Monday, August 31, 2015


I've been thinking about creativity lots lately. That's not really unusual - I think about creativity most of the time that I sit down to write on this blog. Blame the Creativity Challenge sponsored by the MTMarketplace and Briana Reichgott Priester, if you want, but that challenge just made me approach things a bit differently. It is interesting to actively engage in thinking about creativity and its many forms. It was also nice to be in a community of therapists who were all approaching the creative process. My verdict? We are all creative, but in vastly different ways.

Those differences are what make us valuable to each other and to this profession.

I sometimes get bogged down in my "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" goblins. "I should be creative in this way." "If I would only get this, then I could be creative like ____." The goblins take over my brain. What I am learning (over and over and over again) is that what I can create is valuable, but I do NOT have to be everything for everyone all of the time. I will never be the same as other music therapists out there, and that is OKAY! 

I am who I am, uniquely and utterly me. Creative being. Music Therapist!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Supplemental Sunday: Anger Monsters

One of my rules is that I can only keep visual aids in my music therapy clinic area when I can think of six distinct things to do with those supplementals. It helps me to preserve the limited storage space I have for things that are relevant to many of my clients. Keeping that in mind, I often make things that don't yet fit the bill. I think I have justified the storage of these monsters - we'll see when I start writing about their therapeutic use here in a bit!
Monsters for the Monster Mash
These are my "Anger Monsters." I made them two years ago when I had a bunch of angry, demonstrative clients. They were angry at everything and everyone. None of them wanted to engage in music therapy sessions. They were just plain old angry. One day, I made these.

It was around Halloween, so we started with The Monster Mash. We scattered these monsters around the room, started listening to the song by Bobby Pickett, and stomped on the monsters when we heard the words, "the Monster Mash." We got some really good proprioceptive input through our ankles, knees, and legs and it offered us an opportunity to express our anger by smashing something that really didn't respond or react to the violence of our emotion.

The next step was to rewrite the lyrics of the song to reflect our own anger and other emotions. We still used The Monster Mash to structure our songwriting, but the focus became our own anger rather than the monsters of the song. Everyone adopted a monster to be their own inspiration during the songwriting part of our exercise.

Here's my favorite of them all!
This is my favorite monster of them all.
I've used these Anger Monsters to focus our thoughts on change. We sing about our emotions often in my clinic. We also discuss how to change our Anger Monster into a Less Angry Monster. We use these visual aids to structure our improvisations about our emotions. We change our improvisations to reflect the different Anger Monsters. We discuss the differences between anger that is spurred by fear, frustration, sadness, and other emotions - we choose an Anger Monster to go with each type of anger. We then make music to reflect those differences.

That's three distinctly different therapeutic music experiences (TMEs). I've still got three more to go...

Ooh, here's another that I just thought of. We often talk about using music to engage in mood vectoring - changing our emotion through music listening. I could use the Anger Monsters, some music, and some dry erase markers to illustrate this concept. We could start with a Monster, listen to music, and use the marker to change the expression of our Monster to reflect how the music makes us feel. There may be some music that makes us more angry. There may be some music that makes us feel sad. Other pieces may make us feel happier. We could change our Monster faces to reflect our responses to the music presented.

Are you wondering how these were made? They were very easy and made out of things that I have hanging around the house. Each monster was made with a cardstock base. The other materials were more cardstock, white paper, glue sticks, markers, and label stickers. I also used some circle punches so I could get even circles, but those tools are not necessary if you want to make your own Anger Monsters. Just start arranging eyes, mouths, teeth, and eyebrows to reflect different thoughts and emotions. Laminate the Monsters, and you are ready to go!

By the way, these don't have to be only Anger Monsters. They could certainly be Emotion Monsters - just vary the expressions.

How else could you use these Anger Monsters? Let me know in the comments!!

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Progress - One Step Forward

I broke my Anterior Cruciate Ligament six weeks ago. I was pushed, twisted, and my knee popped. I haven't been able to walk without my immobilizer since July 16th, and I am tired. As the claim is through Worker's Compensation, I don't have to pay for any of my treatment, but I do have to wait for them to coordinate treatment, authorize treatment, and tell me when I can access treatment. It's a bit frustrating.

Last week, I got a call that the doctor would be able to see me on September 11th. I was happy to have an appointment, but I wasn't really thrilled about another 3 weeks in the immobilizer (AKA Arnold). On Monday, I called the doctor to see if I needed to assist in getting my medical records to them. They had the process well in hand. Later, they called me to ask if I could see the doctor on this Friday (yesterday!) instead of the 11th. I jumped (well, not literally) at the chance. I went to the doctor yesterday.

There were many people there. I waited almost an hour before being called into the room. I had new x-rays taken of my knees, received a copy of the MRI, talked to the Physician Assistant (PA), and heard about what will happen from here. The PA commented that it was amazing that I was still in the immobilizer and then she fiddled with my knee. She seemed to think that there was no stability in my knee and didn't comment on the immobilizer use anymore. The orthopedist came in for about two minutes, fiddled with my knee the way everyone else has, asked me if I had any questions, and then left. I was measured for a new brace - I'll have to name this one as well - and had some measurements done by one of the physical therapists (did a bit of music therapy advocacy with him, as well!). I left with the promise of a new brace - one that will support my unstable knee as well as allow me to bend that knee! Huzzah!!), and an appointment for outpatient surgery this fall.

When you have a situation that changes your life, it's amazing how much a little step forward can help with finding a positive attitude. The past 6 weeks have been full of frustration, wrenches in the knee, and constant phone calls to arrange for doctors that are close enough to access and still have good surgical outcomes. I feel that the discussions that I had yesterday are moving me forward towards a solution. I now know that I'll be having surgery to replace the ACL. I know that the surgery will be out of the hospital, in the surgical center of the doctor's office. I know that I will have two screws and a button holding my new ACL in place until it has a chance to fully incorporate into my leg (at least a year). I know that there will be follow-up visits with the doctor. I know that there will be at least 6 months of working with a physical therapist to get full functionality back into my knee. I should be released from treatment after a year of surgery, appointments, and therapy.

I certainly hope so.

It amazes me how much this injury has affected my ability to do music therapy. Now, I can still sing, facilitate treatment, and play instruments, but I cannot dance. I can't ensure that I can physically manage clients in significant distress and aggression, so I can't do any individual treatment. I am leading group sessions, but I miss the opportunity to interact with my clients outside of the group setting. I have lots of time on my hands when I'm at work, and I have difficulty filling the hours.

Knowing that I'm going to have many more hours to fill, I am trying to be creative in how I approach the next several months. I may need some help - any suggestions?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: Community

Do you know how lucky we music therapists are?

We have a wonderful, giving, challenging community of other music therapists out there who are giving of their time, their talent, and their treasure to help others of us.

I'm enjoying a bit of music therapy community these days. In one of the groups, I'm the leader, so I get to foster a bit of community. In the other group, I am one of the masses, so I get to participate in the community. I am finding that participation in both of these groups is stimulating my deep passion for this profession and reinforcing the choices that I made for myself in my choice of profession. I really hope that you have these types of moments as well.

So, what is so stimulating these days?

Let me start with the community that I've joined - that of creativity. (My posts for the past two days have referenced this creativity challenge - check them out!). As part of this creativity challenge, we are posting specific thoughts about how we are intentional in our creative interaction with the world. We share these thoughts with the entire group. I enjoy reading the responses from different music therapists - we all approach the same information very differently, almost creatively!! (Do you think that may have been the point?) Reading what another music therapist says about their creative process gives me the gift of deeper thought about my own process. That is something very valuable.

The other community, the one I create every so often, is that of interns. I just finished an intern-specific webinar series that included a very interactive and sharing group of interns. While I can't get into any details about what we talk about (that's part of our confidentiality agreement and ethical considerations), I can tell you that we discuss things that many interns think and feel during their internships. Some communities just sit and listen to me. The best communities engage with me during these discussions. They offer examples from their lives, they support each other, they ask questions, and, most importantly, they challenge my ideas (especially the opinions) and make me think about what I am really trying to say. This last group was such a community. I am hoping to meet many of them in person at the AMTA conference in November to see faces that go with the comments and discussions that we've had over the past two months.

The next community of interns in my intern webinars starts meeting next Thursday. Let's hope that this group will be as much a community as the last group. It's important to find your group.

I didn't have much of a group when I was first learning about music therapy. I was always a bit of a follower in school - it was difficult to make friends who meant anything to me. So, I spent my first three years trying to be part of the popular crowd. I was miserable, fearful of saying things that didn't really follow what the others were thinking, and trying to compare myself to those folks all the time. It was exhausting. In my junior year of college, I had several things that all crashed in on me at once. I had really bad roommate issues, several friends and family members, my age. died in accidents, I was taking an insane load of courses, and I fell into my first long-term depression. It was not a good year.

I entered counseling through the counseling center at the university where I had an opportunity to talk about me for an hour a week. My counselor didn't do too much of the talking. She listened. She would ask me what I thought I should do about the various situations and obstacles that we identified, and I always had strategies and thoughts about them. She gave me the gift of community through simply listening.

The upswing of all of this is that I decided (and it was a very conscious choice) that I really didn't like many of my classmates (sorry, if you are reading this, but I really didn't like many of you all back then). I didn't need to be spending my valuable time trying to make them like me. They were never going to like me and that was fine with me. I stopped being afraid of being an authentic me - I started offering opinions that were different from those of the group. I opted not to engage in the social activities that they expected. Those social activities did not appeal to me. As a result, my senior year was happy. I was happy.

When I first started my career as a music therapy professional, I didn't have a community. I was very isolated until I found my third job. Then, I started working with a diverse group of people who called themselves music therapists. I learned quickly what type of therapist I wanted to be and what type of therapist I did NOT want to be. I started to define who I wanted in my group, in my community.

As I've aged in this profession, I have found my community. I have figured out the type of person that I enjoy being around, the type of therapist who can simultaneously reinforce me and challenge me, the type of personality that fits with mine. I have learned that comparing myself to others is something that I am prone to do, but it really isn't productive in the long run. I do not want to be surrounded by people who believe the same things I believe. I want some challenge in my professional life. While I may not agree with what others say or believe, I will support their right to express themselves forever. These thoughts form the foundation of my community.

My community includes you. That's right. You. You are an important part of this small community as well as an important part of the larger community of our profession. 

Find your group. Find your comfort and your challenge.

If you need a greater sense of community, reach out. We are out there.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wednesday is Finished...On to Thursday!

Do you know what? Yesterday was a pretty good day.

My last session of the day actually went pretty well. The class is understaffed, but we were able to handle the situations that happened. Only one student had to leave, and he left BEFORE he got angry or aggressive or stirred up anyone else. One good session in 10 weeks. Finally - one good session!

I solved a mystery yesterday. Many of us have not been receiving emails sent out on a distribution list. Everyone has been blaming the elusive "server" for this issue, but it wasn't. I looked at the distribution list and found that all of the education staff with first names starting with Kev-Z were not on the list. Hmm. NOT a server issue - human error caused this. Someone deleted the rest of us off the distribution list... an easy fix for our IT guy, when he gets around to it. I think I deserve at least a candy bar for my mystery solving acumen. We shall see if it appears!

I got home last night to find that a cicada has taken up residence in my dryer vent. I don't usually mind the sounds of our cicada population, but this one is a bit too close for my comfort and for Bella-cat's comfort. We're both trying to figure out how to get rid of it. I think there may be some laundry in Bella's near future. We'll see if the dryer use will encourage the insect to move on.

I still haven't found a Thursday Tune. I'm still searching for something that I can use to motivate myself as I head into the last day of group therapy sessions, intern webinars, and getting ready for Friday. Any suggestions?

I had a good composition moment on Tuesday - a song about playing instruments for specific counts just popped into my head right before my sessions started. This was a good thing. I like it when songs pop into my head fully formed! It doesn't happen often, so when it does, I put them into a fixed format immediately. I've used the song six times this week already. I think it's a keeper. I just need to set it into my TME file to make it completely formal!!

Tomorrow is my first appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. I hope I will get information on how and when we will fix my knee. Then I can move forward rather than staying in this holding pattern.

So, my week is looking up. It's amazing how much better things seem on the "finished" side of difficult tasks.

 I hope you have some finished things to check off on your to-do list.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Find An Affirmation

I started yesterday's post talking about the creativity challenge hosted by the Music Therapy Marketplace. We're on day three, and today we are tasked to find an affirmation for ourselves to use before we are intentionally creative. If you are interested in joining us in this challenge, check out the MTM website for more information.

Now I am searching for an affirmation. I've realized that most of my daily creativity comes in these blog posts. There are days when the words just flow, make sense, and are creative in how they view music, therapy, and me. There are other days when things just get stuck. I try and try to create something that makes sense to me, but things just don't work. That doesn't usually affect my therapy day, but it does indicate to me how much I need to work with my creativity - nurturing it and allowing it to happen rather than trying to force it.

Getting ready to get into this Wednesday where anything can happen, I was drawn to a picture on Facebook this morning. Thanks to my Facebook friend, Sharolyn Marie, for liking this picture - it resonates with me today. The statement on the picture states:

Having a rough day?
Place your hand on your heart.
Feel that?
That's called purpose.
You are alive for a reason!
Don't give up!!!

This has lots of meanings on many different levels. For me, it's the reason to keep showing up Wednesday after Wednesday, even when clients are difficult to engage or screaming or trying to hurt each other or other things they haven't tried yet... There is a reason we are here.

There is a bigger reason we are here. You know those days when you feel like people just don't understand what music therapy is and what you do? Those are the days when it's important to remember your purpose. Your purpose is to help the future generations of music therapists to be recognized for the work that they will do. The previous generations of music therapists helped to pave the way for us to make our jobs (believe this to be true) EASIER for us. It is our job to continue the journey for the future of the profession, to keep fighting the fight for recognition, for jobs, for our clients, to help the profession grow and become more and more a part of the regular treatment and expectations of clients.

I'm rapidly becoming an "old fogey" of music therapy (it will happen to us all eventually), and one of the privileges of being someone who has been in this profession over two decades is that I can see how our profession has moved forward in areas of recognition, research, and response. When I first started working as a music therapist, jobs were hard to find. If you weren't a entrepreneur type (which I am NOT), you had to find a job in a related field or move to the few places where jobs were offered. No one knew what a music therapist did or was and the question came often. In the past 23 years, we have made great strides. Sometimes, in the middle of yet another conversation about the value of music therapy for clients, it doesn't feel like we have made strides, but we have. Now, when someone asks me what I do, the question is often followed up by things people have seen on media about the job. The general public is much more aware of music therapy than they used to be. Believe me, it is getting better. Twenty years from now, we will all be astounded at how much we have become part of the mainstream (every step is a step). I can't wait for that day!

Today, however, I am going to remember my purpose. I am going to walk into each and every session with my strategies, and I will continue my purpose trying to make a difference in the lives of the clients in front of me.

(and, I won't scream today, I swear!!)


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TME Tuesday: Fostering Creativity

I love a good music therapy challenge. I like the community and the camaraderie of getting to be part of a group of fellow therapists doing something together. Right now, I'm part of a seven-day creativity challenge sponsored by Briana Reichgott Priester over at the Music Therapy Marketplace. If you're interested in something to help you actively think about creativity and its role in your life, join us. We're only on day two!

Anyway, beginning this challenge has made me think a bit about how I approach creativity with my clients. Many times I find that my clients have never been encouraged to be creative with filling up their leisure time or trying new things to do. They seem to find that the only thing that they can do during their leisure time is to play video games or watch television. When that gets boring, they fall into past patterns of entertainment - often the things that get them into 24/7 active treatment to begin with. There are other options, but those options don't seem obvious to my clients.

Two of my groups will be pursuing personal music therapy goals during part of their sessions this first semester. I've asked them to choose a personal goal (that has a bit of music education as well). Some are learning about drums. Others want to play the trumpet. Still others are working on songwriting. Some will be making videos, and the rest are learning to play the keyboard. Trying to choose was challenging enough for my clients. We start this week with the individual learning process and being creative is going to be part of what they are learning.

Back to the original thought and idea for this post. How do you foster creativity in someone who has never been able or allowed to be creative before?

I start with the concept that there is no "wrong" way to make music; any and every sound can be part of musical expression. We do lots of improvisation incorporating the sounds made by clients into a structure. Students who get told to stop screaming every place else are encouraged to make their own sounds, are echoed, and placed into a musical product - even the screams.

I also make sure that everything we write is written in pencil. The benefit of this is the eraser function. Nothing is wrong, and everything can be changed. I can start one way and then decide to go a completely different way. There is no wrong, so there is no song that cannot be changed to something else.

Is this fostering creativity?

I hope so. 

I hope the next time one of my clients is faced with some leisure time, they think about some of their music therapy practice and homework. I hope they are able to find some leisure time filled by creativity. We shall see.

Monday, August 24, 2015

For A Brief Moment...

...I forgot that I tore my ACL. I tried getting out of bed like I used to do, swing both legs over the side of the bed, and pop up out of bed (I know, I am one of those annoying morning people who love the morning and spring out of bed before the alarm goes off... don't hate me!). I was halfway through the swinging move when my lower leg fell, went into spasm, and wouldn't release. I couldn't unbend the leg. I couldn't sit up. I couldn't move. All I could do was cry.

Great way to start the day, right? I eventually got my knee straightened out and hobbled off into the shower. While I was trying to figure out how wash everything that needed it while babying my knee, I decided that it would probably be better to stay home today. I didn't think that using the knee to drive to and from work would be a good thing especially after grocery shopping yesterday (for the first time in 5 weeks). Now I can take a pain pill and watch for swelling without having to worry about driving under the influence. Ugh.

I left my clients with substitute plans. I always do. I always leave something out and accessible that folks can use without me. Right now, my clients have the choice between using the parachute, playing card games (musical and non-musical), and dancing with structured movement suggestions. These are all things that the paraeducators can do without me. I won't count today as music therapy services, but I do count it as music activities offered to the classrooms served.

I had to go to training last week, and one of the classroom staff members stepped up in a big way to "do music" with her students. She apologized to me for not getting the melodies of my songs right. I was thrilled that she even tried to things in the music therapy room! She led the group in an opening song (I'm told) and then led the group in a 25 minute parachute experience! I arrived at the closing song time. Clients left the area smiling and telling me about what she sang to them. I consider that a success! Most of my paraeducators don't put that much interest or enthusiasm into what I do during sessions.

I hope today's paraeducators, first of all, get the message that there are substitute plans waiting for them in the session (I suspect my entire messages don't get listened to in the mornings), and second, engage their students in something from the substitute plans. My clients will tell me tomorrow.

I won't worry about that right now, though. They have to muddle through without me today. I have to baby this knee and keep it attached to my body until my doctor's appointment on September 11th. It's time to take that pain pill and stay off this knee for a bit so I can go to work tomorrow.

Happy Monday, all.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Supplemental Sunday: A Schedule Board

I guess it's no secret that I enjoy a bit of organization, but that it is something that I struggle with in my own life. I understand the struggles of some of my clients and their need for structure and organization because I struggle in the same ways.

I have some clients who want to know what is coming in the music therapy session. They seem unable to just go with improvisation. They have to know what to expect. When I'm working with a client that is schedule-dependent, I try to introduce the idea of flexibility, using this type of board.
This is a simple visual aid that is primarily a music therapy tool. It doesn't do anything within a Therapeutic Music Experience (TME) but it does support the client within the session. I use this tool to assist the client in living within a schedule and still introducing the idea of flexibility.

This visual aid has several features. First, there are TME and instrument choices on long paper strips. When the board is in use, those long paper strips are stored in the "finished" envelope so the folder can be closed and stored. I often make this a dual purpose board by drawing a picture of the instrument or activity on the other end of the strip. Then I can use the board with readers and non-readers. This version was for readers only; no pictures on the strips. Secondly, there are six pockets for choices so the client and therapist can fill up the session with several different experiences. Third, the strips can be offered based on what is available, giving the therapist some control over what is accessed during the session.

So, how do I use this board to introduce flexibility? If I have a client who is schedule-dependent, I start off by allowing the client to choose all of the TMEs for the session. They choose the instruments/activities, and I make those choices part of their therapeutic program. The client may not change the schedule once it is set. The next session, we take turns choosing TMEs. I pick non-preferred TMEs to see if the client is able to complete things they don't really like in order to get to their preferred TMEs. We continue in this manner, but I start to introduce "surprise" and "mystery" strips. The client doesn't know what will happen during "surprise" and "mystery" TMEs. We gradually increase the number of those types of strips until we no longer need a set schedule to interact in music therapy. We then move into more of a improvised series of TMEs during the session.

When I've made these (and I've made many), I spend time personalizing them for specific clients. I use their preferred colors, visual aids (stickers and characters), and I spend time adding TMEs and instruments that they really like. Sometimes I use numbers so we can work on counting concepts. Sometimes I use pictures to indicate what we are going to do during a session. The personalized schedule board can go with a client when he or she is discharged from treatment. A bit of functionality that the client can take with them. We change the choices to those the client can easily access in the new living environment. It changes the board into something that can be used to structure leisure time once the therapist is not part of the life of the client anymore.

There you go. A Schedule Board to use with your clients. If you want to know more, or get a kit to make your own, contact us through the website.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Rare Saturday Indeed

I have an agenda that has nothing to do with anyone other than myself today. Sounds pretty selfish, doesn't it? I have no obligations to interact with anyone outside of my home on this Saturday. It is a glorious thought. 

In order to celebrate, I am going to flit around my home doing chores that I've not been getting to as much as I should lately. I am currently doing laundry (it REALLY needs to be done), including sheets, comforter, and mattress cover. Laundry will continue throughout the day in an effort to get things organized and clean. I am watching various things on Netflix. I will be going to the recycling receptacle on my way to the Dollar Tree for organization stuff and potato chips. I get to do some composition, some writing, and some making things. I have the goal of organizing two of my office shelves today before I crash. I also want to start brainstorming about Christmas gifts for my family members - I'm a bit behind right now...

The best thing about a day without obligation is that it is truly a gift of self-care. It is wonderful to be able to figure out my own agenda and then see it through. So far, I've made my plan.

Time to get started... I hope you get a day with no outside obligations soon as well! 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: Friday


(need I say more?)

Recently, I've waxed rhapsodical about things like Post-Its and other mundane little things that are very important to my sense of doing things. Today, I am going to talk about the fact that it is Friday.

Friday is my favorite day of the work week for several reasons. At my job, Friday has always been a day where the responsibility and requirements of group therapy have been non-existent. We provide therapy treatment, Mondays through Thursdays, for the simple reason that we try to sustain a schedule during the summer months when we do not work on Fridays. It is difficult to cram all of the Friday treatment sessions into a 4-day workweek when those 4 days are already full. So, we plan all of our treatment into the Monday-Thursday week. Fridays have always been a day for additional support or treatment, but not related to group coverage and teacher preparation time.

Right now, Fridays are long and boring for me. With the prohibition of doing things like walking or standing for periods of time, I am unable to ensure that I can safely manage a client's aggressive behaviors. As a result, I have lots of time in the music therapy room. Alone. This is simultaneously good for me and extremely boring for me.

It's good for me to have planning and preparation time. I don't usually get the 6 1/2 hours of planning time that I am entitled to. Now I have planning time in spades. I'm not using my time as well as I could (GOBLIN!), but I am getting better.

It's boring for me because I am not using my time well. I have some things that I need to do but cannot because I can't climb onto the stool in order to organize and clean up, so I get a bit bogged down in what I want and need to do but can't. In order to shake myself out of those moods, I spend time outside of the REALLY small music therapy room sitting on the hallway benches by the windows. People walk past me, and I think.

When I said I am getting better about using my time, I meant that I have started thinking about productive uses for my time. I have some client projects to organize, so I'm going to take my laptop and sit in the window benches to write those projects. (Come to think of it, there may not be any electricity by those windows... I may have to sit by some other windows... hmmm.) I have also noticed, in my light duty time, that we, as a collective staff, are having some difficulties with remembering our Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, so I am going to set up some boosts and reminders about what we are supposed to be doing rather than what we are currently doing. That's also a laptop kind of job.

My other favorite thing about Friday is that it is the beginning of the weekend. Saturdays are my day off (some of the time - some time I have OCMT job stuff to do), so I spend as much of that day as possible doing what I want to do - whatever that may be. Friday afternoon is the start of my Saturday mini-break. It is wonderful to know that there are limited responsibilities the next day. I will start the laundry, make some entrees for the next couple of weeks, and talk to family members about what happened during their days. I will read a trashy novel with little to no educationally redeeming value, and I'll dream about what I want to do next. The cat will sit next to me, purring and snoozing, and we'll both be relaxed.

That's the promise of Friday to me.

Have a great day, everyone! Happy Friday.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Yesterday, I screamed in the middle of a music therapy session.

This wasn't a rant or bearing instructions, it was just a horror movie type scream.

I typically save those types of emotional outbursts for after difficult sessions, but I went with my gut during said difficult session when almost all of my students were screaming at each other, flinging obscenities, and trying to beat the snot out of people on the other side of the way-too-small room. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let it rip!

I opened my eyes and saw a bunch of confused, but silent faces looking at me.

My next words probably weren't the best, but they just slipped out.

"Now you are listening."

Okay. My best moment as a therapist? NOT AT ALL! I am not encouraging you to use the primal scream as a therapeutic tool, but there are times when it works.

Luckily for me, this time it worked.

We all practiced using our coping skills of breathing, ignoring, and counting numbers by every iteration we could - 2's, 7's, 5's, 10's. We talked about how we had to learn how to ignore since hurting other people was not good for us. We talked about appropriate ways to express our frustration.

I am not planning on screaming again with this group. It will lose its shock factor very quickly and will become a fun thing to do. "Let's see if we can get MJ to scream in music therapy today!" We may, however, use screams to express our emotions in a cathartic manner - have to make sure that it's only allowed in the music therapy room - I can't imagine ANY of our teachers encouraging that type of expression... On second thought, I don't think we should move forward with the screaming...

But, let me tell you, it felt great to be able to let out my frustration in a way that didn't hurt anyone and demonstrated that I am still louder than 11 students and 2 classroom staff members in full out tantrums! 

I've still got the opera lungs, people!

Thanks for the thoughts yesterday. I'm sending them right back at you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Comes Once a Week

It is Wednesday again.

I have this one group on Wednesday afternoons who constantly challenges me. Honestly, they constantly challenge the art therapist, the transition teacher, and their own teacher and staff members as well. That simple fact makes the fact that they challenge me a bit easier to handle.

In all of my down time at work due to being on light duty, I have been spending time thinking about group treatment. We spend lots of time talking about things like assessing individuals, developing individual goals and objectives, and about how to develop music therapy experiences for individuals, but we don't often think about what to do when those individuals are part of a group.

I've come to the conclusion that groups are entities unto themselves. Each group member acts as part of the whole, but is not the whole. Similar to a body, the group learns to function when all group members are present and do not function the same way when a group member is absent or is not behaving in the expected manner. When a group member leaves or is replaced, it takes some time for the body to learn how to function as a whole again. Understanding the way each group functions as a whole allows the therapist to treat the individuals within the group.

My late Wednesday group is like a person who has a severe brain injury where body parts do not work in tandem but in opposition, especially when the brain wants parts to work in tandem. Each person in the group seems to want to work together but cannot. They have difficulty doing what they need to do to make the group work. They have difficulty responding to what others do. Where one goes, others follow or fight. There are moments of group coordination and cooperation, but most of the time they are unable to organize and work as a whole. I typically think of groups like this as "a group of individuals." It happens often with my students with diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum as well as this particular group of students. It takes a different outlook on how to organize and provide therapy services.

How do you work when your body parts don't work together? 

You practice. You try for small moments of coordination and then expand on those small moments. You figure out ways to structure what clients need in order to offer successful moments. When necessary, you put the music away and focus on the relationship. You rely heavily on your therapeutic elements of music and on improvisation in an attempt to vector moods, promote the idea of working as a whole, and to keep something going to support the behavior that you want and to promote that behavior. You look for the small positives that happen and try to learn from the negatives. You keep working, even when it doesn't seem like you will ever be coordinated again. You keep working.

Last week's session was the first for the new school year. One student had to be taken out of the session. We had one relatively minor tantrum from one student. The two students that he goes after (because they give him the biggest response to his tantrumming) were able to maintain their own responses pretty well. I'm thinking we were honeymooning and am ready for just about anything today.

We're going to try Orff instruments. Please think of me about 1pm Central Standard Time. I could use all of the pleasant thoughts and prayers out there in the universe at that time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TME Tuesday - Ta-ti Instrument Game
Do you like the banners?
In my current music therapy iteration as school-based music therapist, I have a bit of a responsibility to my clients. This may be the only time they get any type of music education taught to them by someone who understands their unique ways of learning, so I teach some basic music concepts. One of the concepts that my clients figure out quickly is that of reading rhythms. We use rhythm wheels, instrument play, and sheet music to decode rhythms. Today's Therapeutic Music Experience (TME) is centered around reading rhythm in a game format. It's always good to see if skills have generalized from one format to another. Games are good for generalization!

Here you go! As always, comments are welcome!

Purpose: To assess mastery of Ta-ti recognition; to assess mastery of Ta-ti notation patterns; gross motor development; fine motor development; sustained attention to task; entrainment to external stimulus; short-term memory; impulse control through waiting for turn until indicated; multi-step directives

Source: Original game. © 12/27/2010 by Mary Jane Landaker, MME, MT-BC

Materials: Prepared large rhythm cards with Ta and ti indications – may use cards with Ta-a if relevant to the group playing the game; instrument cards; percussion instruments to correspond with cards; egg timer(s); OPTIONAL: external steady beat either on CD playing or using instrument to maintain steady beat

Environment: Instruments scattered around the room for use during the game; group members sitting in circle (either on the floor or in chairs) where they are able to see rhythm cards

Procedure: R = Reinforcement opportunities; C = Redirection/Cue opportunities; A = Assessment
  1. Set up game by placing instruments around the perimeter of the room – gain assistance from group members if possible
  2. C=show group members the cards for rhythms and the instrument cards. Ask group members to identify what the pictures/rhythms indicate
  3. A=assess which group members can recognize rhythmic patterns by name or by clapping
  4. A=assess which group members can recognize the instruments indicated by the cards through either naming the instruments or pointing to the instruments’ locations in the room
  5. C=provide additional review/instruction to group members who are unfamiliar with information presented on the cards
  6. R=reinforce correct information presented by group members through verbal and nonverbal means
  7. Start game
  8. C= (may start metronome or steady beat at this point to assist with entrainment to external stimulus) demonstrate how to play the game by modeling. Choose an egg timer, flip it over, and choose a rhythm card and an instrument card. Move to the correct instrument as indicated on the instrument card and play the correct rhythm. Return to seat and flip over new cards. Play as many combinations as possible until the egg timer runs out. Tally up how many combinations completed in time allotted. Challenge group members to finish as many or more combinations in time allotted.
  9. Repeat step 8 with group members completing all tasks
  10. A=assess if group members are able to retain pattern for time required to find instrument and play pattern
  11. R=reinforce correct pattern play by giving a point/tally for each pattern completed during the indicated time
  12. Repeat steps 8-11 until all group members have had a turn to be the timed participant

Therapeutic Function of Music: The music is the format for assessing and testing group members’ awareness of music notation and instruments. The correct completion of indicated patterns further denotes that group members are able to understand music notation. The juxtaposition of instruments and rhythm patterns challenges group members’ memories, especially short-term retention and recall.

  • Change the amount of time to complete patterns
  • Simplify the patterns to accommodate different functioning levels
  • Use large and small examples of each instrument to indicate Ta and ti. For example, use frog cuicos and assign Ta’s to the large frog and ti’s to the small frog. Group members have to move from frog to frog in addition to moving through the instrument and the rhythm pattern

  • Set up competition between group members or between group and therapist
  • Randomly choose the egg timer to produce different times for completion – do not indicate which egg timer provides the longest time

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Supplemental Sunday: On Top of Spaghetti

So, it's Sunday again, and it's time to show you another Supplemental/Visual Aid something or other. Here is one - my version of On Top of Spaghetti - file folder style!! Simple idea, isn't it? Take a song that you know (preferably one in the public domain, if you are interested in selling your product), and turn it into a lyric fill-in-the-blank. Draw some pictures, use some fancy scrapbooking tools (I use them to make the square shapes so I don't have to cut out all of those boxes over and over), and laminate everything. You're good to go!

If you are interested in making your own version of this file folder activity, head to the website to download the pictures. Enjoy!!

Simple, right?

Yep. Yet it works on several different things. When I use this folder with clients, we are working on symbol to sound correlation, sustained attention to task, fine motor coordination, executive function (especially if we get the cards in the wrong order - we have to figure out what needs to change in order to get the correct order... in the mean time, we giggle about going out the cheese instead of door - good social interaction through common humor), and other therapeutic goals.

By the way, this is the plain version of this song. I always make a plain, manila file folder version of anything I make before I make pretty, fancy, more visually stimulating versions. Some of my clients do not respond well to pretty, fancy, and more visually stimulating. It's important to remember that my need for pretty, fancy, and visually stimulating is not always what's best for my kids. They are the reason I do music therapy - without them, I'm just singing to myself! To decrease stimulation even further, I would remove the blue background behind the pictures and replace it with black background.

Something to remember as you are making visual aids for your clients - anything you make in file folder size can be made in large group size and vice versa. I could make this song into a large group visual aid by making it large enough for a group to see during the session, or I could make it work for a 1:1 session by shrinking it a bit, if needed. Trying to get a group of clients to see a file folder is just not appropriate. So, if you want to take this idea into a group, make it bigger. Use at least a posterboard, if not something larger.

Happy Sunday!

How would you use this supplemental with your clients? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"I informed you thusly."

There are times when The Big Bang Theory perfectly encapsulates things that are going on in my own life.

"I informed you thusly!"

I've got nothing else to say as I now need to go do some work for AMTA and OCMT and for the website (new sing about song theme coming soon!)

See you all soon!!