Functional Sign Language for Music Therapists Collage

If you have been following Music Therapy Connections, you know that we love using sign language. I incorporate sign language into sessions with clients of all ages to support nonverbal communication, verbal communication, self-expression, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and social skills. It is fun to learn something new within the safe and enjoyable environment of music therapy.

The first time I used sign language in a music therapy session, I was in practicum during my junior year of college. I was working with an adult with developmental delays. She struggled to process loss and was often deeply emotional and attached to the people in her life, including myself.

We used a variety of songs to experience joy, anger, sadness and more within the support of the session. One way we achieved this was by learning to sign “Bring on the Rain” by Jo Dee Messina. We learned to sign one word per line. After five sessions, she was able to sign the song with the support of the therapist.

After the song resolved, we would sit in silence for a few moments. It was as though she finally had permission to be sad without feeling rushed to be okay. What was even more amazing is that through this whole experience, she learned something new which she hadn’t done in a very long time.

I am very passionate about the potential for sign language in music therapy and across professions because I have seen what mindful application can do to support goals and growth.

Functional Sign Language for Music Therapists

You may be thinking: “I want to learn some sign language but where do I start?” I have listed five of my favorite resources for learning sign language below. These are perfect to get you started applying sign language in your daily life!

  1. – ASL Pro has the largest video dictionary of signs that I have found! Their signs are the most practical applications and therefore tend to be simpler to apply. They also have additional video dictionary’s for phrases and religious signs!
  2. –  Sign Savvy is another video dictionary website, but they often give multiple choices. If you have found a sign but it is too difficult for your clients to execute as is you can search here for variations.
  3. – Lifeprint is a great website to receive free lessons on learning ASL. Now I will say that I use what I call Functional Sign Language instead of ASL for practical use with the non- Deaf population. That said, there is a lot of helpful information in these lessons and bonus, they’re completely free!
  4. – ASL Nook shares stories and adventures in the life of this Deaf family. Their videos are informative, fun to watch, and very endearing. You can also follow them on Facebook where they often post their videos and resources.
  5. – I know what you’re thinking… “Really?” And yes! Youtube is fantastic resource not as a sign dictionary but for tutorials on how to sign your favorite songs! For instance, you could sign “7 Years” by Lukus Graham, or almost any other song you could imagine. Word to the wise; keep in mind that these people aren’t usually professionals and may give some incorrect information so try to find someone you deem to be credible.

There you have it! I hope you find this list of resources helpful in your journey to applying sign language to your daily life in a meaningful way.