{Application of the Week} Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Music Therapy Application for Impulse Control and Motor Skills

This week’s application pairs a classic rock song with instrument play to target a variety of objectives in several different domains. With just a little lyrical adaptation, we’re able to address clients’ needs while also maintaining the original flavor of the song.

Possible Goals Addressed:

  • Impulse control
  • Choice making
  • Discrimination between slow and fast
  • Discrimination between high and low
  • Gross motor skills
  • Creative expression

Music used:


Headon, T., Jones, M., Simonon, P. & Strummer, J. (1982). Should i stay or should i go [ recorded by The clash]. On Combat Rock [CD]. Los Angeles, California: Epic Records.

Materials needed:

Hand instruments (rhythm sticks, shakers, etc., visual aids if appropriate)


The music therapist will adapt the lyrics to the song “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, by The Clash. Repeat the song as appropriate to include various clients choosing different options. Additional resources such as visual aides or the use of body percussion can also be added to fit the individual needs of clients.

Choices that the music therapist can insert into the adapted lyrics include the following:

  • Should we play fast or play slow? (proceed to the chorus while playing fast or slow)
  • Should we play high or down low? (proceed to play the chorus tapping/shaking high or low
  • Should we stop or should we go? (if client says stop, pause and then cue the group to say “go” and proceed to the chorus. If the client says go, immediately proceed to the chorus)


Should I Stay or Should I Go (Adapted Version)

Verse 1

[name], you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here till the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I [insert action] or should I [insert action]?


Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Should I [insert action or should I [insert action]

Verse 2

Now [shake/tap] down by your knees, knees, knees
Come on, let’s [shake/tap] down by by your knees, knees, knees
One day it’s fine and next it’s black
Well, come on and let me know
Should I [insert action or should I [insert action]?


Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Should I [insert action or should I [insert action]

Finding Balance in a Job with Multiple Hats

When a typical day consists of balancing being a therapist, music instructor, and occasionally, an early childhood music teacher, it can feel like my main job is actually figuring out how to balance all of the different roles.

I struggle with balancing the position of teacher and therapist because I tend to rigidly categorize myself as a music therapist who should only pursue music therapy-specific roles.

Although I grew up taking music lessons every week, I never pictured myself in a teacher role. Even in my current position, I am still learning what the role of a music therapist truly looks like.

How I found a balance in the various hats that I wear in my professional life

I struggle with balancing the position of teacher and therapist because I tend to rigidly categorize myself as a music therapist who should only pursue music therapy-specific roles. However, the more I’m actively working within this field, the more I see opportunities for my music therapy training to supplement other disciplines/roles and vice versa.  

In teaching lessons, the music therapist in me is able to tune into my students’ developmental, psycho-social, and behavioral needs, all the while keeping them engaged in the music and task at hand.

In music therapy sessions I often find myself drawing on the resources, repertoire, and lessons that I have used teaching the individual lessons and classes.  

During the times when the roles of music instructor and music therapist intersect, I have to remember that no matter what I’m doing (whether it’s teaching individual lessons, 1:1 music therapy sessions, or leading group music therapy sessions), the most important aspect of my work is empowering my students and clients to live life fully.

I find joy in knowing that growing my students’ music skills could lead to more opportunities in their academic and extracurricular life, future performance opportunities, and even a future career.

As for my clients, I love using music as a tool to lead to physical, communicative, emotional, academic, social, and recreational wellness.

These are just some of the reasons that I love what I do, day in and day out. If you have taken on different roles as a music therapist, I’d love to hear from you! let me know in the comments how you have worked through your various roles, and how your roles have informed your day to day life.  

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Music Therapy in the News: What We Know About Music Therapy and Dementia Today

Is Music Therapy Right for My Loved One

This week, the Chicago Tribune published an article highlighting the benefits of music therapy for individuals with dementia.

In the article, McCoppin (2018), not only provided an overview of music’s effectiveness with individuals affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, but also introduced a current study led by neurologist, Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour, which studied the impact of music therapy with nursing home residents affected by various forms of dementia, including its effect on improvements in cognition, conversation and relationships.

With the rise of dementia diagnosed in older adults, this article comes at a critical time where more and more people are seeking out progressive treatment options for their loved ones who have been declining in responsiveness to outside stimulation, orientation to their environment, and connection with close ones.

As a music therapist who regularly works with older adults with dementia, I see the toll that dementia takes on residents. However, I view it as a privilege to facilitate a supportive environment where familiar songs bring a sense of normalcy and social connection to the residents’ day.

With the knowledge base expanding in regards to the benefits of music for older adults, it is also important to know that special consideration and sensitivity must be applied when using music therapeutically. Not all music and music activities are suitable for older adults with dementia, as it is important to take into consideration the following:

  • cultural background of clients
  • creating a supportive environment to handle sensitive topics of discussion or unexpected emotional reactions that may arise
  • the physical, psycho-social, and sensory status of each individual.  

Want to learn more? Check out the article for yourself, or take a look at our current collection of resources on music therapy and older adults.

Music Therapy and Dementia

Music Therapy & Dementia: Improving Quality of Life and Inspiring Memory Recall

Music Therapy with Older Adults: What Can Music Therapy Do for My Loved One?

As always, we would love to hear about your own experiences with how music has helped you or your loved one. Comment below to share your story!

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McCoppin, R. (2018, June 11). Music can call back loved ones lost in Alzheimer’s darkness: ‘so much we can do to improve quality of life’. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-music-therapy-alzheimers-northwestern-20180324-story.html.


Song Discussion and Songwriting: Increasing Emotional Wellness

Song discussion and songwriting can be beneficial and fascinating practices. Not only do they give an opportunity for the client to respond to a song in a real and genuine way, but they are also exercises in expecting the unexpected.

It can be scary to never really know how the client will respond. Thankfully, through many hours of clinical training, embracing the uncomfortable has become easier. I’ve come to appreciate the moments where my clients feel empowered to express themselves through song lyrics in a safe space.

How do I validate emotions that can’t exactly be defined?

One song discussion and songwriting intervention that I have recently used involved goals of discriminating and processing emotions, increasing self expression, increasing reminiscence, and strengthening coping skills.

The application began when I played a song that was requested by my client. Once the song ended, I asked my client how it made her feel. After a long pause, my client answered, “somewhat in between.”

In my head, I was pondering: how do I validate emotions that can’t exactly be defined? Do they need to be defined to be valid? All of a sudden, this intervention popped up in my head that both honored my client’s response and could be a starting point in helping my client increase her coping skills and emotional processing.  

My client mentioned that the song made her feel both sad and happy. I grabbed my white board and used a dry erase marker to draw a happy face on the left side of the board, a sad face on the right side, and a neutral face in the middle.

With each experience, I validated what was shared and made her know that it was a safe place to share only what she felt comfortable with.

Next, I went through the lyrics, two lines at a time, and asked my client to place the lines under each emotion that best matched how the lyrics made her feel.

After we finished placing the lyrics under the various emotions, we took a look at the board and saw just how mixed a song could make someone feel. Not only was this helpful for my client to visually see the diversity of emotions, but it also helped the her to see that it was okay to not feel strictly “happy” or “sad” all the time.

To make this intervention more personal and to further allow my client to discriminate emotions based on her own experiences, I prompted my client to describe moments in her life where she felt happy, sad, and in between. With each experience shared, I validated what she said and again stated that it was a safe place to share only what she felt comfortable with.

We didn’t have time to put her experiences to music yet, but we are excited to finish our original song during our next session. 

Song discussion and songwriting can be a very personal experience, and therefore can look different for each client. What are ways that you have incorporated emotional goals and coping skills in song discussion and songwriting? We’d love to hear from your experiences, so let us know in the comments below!

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