I remember the first time I led a music therapy session. My hands were clammy and my fingers trembled as I delicately placed them on the neck of my guitar. With my guitar slung over my body and all eyes on me, I was ready. I lifted my right arm and started strumming my first hello song.
Years later, I don’t remember the songs we sang or instruments we played but I do remember the way that they smiled. It was almost as though making music with these older adults breathed more life into them. That was the moment when I knew that there was no turning back. I was going to be a MUSIC THERAPIST.
Currently, I work with a variety of populations. I facilitate music classes for ages birth to 5 supporting their developmental goals. I provide individual music therapy sessions to children improving their reading and spelling skills, and children and young adults with autism to improve social, emotional, behavioral, and speech goals. I also work with children and adults struggling with their mental health and we work to improve and increase their coping skills in the safe and shared environment of music.
When I give my so-called elevator speech, it often goes like this…
“I am a music therapist! I have a bachelors degree in Music Therapy, have completed extensive training, and have a national board certification. I work with people of all ages and abilities and use music to improve their quality of life and reach their clinical goals in domains such as communication, academia, cognition, social skills, and more!”
It is so difficult to give people a real sense of what it is that I do every day and why it matters. So here it is: this is what I wish I could tell everyone about music therapy. These are the stories I wish I could share with every face on the street and every voice in the hallway. This is why music therapy matters. This is why I do what I do.
I was serving a class of young adults with varying diagnoses. This was a life skills classroom and about 1/3 of the students had meaningful spontaneous speech the rest did not. That said, when these students did speak we listened! With these students I worked on a variety of life skills, but an important part of my job was to hear them. I wanted to hear them, whether or not they were considered “verbal”.
I watched for subtle smiles, dancing, eye contact and any way that they were going to communicate to me that they were having a positive experience. I learned so much about my students in that classroom and in addition to the strides they reached toward their goals, we bonded as we made music every week.
In that classroom I had one student who always began and ended music with repetitiously saying “Mrs. Alisa, I’m happy!” over and over again. I would kindly respond to him and redirect him back to music. I had dismissed it as something this student probably did all of the time until one day I asked the support staff and she said, “No, he only does that for music”. My heart leapt when I realized that this particular student spoke little, but every week he made it a point to tell me that he was happy to create music together, learn, and grow.
In another instance, I have been facilitating developmental music classes for typical children ages 0-5 at a local day care. I have been seeing one particular student since he was two years old. At that time we were concluding our last session before our summer break. We would have three months before our fall groups started, and this student was turning five and entering kindergarten.
He knew when we sang that final goodbye song that this music class might be our last together. It was right after our goodbye song, the entire walk to his classroom he stomped his feet and said “Mrs. Alisa, I’m mad! I’m so mad!!” When we arrived at his door I knelt down in front of him and asked him why he was mad. He simply responded “I want more music”.
I consoled him by telling him that there will always be more music and that I would probably see him again. He gave me one, very tight hug before saying “Mrs. Alisa, thank you for taking me for music” and closed the door to his classroom behind him.
I hope that these stories help to illustrate what a music therapist can provide. I love my job because I feel that it gives me great purpose to give others great purpose. Of course it’s easy to say that I believe in music therapy because the research supports its efficacy. But there is something else here that you can’t see until you’re in it.
There is something about singing to your precious two year old in a music class, or hearing your four year old giggling while she’s dancing her heart out. There is something in music that makes it feel like a safe place to share our struggles with mental health, and find something that feels like healing. There is something indescribable in a moment where a client who is minimally verbal pulls his head from his chest, makes eye contact, and says “thank you”.
No matter how hard I try I can’t explain to you what is different about music therapy, or our adaptive lessons, or our music classes, but I can show you!
For more information on our music classes click here, and to register for lessons, adaptive lessons, or music therapy, click the image below! If you want to talk with one of our team members about what we do, we hope you’ll come to our Open House at 1234 Centre West Drive here in Springfield, IL on Sunday, May 6th! We can’t wait to hear from you!
Psst…Do you have a loved one, child, or friend who enjoys music? Are you a teacher, administrator or other professional interested in additional community resources?
Come join us on Sunday, May 6th for an open house at Music Therapy Connections! We love sharing with you on the blog every week, but we’d love to connect in person even more.
That sounds awesome, but I have a packed schedule and I’m not sure if I can make it.
We completely understand that your weekend might be busy. No worries! Stop by anytime between 10am – 4pm. At 1 pm, we hope you can participate in an all-ages drumming experience for the chance to win our big giveaway!
What should I expect when I come?
There will be opportunities to enjoy refreshments, make your own instrument, explore our facility, and talk face to face with our music therapists to learn how we can best serve your needs — whether you are a parent, community member, teacher, or administrator. We can’t wait to meet you!
What can Music Therapy Connections do for me?
We are a team of music therapists and music educators who have a heart to serve all ages in our community. We love working together with schools, day cares, senior care facilities, and local families to design music programs that fit the needs of whoever may benefit from music therapy, music lessons, or adaptive music lessons.
Know someone in your life who might be interested? Bring your family, a friend, or colleague. Spread the word! All are welcome, and we’d love for you to join us!
We are often asked, “What age do you start lessons?” — and the answer is a bit complex. We recommend that most students start with piano, because it is a very visual instrument that helps students to transfer those skills to other instruments. But even our youngest pianists need to be able to:
Say their ABCs
Count to five
Sit for a 30 minute lesson
We know that it is difficult for most students under the age of 7 to sit and attend to a 30 minute one-on-one lesson, so our team here at Music Therapy Connections has created the perfect solution.
Beginning in May, we are offering a pre-lesson class called Listen & Learn Into Lessons. This is an interactive music class teaching foundational musical skills including note reading, rhythmic execution, and basic piano skills. This class is perfect for your musically passionate young child who isn’t quite ready for individual lessons.
You may be wondering, “What if my child wants to learn guitar, ukulele, or voice?” This class is a great foundational learning experience for them! We encourage all of our students to find the instrument that they enjoy playing!
We know that internal motivation to practice and attend regularly comes from doing what you love. And our teachers here at Music Therapy Connections love teaching our students in their piano, guitar, ukulele, voice lessons and more. But most of all, we are gifted with the opportunity to instill a love of music into these young hearts.
Many of you may know that we just ended the Week of the Young Child, and we want to celebrate with you by helping your young child begin his or her musical journey. Click here to learn more about Listen & Learn Into Lessons.
Did you know that this week, April 15-21, is Week of the Young Child? At MTC, we would like to take the opportunity to celebrate the growth of our early learners, their teachers, and their families.
The period from birth to age 5 can go by in a blink of an eye, but when we take a step back to see just how many developmental milestones occur, how each child’s personality develops, and how many new experiences a child receives, we can’t help but feel lucky that we get to see our little ones grow and develop through music week to week!
So how can MTC serve your young child?
Listen & Learn for Little Ones is an early childhood music class for children ages 0-3 and their caregivers. The curriculum is comprised of both original and familiar songs that you can start singing along with at the very first class. Activities are designed based on specific goals and objectives. Skills that are addressed include (but are not limited to) fine and gross motor movement, rhythmic foundations, intonation, peer interaction, turn-taking, and academic concepts.
Listen & Learn A Little More is a next-step music class for children ages 3-5 without their parent or caregiver present. Activities are designed based on specific goals and objectives. Goals that are addressed include (but are not limited to) fine and gross motor movement, rhythmic foundations, intonation, peer interaction, turn-taking, and academic concepts. This class is intended to build on the skills introduced in our early childhood class.
Music Therapy is offered in individual and small group settings. Prior to beginning music therapy treatment, we talk with parents or caregivers to get a better understanding of the goals we will be addressing with the client. At this time, the caregiver (and client) can share music preferences and favorite activities so that our time together is as effective and enjoyable as possible. Each therapy session is tailored to the client’s (or group’s) specific needs and unique abilities.
Does my child need to have musical talent or music skills to benefit from music therapy?
Not at all! Everyone can benefit from music regardless of whether or not they have music skills prior to treatment. Some considerations that music therapists take into account when working with young children include:
Does a child physically and emotionally respond more to musical stimuli than other stimuli?
What individual developmental or sensory attention does this child need to positively engage with musical experiences?
How can music play a role in supplementing the pre-academic skills of each child?
How can music play a role in supplementing the developmental needs of each child?
However you may celebrate the Week of the Young Child, we hope that you will take some time to give a little extra love to parents and teachers of young children. From all of us at MTC, we appreciate you and your important role in raising up the next generation!
I don’t know about you, but all of my students are reaching a full-on, stir-crazy, please-just-give-me-some-space-to-run state. And I am right there with them.
It has been cold and dreary for months, and most little ones come into music excited to have time to play, explore, try new things, and dance. But our clients have so much pent up energy that they can’t be expected to contain themselves.
So, in an effort to recognize and empathize with those feelings, I have come up with a few ways to engage my clients under 6 in complex ways to increase positive behavior and self-expression…and I am ready to share them with you!
1. The Hallway Song – I have been using a hallway song for many years. It is short, repetitious, and helps my students to get from their classrooms to our music room successfully. Unfortunately, this time of year they start to get excited and turn into runners. These two-year-olds may be adorable, but as you well know they are very, very, fast!
In an effort to engage them significantly more, I have started using a movement song instead to get us back to class. I use “Sounds in the Woods” by Katey Kamerad. This song instructs us to walk, hop, gallop, and flap our wings like birds in the woods. This gross motor movement is a huge help in keeping my students on task through our hallway walk!
2. Use Behavior Mantras – At one facility I serve, I have heard teachers say the phrase “Walking feet, quiet mouths.” It is short, sweet, and right to the point. I use this mantra as a reminder to my students any time we stand, walk, or dance.
And what’s best is that the children already know it! So all I have to say is “In the hallway we have…” and they say “walking feet and quiet mouths” with pride beaming from their faces!
3. Movement is Your Greatest Asset – A few weeks ago, my preschool group was so excited that I could barely get all of them to follow directions at the same time. They were jumping and grabbing each other, which was bound to end in disaster. In an effort to give them what they desperately needed, we danced. We danced with minimal directives for 30 minutes. Our only rules were to keep our hands to ourselves, no screaming, and keep dancing! They loved it!
After thirty minutes we did a song with specific directions (i.e. put the beanbag on your head, etc.) and then moved into some yoga and stretching. At the end of this session, all 6 children quietly walked out to parents and told them about the fun they had. I threw out my original session plan, but everyone walked away happy and that is what really matters.
Hopefully some of my coping skills for this lingering gloomy weather will be helpful for you. I wish you all the best as we await the summer sun!