Monday, February 27, 2017

Dreaming of the Future - One Thing at a Time

Lately, I've been spending lots of time thinking about what I want to do and where I want to be later on in my life. This has lots to do with the fact that my parents have recently retired and are starting up trusts and talking about what my siblings and I will do when my parents have died. It also has something to do with a presentation I'm giving in three weeks about getting out of a professional slump.

I've been spending time thinking deeply about what I want from life - both now and in the future (near and far). I'm identifying things that fulfill me and things that cause me unnecessary stress. I am thinking about where I need to be going in order to find the future that I want.

The first step I took was to think about my personal life. Where do I want to be at some point? I want to live in a place where it is difficult to see the neighbors. I want wired internet access (which will make not seeing neighbors more challenging). I want to have space enough to walk over ground and to see the sky. I want to be able to see the stars clearly at night. I want to be close enough to my family to be able to see them when I want to see them, but far enough away that it takes some planning to stop by. I want to travel. I want to talk to other music therapists, and I want to have music therapy clients.

So, now I know what I am working towards.

How can I get there?

That's the part that is still a work in progress. If I know where I want to end up, it is time to try to figure out some paths that will get me there. The first thing to do is to identify some things that I do well. After that, I will make a plan to help guide me to my end goals.

Are you interested in how this is going to happen? Me, too! If you are going to the Super Regional conference of the Western and Midwestern AMTA regions, you can find out what I've found on Friday afternoon, March 18th. After that, I'll write more as I figure it all out.

I am going to dream with reality as a basis, with all possibilities before me, and a combination of the two.

What are your dreams for yourself?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Just A Song Sunday: Starting the Idea of Songwriting
I am spending time with some of my adolescents, teaching them about writing songs. We've started in all different places - some already write poems, so songwriting is an easy transfer for those clients. Others are completely intimidated with the idea of writing a song. There are just too many things to think about in the process.

I've learned to break things down into really small steps to help ease folks into the idea of writing music.

For some of my students, the key into writing songs is exploring the keyboard to find beats and tones that they like. For others, it's sitting alone with the recording software, just singing something. For yet others, it's using the cool pencils while writing stories.

We are now getting to the point where everyone has something about ready to be fixed into a set format. We're going to talk about specific ways to fix our music this next week during music therapy sessions. This should make everyone move a bit towards the end goal of offering songwriting as a coping skill and/or life-long leisure skill.

One of the things that fascinates me as a music therapist is how people get into the various things that we do as therapists. I am interested in how my clients get interested in different things - playing the drums, using the guitar, writing songs. I am also interested in how we, as music therapists, do the same types of things.

I tend to write songs in a couple of different ways. Sometimes songs come into my head fully formed - music, rhythm, lyrics - everything in one neat package. (I like it when that happens - it's almost too easy!) Most of the time, though, I am one who starts with lyrics. Words come pretty easily to me, so I base almost all of my songwriting on the way the words arrive. The rhythm of the words makes it into the rhythm of the melody and the accompaniment pattern. I say the words over and over until a melody starts to form in my head. Then, I set the song down in a fixed manner.

I am thankful that I was always encouraged to write songs for my clients. Interestingly, I don't write other songs, but I do write the occasional poem. Hm. Maybe it's time to start writing music to accompany those poems.

It's been some time since I've written down any songs - I've been mostly improvising in recent sessions. I have a project due in about 12 days, so I need to get going on my songwriting goal. It's time.

I will start the way I usually start - brainstorming topics to support my theme of Spring. I will look through my list of therapeutic music experiences (TMEs) to see what I've already started. I will start writing down ideas, and then I will go to the keyboard (that's the instrument that I use to compose - it's easier to determine melodies on that instrument than on the guitar). Once the melody is set, the accompaniment comes pretty easily to me - my ear is well-trained - thank you, theory Professors Shumway and Hahn! Then, it's off to the music writing software. I am currently learning how to use Finale PrintMusic (new software that I received for Christmas). It's just enough different that it's a bit confusing to me, but I WILL master it!

Apparently, I can earn CMTEs for all the songs I've written in the past 18 months. That's good to know, but I don't ever look for CMTEs. I usually have plenty (I should probably check to see what my status is this cycle though). Today's goal? Writing three new TMEs based on my sing about song topic for this quarter - Spring!

I think I'll record the process this time around in an effort to use it in an upcoming CMTE series that I am designing right now. Keep an eye out for an announcement in the next couple of months about it. The application is almost finished and the money is there, so I don't think there will much in the way of becoming a preapproved provider through CBMT - I just need to generate some content.

Time to start generating that content.

Have a wonderful, music therapy moment filled week!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Music Therapy Moments This Week
I had a couple of music therapy moments this week.

You know the ones - those moments when you feel that everything is happening and therapy is going on. You and the client are interacting within and with the music, and things are just going well.

The one that is the strongest for me right now happened yesterday.

We are currently getting a multigenerational choir ready to perform at our annual benefactor event. About 10 of my adolescent students are rehearsing with about 10-15 of the adult consumers that are served by the facility. They all arrive at the music therapy room to rehearse on Friday afternoons (during my preparation/planning time). This year's song is Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones. It's not a song that anyone knew before the first rehearsal, but the words are not really all that comprehensible, so we are kinda doing our own thing.

Over the years of working with these adults and with my kids, I know a couple of things. First of all, it is easier to sing a song that we kinda know already. Second, if we don't know it to begin with, adding movements to cue the lyrics helps with memory recall. Third, we will never be perfect, and THAT'S BETTER THAN OKAY!

Anyway, yesterday we started to learn more of the movements for our song. We had already established movements for "start me up" and "you make a grown man cry," but there are some more phrases that lend themselves to some sort of movement. One of my clients had a pouting fit because another one of my clients was teaching movements, but everyone else was getting into the performance part of things.

We finished the first song, and the fire alarm went off. We all went outside to shiver in the cold until we were released and allowed back into the building.

The common experience of shivering seemed to bring us as a group more closely together. The next time we sang together, things seemed to be easier and more relaxed. I could see some specific benefits to the experience we all shared. The song was running itself, so I had the opportunity of moving from "leader" to "group member."

Try to find those little music therapy moments in your sessions during the week. They happen. Sometimes they happen often, other times it takes a while in order to get to a new moment. When they happen, though, they are wonderful.

Find a moment.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Word Art - Part Two

I did it. I took some time after work yesterday to play with my markers and watercolor pencils. I also did some music listening and paid attention to the lyrics that really spoke to me yesterday afternoon. I ended up choosing Breathe 2 a.m. by Anna Nalick as the basis for my latest attempt at word art.
This song is my mantra some days. Breathe, just breathe. The words and pictures are less dense than in the other art I've shared, but I like that for this song. Who knows, I may find it in me to do some others soon. I wonder if some of my clients would like to do this type of lyric analysis. Hmmm. I know it's not something for everyone, but I could see a couple of my current clients enjoying this type of project.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thoughtful Thursday: Word Art

I think of myself as a "sorta artist." You know, I can draw things, but not really make them into great works of art - I don't know much about how to shade things to make them look realistic, but I can draw my cat in a way that looks like my cat (I think) so I am a "sorta artist."

One of the things that I do enjoy and think I do well is graphic lettering and word art. I have always been fascinated by words (started reading when I was two), and I enjoy making word art. I have books with font ideas and lots of different types of pens to help me with this art form.

You may be asking, "What does this have to do with music therapy?" Not a whole lot - it has more to do with the "me" part of this blog, and it functions as a self-care strategy for me in my life as therapist. I also find that I am a bit more interested and involved with song lyrics after I have written them out and made them colorful or presented them in a way that is significantly different than the way I've experienced them before.

I think that this comes from my bent towards visual learning and my long-time attraction to the fact that letters make up words that make up meaning. My new project is to do some more lyric art. I think I'll spend some time just listening for phrases that catch my attention and then spend some time (on my currently cleared-off desk) making art before I run my last intern webinar for this series. I'll see if there is anything new to share tomorrow...

The thing I really want to emphasize here is that we all need to take time to focus on something that makes us feel truly engaged. When I am making word art, I am fully attentive to the words that I am replicating. I make mistakes, sure, but that's part of life - making and either fixing or living with mistakes. Liquid Paper or White Out is great for fixing mistakes in this case. Sometimes the words flow onto paper. Sometimes they don't. That's also reflective of life. There are times when everything works as planned - there are times when nothing does. We learn to navigate life as we are given.

Friends, do something that nourishes your soul today - certainly you can find 4 minutes in which to do so. Look at the sky and breathe. Listen to a song. Talk to a friend that you haven't spoken to in a long time. Give yourself those 4 minutes to just be you. The world will be better for it.

This afternoon, after work, I am going to make some word art. That will be my gift to myself - time to letter, color, and draw something that resonates with me in the moment. I know it will take more than 4 minutes, but I have the luxury of that time between work and webinar, so I am going to fill it with creativity.

I hope you can do the same.

Happy Thursday, dear reader!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Am I Doing on Wednesdays?

I've decided that I've pretty much exhausted the options available to me for my Website Wednesday posts, so it is time to change to something else. The problem?


How about Webinar Wednesdays? I'm not exactly sure that I could sustain that on a weekly basis. Maybe that could be an occasional series - announcing upcoming webinars once or twice a month. Hmmm. That would mean having webinars once or twice a month. I could do that (I'm thinking right now).

Now I just have to figure out some webinar ideas.

Maybe I could do a weekly wrap-up of the articles that I've seen over the week. That might be a good idea. So, this week I saw three music therapy related articles. I could start to save the links and then share them. I'm kinda liking that idea as well.

So, starting next week, Wednesdays will either be Webinar Wednesdays or Weekly Wrap-Up Wednesdays.

Now I'm off to do my two jobs and some brainstorming about webinar topics for the next month...

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Late Day Post - Post-Philosophy Webinar

I spent some time last night talking to other music therapy-type folks about writing a philosophy of music therapy statement. Now, I have, in my years of being a music therapist, taught interns and students about writing these types of statements, and I've ready many of them from professional music therapists as well, so I think I know what I am nattering on about.


I decided to start rewriting my own philosophy of music therapy statement.

I have several pages of notes that are helping me figure out what I want to write, but I'm not finished. I even started a graphic organizer to help me with the process, but it's also a work in progress.
This is only the beginning of my thought process, and I wonder what the random icon at the bottom of this was meant to be...

ANYWAY (repeated word, oh dear - by the way, this is why I don't write my posts in the afternoon - my brain is mush after the entire day) - I firmly believe that delving into the idea of a philosophy statement is important for the growth of any and all therapists. It is important to show to yourself the reasons and beliefs behind why you choose this profession day after day, week after week, job after job, and client after client. It's important to remember the theory behind the work and it is just as important to understand the reasons why you do the job.

I figure that if I ever get to a place where I cannot see the reasons why I do what I do, it is time for me to leave this profession and go to another one. I'm not there yet.

Happy Tuesday, all. See you tomorrow!

Monday, February 20, 2017

What Do I Believe? Philosophical Musings

I am getting ready to lead a webinar about writing a philosophy of music therapy statement. It is something that I have done for many years - writing, reading, and evaluating such statements - so I have lots of experience in interpreting the ideas of others, but this is the first time I'm going to talk about my process to others.

I've taken courses on philosophy. I've read some of the greats. I've thought about my own philosophy of music therapy ad nauseum, but I've never really taught a bunch of people how to write something so personal before. 

I am going to spend time today putting together my thoughts, experiences, and powerpoint presentation. I'll talk to all those that arrive this evening, and we'll see if we can start to formulate these personal statements about music therapy.

The one nice thing about philosophy is that it never ends.

My own philosophy has changed over my years as a music therapy student, professional, and mentor. I don't believe exactly the same thing that I believed about this profession years ago. My ideas have matured. My ability to talk about music therapy has deepened. My experience now informs my philosophy more strongly than it did when I was a young therapist. 

I figure, if I ever reach a point where my philosophy stops evolving, I will need to leave the profession. I'm glad that I continue to grow.

Feel free to join us tonight for the webinar - it's free to watch live. Watching the recording will include a $10(USD) fee. Register here:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Just a Song Sunday: Random iTunes Song Analysis

Today, I've decided to use a random song from my iPod to demonstrate the process that I go through to analyze the music that I use during sessions. I started my iTunes library and used the first song that showed up on my shuffle function playlist.

The winning song? Celebration, by Kool and the Gang!

Because I am a visual learner, I tend to organize information a bit more easily when I can put it into something I can see. I go over to my favorite graphic organizer program (Inspiration 9), and get started organizing the elements of the music. Unfortunately, I cannot find the original file right now, so I will have to replicate the form for use later. Sigh.

So, since I can't show you how I think about music, I guess I'll have to tell you how I think about music.

For me, it's important to isolate different elements so I can easily make adjustments to the elements in the moments of therapy. If I go through this process before clients enter the room, I can then focus on the elements of the session that are brought by the client into the relationship and the music.

Celebration, by Kool and the Gang - Written by Donald N Medder, Warren Williams • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Roba Music, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. Made popular in 1980 and something that I roller skated to every time I went to the roller rink. Interestingly, wikipedia considers the genre to be "Post-Disco." I've never heard of that genre before. Depending on the version that you have, the song lasts between 3:39 and 5:00 minutes. The melody consists of choruses and verses. The tessitura is approximately an octave (I don't have all of my categories, so I'm not sure if I'm finding everything I need to talk about). The melody is familiar to most people in the US since the song is used often in movies, at sports games, and social events. The accompaniment includes a repetitive figure and the harmony is in a major key - the progression includes I, IV, V, vi, and ii chords. The tempo is approximately 120 beats per minute. The lyrics are centered around a happy occasion and the verses could be easily adapted to reflect words relevant to each client. I could use this in therapy for a dance break, or lyric substitution, or to assist a client in focusing on positive experiences/memories.

I really miss my chart. I'll take the time to replicate it later today.

The thing that makes a song into a therapeutic experience is how the client and the therapist respond to it in the moment. It is how the client reacts to the music and how the therapist reacts to the music. It is how the client changes the music to make it their own - how the client uses the music to progress towards personal goals and growth - how the therapist assists the client in finding that progress.

I find that I can see more options and find more ways to use specific songs when I understand the music that I am working through. That's why I spend time analyzing music - so I can further understand my tool and my modality. It also helps when others question why they need a music therapist to help clients achieve goals - I can speak specifically about why I change musical elements based on what the client brings to the experience.

Happy Sunday, all.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Bathing in Music

For the past couple of days, I've been working on a couple of presentations while I've been driving to and from work, so I've been playing music during my commutes. This is unusual for me as I typically listen to television shows or podcasts rather than music, but it's been good for me.

I'm sure that I'm quite the sight, driving down the highway at 70+ mph, talking to myself, but that's a lot less unusual nowadays than it was 10 years ago. I get involved in practicing what I want to say during my presentations, but then the music interferes.

I have a playlist on my iPod titled "Favorites - Me." It has my preferences in it. I periodically go through my iTunes library and put things on the playlist. To make it on this particular playlist, a song has to have a couple of specific characteristics - specifically, it has to be something I know really well, and there has to be an emotional response elicited by the music.

I haven't updated the playlist from the expanded library for a while now, so there are only 128 pieces on the playlist at the moment.

I have been putting the music on and then letting my mind wander as I explore ways to talk to my upcoming audiences. Every so often, though, the music takes over, and I am gone.

I call this bathing in music. The music takes over my thoughts, actions, and attention. I can feel the music working in and on my body. I often have to listen to these musical pieces a couple of times before I can start to work through the physiological and psychological responses that I experience.

This is the purpose behind the playlist. I want to experience these things, but I don't use the playlist often - only when I need that catharsis or background. When it happens, though, I appreciate the music I love on a deeper basis than I usually get to do during music therapy sessions.

I mentioned once to a bunch of interns that part of my self-care routine is to keep specific songs completely to myself. I don't share those songs in therapy with clients. It sometimes feels a bit selfish, but on the other hand, I have such a visceral response to those pieces that I don't think I could be an effective therapist while sharing the music. So, those songs stay on my iPod for me and only me.

I doubt that there will be much direct music listening for me this weekend, but I may beef up my playlist a bit through adding more music to the library and finding more of my favorites (there are lots of them!).

What songs are yours and yours alone?

One of mine is by Dar Williams - What Do You Hear in These Sounds?         

Friday, February 17, 2017

Design Thinking and Design Theory - I'm Just Starting Here

Yesterday, I was driving home from work, listening to a podcast that I enjoy, Hidden Brain. I was initially drawn to the radio stories because of the name of the host - it is like music in my ears, but I've remained for the interesting stories. I'm glad I chose this podcast on this day.

The episode I was listening to was about thinking differently and getting unstuck when you are stuck.

This is the topic I'm going to speak about during next month's Western and Midwestern Super Regional Conference - getting unstuck. The podcast was perfect. It suggested some practical ways to think about slumps and career pivots. I think my presentation is shaping up.

The podcast centered around design thinking and design theory. I haven't really delved into the entire concept at this point, but it intrigues me and seems to be something that I will enjoy knowing more about in the near future.

Basically, the idea is that all problems can be solved in many different ways, but how we approach the problem-solving process often limits our solutions. Design thinking and theory encourages out of the box thinking.

I like that.

I have always been a bit of a divergent thinker. I often think of possibilities - many possibilities - to problems. In fact, I am most content when I have a problem to solve with no restrictions about how to get to the end goal.

This idea of design thinking and theory seems to fit my ideas about how to solve problems. I think I'll get some books and look up some more information on this way of thinking. I can't wait.

How can this affect music therapy? I'm not sure yet, but I think that being aware of creative solutions to client issues can strengthen the therapeutic process and outcomes. I'll let you all know more about it when I get to my research!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thoughtful Thursday: The Quotation Box

On my desk, I have a small box that contains cards with quotations on them. (I've written about this box before, and it continues to be a source of inspiration for me, so I'll write about it again!) I rotate through cards when I feel like I need to do so - it used to be once a week, but not lately.

The quotation that is on my desk right now is a good one.

 All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.                                    - St. Francis of Assisi
 I am accused of "smiling all the time" by my clients. Some of them find it creepy and others seem to find it reassuring. I do tend to smile more than not when I am around other people. I enjoy their company, so I express that through my facial expressions.

This doesn't mean that I don't have my dark times - I just tend to keep those dark moods more to myself in an effort to assist others with theirs.

I like being a candle.

As I've been thinking about St. Francis and his words, I've realized that I want my role in this world to be that of lightbringer. I think that's why I went into a helping profession to begin with and continue to strive to be that type of person - one who smiles, one who looks for positives, and one who focuses forward.

I know lots of people right now who are at odds with each other based on ideas. I also know lots who are trying to find ways to find the light in a world that they perceive as darkness. I know that there is light in this world of ours. I am looking for the light.

For me, light is found when someone holds open a door for another person. Light is found when a song reaches someone's emotions. Light is listening to someone who needs a listener - listening without comment, debate, or judgment. Light is agreeing to disagree about something that is fundamental to both parties and still working together.

I think I will keep St. Francis on my desk a bit longer before I switch cards out. There may also be some word art based on this quotation before I am finished with it.

I am going to try to be a candle in the darkened world today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Website Wednesday: Running Out of Resources

It's time to change what happens on Wednesdays again because I am running out of new websites to feature. There aren't many different sites out there, and I've featured many of the ones that I really like.

When I go out looking for blogs, websites, and the like, I start off by typing random things into search engines and see what pops up. (I still get a strange thrill from seeing my own sites show up on the feed.) I then go exploring.

Lately, though, my explorations aren't finding much that's new.

As a result, I'm going to figure out some other series to write about - it probably won't be a Wednesday series since I've pretty much used all the alliteration that I can (and I REALLY like alliteration when it comes to naming my blog series!!), but I'll figure out something.

See you later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dear Music Therapy:

This post is inspired by a request by the folks at Music Therapy Clinician who asked for letters that start, "Dear Music Therapy" for this Valentine's Day. So, here goes...

Dear Music Therapy:

Well, it's been almost 24 years since it was official - we were in it together.
It took us a couple of years to really figure out how to work together. Remember the days of finding ANY possible job that would allow us to spend just a little bit of time together?
Remember the thrill of that first, full-time, official music therapy job? Remember the opportunity to really learn what music therapy meant to the clients we served? Remember what I thought it meant to be in a relationship with you way back then?

Wow, things have changed.

When I was brand new to the relationship, you were in your 40's. Now that you are in your 60's, I've found that you have changed. You are more easily spoken of in these days. When I mention our relationship, most people have some idea of who you are and what you do for others. I know that there are still some struggles - people don't always see your complexities - but you've come so far, especially in the past 10 years.

In the past 24 years, I have enjoyed getting to know you more deeply. By continuing to be in this relationship, I've learned more and more about my first relationship - that with music (sorry to bring it up, but you know that I have a past!). Deepening my understanding of you has also widened my knowledge about the thing that brought us together in the first place (you know it's true - without music, there would be no "us.").

I hope that I've contributed something to your greater understanding of yourself as well.

Music therapy, there are times when I'm not sure why I continue in this relationship of ours. I look outside our relationship to see if there is anything else that makes sense to me. What I find is that this relationship continues to fulfill my ideas of what I want to do in the world. I always return to my dedication to this relationship, renewed and ready to sing the next song, hit the next drum, and strum the next guitar.

I know that there are others that have a relationship with you, and that's okay. It has to happen that way. It is a privilege to watch others find you, learn about you, and seek to dedicate their lives to working with you. I celebrate those who join this relationship, and I mourn those who leave (but I still understand why they have to go - this relationship is not for everyone).

Music therapy, thank you. I look forward to continuing our relationship for at least another 24 years.

Love always -


Monday, February 13, 2017

Getting Ready for Conference

I finally decided to go onto the WRMWAMTA SUPER REGIONAL CONFERENCE PAGE and see when I was going to be presenting a bit over a month from now. I'm glad that I did because I found that both of my presentations are on the same day (I thought they were on different days...). I am ready to go talk to folks about different topics - Research-Informed Clinician stuff and Career Pivot stuff.

The conference is what we call a "super regional conference." The Midwestern region has combined with other regions several times over the past couple of decades. We went in with the Great Lakes region and the Southwestern region. Now, it is the Western region's turn to work with us.

We will spend the weekend in Colorado, talking about music therapy, and making regional plans.

For the next month, I have the joy of going over my older topic (Research-Informed Clinician) and starting up my newer topic (From Slump to Career Pivot). I'll work on outlining the new topic this week and get things going. I've promised some creativity, so I need to get to that. I'm thinking vision boards, and when driving, I can bring materials with me to accomplish that creative endeavor. Hmmm.

I like the time between presentation proposal and presentation. At this point, I have no clear outcome for my presentation except what I wrote in the presentation proposal. After several months, it is fun to try to figure out what I meant when I wrote descriptions and learner objectives.

It's time to start this proposal process for AMTA 2017. I think I will try to get some of my formerly rejected proposals accepted (better than ever, of course), and I will be brainstorming more ideas as well. Then, we'll see.

I'm going to think about my career pivot presentation as I drive off into the cold, dark morning to get to work. I'm also going to spend time thinking about other things I can talk about (and talk about...). I hope to have some ideas pretty soon for AMTA 2017 while I get ready for this super regional conference!!

Happy Monday, all!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Just a Song Sunday: Focus on Improvisation

I admit it.

I did it. I spent an entire week improvising things during sessions.

During (almost) every session, I picked up the guitar and sang something new and never to be replicated with the clients sitting in front of me. We sang about things we liked, about moving our bodies, about what we were talking about, and about nothing at all. We incorporated sounds - both silly and functional, went between major and minor modes, and just made music.

I love improvising and don't do it quite enough when I get into times of stress. It's silly, but I actually have to remember to improvise during those times when I start to feel that I am not effective in helping my clients reach their personal goals and objectives. I think it should be a natural response by now, but I tend to get more and more into planning things out rather than using my tool to make music that is based on what is happening right there in the session. When I do remember, I improvise and am reminded of what a powerful experience it can be to make up music that has never been experienced before.

I came to a level of comfort with improvisation through a long path. My first experiences were with my junior high band director who taught me about improvisation within the context of jazz band. Since he spent most of his time trying to humiliate me (making me "strong"), improvisation became something that I dreaded. As soon as the word came up during my music therapy education, I started having the same anxiety that started in junior high.

As soon as someone would say, "improvise," my brain would turn to mush. All the music theory that I knew leaked out of my ears, and the result was music that had no theory or inspiration behind it. I thought that I couldn't improvise. That was it. All done.

My internship director and supervising music therapists changed that.

They noticed this anxious reaction and then reframed the word "improvisation" for me forever.

Please note - these words are as close to the conversation that happened as I can remember. It may not have been exactly this, but the thought and sentiment is the same...

"Improvisation is nothing to be afraid of. You've finished theory, so now there are no rules. Just use your music to reflect what a client is doing in the session."


No rules? Really? I could stray from the strict formula of my junior high band director, theory professors, and music therapy professors and just play anything? I didn't believe it at first, but I tried it.

Shedding my own fear of improvisation took some time, but I did it. I was able to become comfortable with making music in the moment with the people in the moment with me. I know the power of music shaped to the experience and the situation - I've felt it.

So, how do I do this? I quash all thoughts of improvisation failure (yep, they are still there even after all these years), and just start to play music. I make decisions about how to shape the music. Here's an approximation of the thought process that goes on in my head during the first moments of musicking.

How's the group doing?

Is there anyone who is standing out in my attention?
Why is that person so noticeable?

How can I get that person back into the group using music?

I'll start playing at this tempo - volume - meter - pitch - key - etc.

Start singing - use the names of the person I noticed in the lyrics to help draw their attention to the music.

Change the music - one element at a time - to pull in the attention and interaction of others in the group.
Does the change work? If not, go back. If so, good!
Keep changing things until almost everyone is in the musical groove.

Incorporate all responses from clients into the music experience - sounds, movements, etc.

Keep in mind that most of this happens in the first 30 seconds of starting an improvisation, but also keeps happening throughout the therapeutic music experience.

I can link thoughts to changes in the music when asked to do so by administrators and interns, but most of the time, no one asks why the music changed during a session. I think most people don't even notice that we start at 90 beats per minute and end up at 70 beats per minute. That we start at a volume of mezzo-piano and end up at a volume of forte. That we start with a simple melody and harmonic pattern and end up with complex melodies, counter melodies, and harmonic patterns. 

I think this is the power of a music therapist versus a musician - we not only know the music, but we know how to shape that music to the clients that are in front of us. We can change that music to fit clients, and we know what we are doing with the music. I can directly relate changes in musical elements to changes in the behaviors of my clients. I know that a decrease in tantrum behaviors can be linked to changes in the musical environment during moments of music therapy crisis. I can be both responsive and directive when it comes to interacting with my clients during music therapy experiences.

I wonder how I can keep this important tool at the forefront of my therapeutic brain. Maybe a word wall across from the group session would help me put down the session plan and improvise. I will see.

Happy Sunday, all!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Music Therapy Random Thoughts

There are days when the blinking cursor at the top of my blog screen challenges me. What can I write about? What am I thinking about? Will any of this actually make sense? That's where I've been for most of the last week - trying to put together some thoughts to share.

I blame some of my block on being tired. The Online Conference for Music Therapy was last week, and I am still recovering from screen fatigue, but that's not all that is going on. I have officially settled into my room. I have a routine place to park on the north side of the building, and I am getting used to my new office neighbors (all administration staff rather than education staff). I really don't see many of my education staff colleagues any more since I am at the farthest north point of the building and am firmly ensconced in office-land. I have my own office (what a luxury!) that is still messy, but starting to come together. I want to move some bookshelves from home to work, but I have to come up with alternative shelving for the home stuff before I can move things out - Spring Break project! I have another closet that is being used for storing things right now, but could work as an intern office for two interns with some rearranging (I'm getting more comfortable with the thought of doing an internship again).

There is lots that is going on in my mind and in my environment. I am taking it in stride.

I have gone for two weeks now with no iPod use during sessions. I don't think many of my clients have even noticed the lack of recorded music. I've been improvising songs on a variety of topics as the moments have passed. Some of them were apparently very engaging, but they are now gone. I rarely remember my improvised songs - it's a shame, really. Clients have been receptive to much of the music that we've made.

I did not do centers this week because our staffing has been horrific. The flu has hit the facility, so folks have been in and out. I used many of the things that I had developed for my centers (mittens this week) in sessions, but did not try to split up the groups into their areas. I'll try again soon - with modifications to allow for staffing variances (there are always staffing issues).

Today, being Friday, means that I don't have much contact with clients. I will spend some time in a classroom, but most of the rest of the day is preparation/planning time. I plan on making some new emotion choice boards, getting some better boards for my nonverbal folks, and brainstorming for the internship. In addition, there will be countless interruptions of clients and staff members coming in to spend points at the store - only accessible through the music therapy room. I also supervise the student worker for about an hour doing cashier work.

After that, I'm coming home to relax. This morning, I almost cried when I had to get up. I just wanted to stay in bed. Tomorrow, I will stay in bed until my brain and my body are ready to get up. If that happens at 3am, so be it, but I am hoping for more like 7am. For the moment, however, it is time to go to work and get the day started.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Thoughtful Thursday: What Do You Do Where You Are?

I think I'm a bit of an odd duck when it comes to research questions. At least, that's what it seemed like when I was in graduate school. The questions that made me curious often didn't jive with the ideas of my advisors. That both concerned me and made me curious. Why weren't others interested in developing tools for music therapists to use during sessions? Why weren't others interested in how music therapists made decisions about their live music making with and for clients? It was this, more than anything, that led me to leave the world of academia and go back into full-time clinical work.

Most of what I want to know can't be quantified, measured, or researched other than participant reporting. This is why I didn't find that my questions meshed with the ideas of my advisors. How do you really track the inner dialog that goes on inside the head of a music therapist who is making decisions about music presentation in the moment?   
I have always loved the early editions of Music Therapy, the first journal of the National Association of Music Therapy. Those journals included descriptions of what music therapists did with their clients - descriptions of a "typical" day. I enjoy knowing that the music therapists down the road do things a bit differently than I do. I like thinking about why those therapists do things differently. It challenges my own way of doing this thing I call "music therapy."

I think this curiosity about why we do what we do is what led me to making a site for music therapists. I think it's why I enjoy training students. I also think it's why I miss interacting with other music therapists on a regular basis.

I like making things to make the lives of therapists easier. I've made schedule boards, TME collections, reward cards, databases, documentation forms, competency-based evaluations, inventory tracking systems, file folder kits, TME development, philosophy statement development, and lots of other things that have made my clinical life a bit more organized and easier. I think they help others as well (at least, some of my former interns tell me that they use what I gave to them).

That is the type of thing that interests me. What do you, as a therapist, need in your life to make things easier for you? A shift in how to write clinical goals? A list of questions to help you remember options during sessions? Goal-based TME development? These are the things that I love to think about.

I wonder what you do where you are compared to what I do where I am... What are your greatest challenges? What are your greatest strengths? I want to know - leave a comment or contact me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Website Wednesdays: Music Therapy Ideas I Which I Had First...

I have found several places with music therapy ideas that I wish I had first. They are varied, but I encourage you to look at these sites and see for yourself what's going on. Some of these you've seen on this blog before. Others may be new to you. See what you think!

  1. Music Therapy Mailings: This is fun. I send in my money, and I get an envelope full of creativity every month. I wish I had had this idea before Rachel Rambach did. Tracy Reif now runs the business and sends lots of interesting things. I enjoy getting something different every month - the materials really spark my own creativity.
  2. Music Therapy Activities: This is a site that has an interesting premise, but it never really seemed to get going.
  3. The Music Therapy Marketplace: Here's a place where you can find specific therapeutic music experiences (TMEs) for purchase. Briana Priester has a creator's lounge as well. I haven't been part of that, but it sounds intriguing!
What music therapy sites do you enjoy?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Therapeutic Music Experience (TME) Thoughts

I came up with a couple of new Therapeutic Music Experiences yesterday. I was sitting in my spot for hallway duty, and I was trying to think of something to write down on my session planning sheet. I didn't have anything in mind, so I just thought a bit about the clients that would be coming to see me later that day. I also wanted to do something different than the things that I usually pull out to do.

I went to my TME database and started browsing through the years and years of songs and TMEs that I've collected over the years.

I have a database. I have the contributions of practicum students, interns, and all the resources that I have ever found in one large database of materials. There are over 2,000 TMEs in that database, and I use it often for session planning and inspiration. I have more ideas than those that are in the database - I've really slacked off on the "writing things down" thing that I do recently - but those ideas form the basis of my resources when it comes to TMEs.

Anyway - I was looking through my TME database and started flipping through the pages (it's an electronic database, but I use a paper copy for my hallway duty time). I decided to do something about the weather, but my usual just wasn't really tweaking my interest, so I started thinking about other songs. I decided to use If All the Raindrops to frame our weather discussion. I've used this song before, but I decided to make it a bit different this time around.

We sang about Hershey bars and milkshakes, chocolate-covered ice cream cones, and lemon drops and gumdrops. We sang about the weather we were experiencing at the moment and about the weather we would prefer. We sang about our choices based on what we liked to eat. We were just a bit goofy.

The second new TME came from another brainstorm. I have a couple of groups that are struggling with appropriate peer interactions, so I decided to give them opportunities to work with specific peers towards a common goal. They were tasked to make a drum skee-ball game. I brought out all of my hand drums, paddle drums, and gathering drums. They were asked to choose groups based on who they were able to interact with in a positive manner (that was interesting to see) and given the task. Whoo-ee.

That was interesting, to say the least. 

I spoke on the topic of group management at the Online Conference for Music Therapy this past weekend, so it was interesting to see what my group members did through my group management goggles.

Some group members acted in isolation. They did not interact with other group members at all. Other group members took over the process and told everyone else what to do. Yet others acted on those orders.

What did I notice about my group yesterday? There are many who want to be leaders in that group but do not have the appropriate interaction skills to be taken seriously by the other group leaders. There aren't that many followers in that group of clients. There are wanna-be leaders and individuals. That's all. My next step with that group? Splitting them up even further. Giving the individuals the leadership responsibilities and giving the wanna-be leaders some following responsibilities. Hmmm. I've got a robot TME that might be interesting to this group of students.

I'm going to do the same things today with different groups of kids. It will be interesting to see what happens with those groups and individuals.

I need to take some time to write these ideas down in my TME database so I'll be able to find them again later.

SHAMELESS PLUG: If you are interested in getting access to some of my TMEs, please consider purchasing any of my sing about song packets on my website. There's one for free, and many more available for purchase! The next edition is coming in March!