routine routine again, but things get better.

Anyway, I am currently sitting here, thinking about what I need to do this week. The list is growing and growing, and I haven't even made it to work yet. Isn't that silly?

Here's what has to be done - both at work and at home...
  • Make a lunch
  • Cuddle with the cat (she's still a bit needy)
  • Deposit the part-time job's paycheck 
  • Take mail to the post office
  • Drive to work
  • Finalize session plans
  • Arrange for clients to sign up for lessons
  • Work on paperwork for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports
  • Workout
  • Three music therapy groups - one where the group members don't have much of a therapeutic relationship with me - they've been working with my last intern up until now.
  • Clinical documentation
  • Make a video of my functional music skills
  •  Update the blog post from yesterday with a link to my video of functional skills
  • Make the bed, take a shower, and get some sleep. 
Well, that's a bit. Time to get ready to face the day. Here I go, off into the cold, COLD winter morning. 

Song Switch Sunday - Timbre and Instrumentation

Today's post is designed to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. I have to make an audition tape demonstrating my guitar, piano, and vocal skills, so I'm going to use this tape to illustrate something else that is an important musical element to consider when you are choosing music for a music therapy session - timbre!

The types of instruments that you choose for your music can affect how a client responds.

The simplest example of how timbre can affect therapeutic effectiveness comes when you work with persons who have auditory sensitivities to particular instruments. This occurs, at times, with a wide variety of people. I have some sensitivities to particular timbres - saxophones, high harmonics on string instruments, my sister's voice on the telephone in my left ear. Some of my students have timbre sensitivities as well. I have one student whose screaming increases in volume when I play rhythm patterns on the keyboard. (He actually screams all the time, not because of sound sensitivity, but because he is not in charge of what is happening in the room.) He seems to have a true sensitivity response when I play rhythm patterns on the keyboard, however.

More difficult to explain are the nuances of timbre and instrumentation on how music is perceived and interpreted by clients. I have found that if I change the way I present music, my clients do not always respond the same way. It's fascinating. Anyway, here is the video of three songs presented in three distinct manners...

Nope - it's not here yet. I tried, but none of the efforts of Sunday morning were good. I'm going to record at work using the real piano instead of my rinky-dink little keyboard and re-post this soon! 

Sorry for the delay...

Saturday, January 03, 2015

New Year Chores - Things to Do to Keep Up Professionally

Today is the first day of this new year that I've had some time to sit and figure out my path into 2015. The first two days of the year were full of travel, presenting information to co-workers, and trying to organize my work place. Today is reserved for getting my professional life up-to-date and in order.

I read a blog by a woman named Liz Ryan. Here's a link to her one of her blog posts. I enjoy her blog for several reasons. First, she offers practical advice for people who are looking for jobs. Now, I'm always in search of another situation, but not always formally, but my interns are formally looking for jobs, so I like to keep up. Second, she includes pictures that go along with her themes. These pictures are drawn by her and are watercolored or inked by her. I am a visual learner, so these pictures drew me into her blog world.

Well, in a recent post, Ms. Ryan suggested several things to do at the beginning of every year. First and foremost, take a bit of time to update your resume, even if you aren't looking for a new job. We all do wonderful and new things each year, but we don't often remember that these wonderful and new things can mean the difference between getting a job and losing out to the competition. I like that idea.

I like the idea of updating my resume at the start of each year. I literally just finished updating my curriculum vita from the last time I worked on it (2006! Yipes!!), and it was amazing how much I have accomplished in the last 8 years!! I have started webinars for interns and professionals, presented all around the world, helped to start an international online conference for music therapists, coordinated training for interns, become a member of one of the Boards with AMTA, and lots of other things as well! I can tell you there is nothing better for a shot of self-esteem than sitting down and adding to your resume/vita.

Something else I am going to do this day is to finish up a list of references that have indicated that they will offer opinions about my professional demeanor and strengths and weaknesses. I have contacted them and they are willing to talk about me with others.

The last thing to do today is to ensure that I have updated my AMTA membership. This, above all else, is an important part of my professional routine for the new year. Without membership, I am unable to continue to do something that I love - being an internship director! Even though my internship is going to go on inactive status, it is still important that I be a member of my professional organization. Sure, it's lots of money in this economy, but I get more out of the organization than I put in, so it's a good investment in both me and my profession.

Happy New Year!!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Favorite Things Friday - Caring for Others

Yesterday was a day of travel for me. I started off the day in the airport near my parents' house and ended it at my home. In between, there were flight cancellations, significant flight delays, missed flights, rebooked flights, significant attitudes displayed, and FINALLY, a way home.

I like to think of myself as someone who cares for others. (This may not be evident by this blog, which does tend to focus on ME, but that's in the title - and, everyone is entitled to a little selfishness every once in a while.) I honestly try to place the needs of others before my own, but this trait has a way of making me a doormat when other people want their ways.

This was demonstrated over and over again in the airports yesterday.

People were making demands. They were cutting in lines. They were yelling at ticket agents - who were not the ones making the decisions. People kept insisting that their situations were more dire than the situations of each and every other person on each flight. Somewhat like, "Well, I can see that you are trying to get to the hospital for a transplant, but my daughter has to drive 20 minutes to the airport to pick me up, so I need preferential treatment." "Well, I missed my flight, so I need to push in front of the 20 people who are waiting patiently to be served, who, by the way, also missed their flights."

I always apologize to the gate agents who have to put up with cranky passengers and who attempt to soothe emotions and feelings that are not something they caused. I thank them for their patience and for listening to me when it's my turn.

Is that part of being a good therapist? I think it is. I think there is an inherent need, not only to assist others, but to be respectful of the feelings of those we establish relationships with on either a long or short term basis. I hope some of those ticket agents and gate agents remember that they were thanked for their job performance and attitude during the very long day - in between the selfish, cranky, and downright stupid interactions that they had as well.

I believe that compassion is inherent, but must be practiced in order for it to work and continue to be a skill. I have countless stories about people who are considered "disabled" who are much more caring and compassionate about the feelings of others than anyone who is NDA (not diagnosed yet). Without practice, this skill withers until you are left with an attitude of "It's all about me and heck with anyone else. I DESERVE whatever I want whenever I want it!"

That's just not right.

So, today, on this second day of 2015, take some time to practice caring for someone outside of your regular routine. Thank someone who does something for you on a regular basis, but who doesn't get much attention for doing their job well. Thank a client who makes an effort to make music therapy enjoyable for all people involved. Thank a co-worker for something that he or she does well. Look, for just a moment, for situations where caring is happening and acknowledge it!

I'm off to work. I wonder who I'll see actively caring.