{Minnesota Music Therapy Week 2013}


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Over the weekend, we had the opportunity to kick off Minnesota Music Therapy Week by attending the Statewide Music Therapy Association of MN Conference. Dr. James Gardiner, a neuropsychologist from South Dakota, spoke at the keynote session about “Brain Tuning”.  This term refers to the process of using music to improve attention, memory, and executive functioning skills in everyday life.

As we explored the different areas of the brain and what parts of our bodies they control, we got to see how music can be a powerful force that enhances cognitive abilities. For example, creation of long term memory is often associated with the temporal lobe, but it actually operates as a network of neural connections, drawing from several locations in the brain. Adding music to the memory event enhances all areas of the brain, so it creates a larger and more varied network, which strengthens the memory. In turn, recall of the event can be initiated from anywhere in the memory network.

In addition to learning more about our brains, we also got to hang out with some of the best music therapists and colleagues in the state! One of the reasons I love state conventions and supervision, is the chance to share stories and ideas with other therapists in the area. It’s also one of the best ways to brainstorm about advocating for music therapy. If you have a group that’s interested in learning more about music therapy services, check out the Minnesota Music Therapy Association’s private practice page, or contact us!


{Introducing ToneROCKS!}


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Happy Monday morning to everyone! I want to share about an exciting new opportunity for teenagers with disabilities that Toneworks has starting this spring. ToneROCKS is a teen transition group that addresses socialization goals to promote community involvement and peer relationships.

One of the most common problems that I hear from IEP treatment team members is the lack of opportunity for participation in settings for teens to interact with peers. Since individuals function on different ability levels, creating an atmosphere with peers where socialization, communication, and success towards goals for each individual can be tricky. However, it is possible in our ToneROCKS group!

Over the course of 8 weeks, participants will work together to perform songs at a recital using adapted instruments and music.

Here is what ToneROCKS looks like:

Each member will meet for an individual 30 minute session with a music therapist to begin. At that session, they can explore instrument options, the therapist can appropriately adapt the chosen instrument, and song preferences can be determined. For the next 7 weeks, this instrument will be used in “band practice”.

At every practice, band members work together to choose the theme of the week. Music interventions that are used to explore friendship, leisure activities, and skills for peer interaction include but are not limited to the following: working together as a band to play a song, group songwriting, planning and filming a music video, and live karaoke with adapted instruments. After each meeting, each member will take home a cd with the current playlist of songs that we are working on. At the end of the 8 weeks, there will be a recital showcasing the group’s accomplishments to friends and family.

For questions about age requirements, scheduling, and pricing, please contact us at toneworksmt@gmail.com or check out our registration page to sign up!

{Musical Playground in ECSE Classrooms}


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Toneworks is very excited to announce that we have been awarded mini-grants to provide music therapy groups. Lyndie Walker and I will be going into early childhood special education (ECSE) classrooms for music therapy groups called, “Musical Playground”.

Musical Playground are music therapy groups designed for children that are differently abled to interact with peers while working on academic, gross motor, cognitive, and social goals. We are privileged to have this wonderful opportunity to work with 3-5 yr olds in ECSE classrooms and are excited to use music to meet goals and to give music resources to the teachers and children.

If you are a teacher or parent in the Twin Cities metro area and would like to explore options for getting individual or group music therapy in your classroom or for your child, please Contact Us and we will be happy to talk!

Monday Music & Movement: {Oh Mr. Sun}


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I don’t know what the weather is like where you live…but in MN we have had sleet, thundersnow, and rain for the last week or so. Naturally, I am dreaming of sunshine and temperatures that are higher than 38 degrees! Thus, the inspiration for today’s post on the children’s song, Oh Mr. Sun.

There are many ways you can use this song as a music therapist, teacher, or parent! I like to use Oh Mr. Sun when working with a client or a group of clients that has expressive language goals. I have used this in individual sessions and with a group of non-native English speaking children as well. You will need one tambourine, I prefer using one with a shiny head that is easy to hit. You can also stick a laminated “Mr. Sun” on the tambourine head as well.

The structure of the lyrics make it easy to use “sun” as the consonant vowel consonant (CVC) word that the child will work on during the intervention. Not only does the child sing “sun”, but they also get to hit the tambourine. In addition to the language goal, you can work on joint attention by using one tambourine. Since one friend gets to hit the tambourine and say “sun” at a time, the children will be focusing in on one object. The group will also work on turn taking and friends can be peer models. You may want to incorporate signs for please and me along with sun for children that may be non-verbal or selectively mute.

Showing the child that you want them to hit and say sun by example in the first line is a great way to get into the music without wasting time on explanations. If you are working with a group, then each time there is the word “sun”, another child can have a turn to say the word and hit the drum.

Oh, Mr. Sun (hit the tambourine), Sun (hit the tambourine), Mr. Golden _____ (opportunity for child to hit tambourine and say “sun”),
Please shine down on me.

Oh, Mr. Sun (hit the tambourine), Sun (hit the tambourine),
Hiding behind a tree

These little children are asking you
To please come out so we can play with you.

Oh, Mr. SunSun (opportunity for child to hit tambourine and say “sun”),
Please shine down on,
please shine down on,
Please shine down on me.

We hope you have some sunshine in your sessions or at home with this song today!

Monday Music & Movement: {Old Blue}


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Pretty much every little one I know likes puppies. Today’s therapeutic music intervention uses the first verse of the traditional “Old Blue” to work on expressive and/or receptive color identification, joint attention, matching, turn taking, and fine motor skills.

Start by saving the image above or searching for a black and white clipart of a puppy. You will want to print off two for each color you are working on. Go ahead and laminate them too, because we all know there is a good chance these puppies are going to get chewed on!

Pass out the dogs with whatever transition song you like to use. This would be a great opportunity to incorporate a transition song during which you sing the colors once while holding them up and use PECS or sign if any of your little ones use them. Then, hold up one color dog using your thumb and pointer (pincer grasp to encourage use of fine motor skills) and encourage all of the little ones to do the same. Start singing using the color you are holding first.

The lyrics are very simple, I just changed the last line in to a question:

Had a dog and his name was _color_

Had a dog and his name was _color_

Had a dog and his name was _color_

Who has a _color_ dog too?

Wait for the correct answer and reinforce! Then to have even more practice association the color with the name, sing another time with the child’s name.

_____ has a _color_ dog

_____ has a_color_ dog

_____ has a _color_ dog

Come put it on the board!

The children are matching the dog they have with the one you will be holding (a pre-reading and pre-writing skill). The little ones will also be identifying colors receptively by holding up the green or using their words or sign to indicate that they have purple. Finally, your group will be turn taking and working on joint attention by attending to the dog you have and the color of dogs their peers have in the group.

Here is a link to the sheet music and chords.

We hope you can use this intervention with your clients or little ones. You can mix it up by using different animals or cutting animals out and placing them on different shapes to identify!

Friday Favorites: {Rhythm Games Part 1}


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Last night I was talking with a lovely friend who is finishing up her senior year in the Music Therapy program at the University of MN. She has the wonderful opportunity to work as a music facilitator at a shelter once a week. We were talking about how it can be tricky to come up with instrument interventions for school age kids that are age appropriate for them. Then I remembered that while I haven’t worked with school age children in groups for a while, I led many such groups with my co-intern (hey Shana!) during internship. This Friday Favorite post kicks off a series of favorite rhythm games and interventions that are perfect for use with school age children or individuals that may be at K-6th age developmentally.


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Rhythm or Music Telephone

I think everyone has played “Telephone” at some point in their childhood. There are a couple of ways that you can play rhythm telephone. I got this idea from Natasha Thomas’s blog, Music Moves, which I would highly recommend as a resource if you haven’t found it yet. The basic idea is just like telephone: you must pass a rhythmic message around the circle and try to keep it intact.

The level of support you need to provide will be up to the needs of the group. I have had to give examples of rhythms that the students chose from. If you are working within a school context and teaching note values, it would be easy enough to have flash cards (here are some printable versions) with 4 beat rhythms that students randomly choose and use as the message. Children will work on goals of imitation, recall, and turn taking.

Now, since you can have students whisper sing the rhythm or tap it on their friends’ back. Where I was during internship, the goals included positive peer interaction and cooperation so I used the tapping on back method of passing the message.  You may need to have a little spiel about gentle touch and safe bodies before starting the game. Allow everyone to have a turn being the leader and watch your students and clients have a blast while working together.


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Hide & Seek the Sound

This game is very simple, yet during it, clients can work on goals of sound localization, turn taking, waiting, and working together. One person sits in the middle of the group and is blindfolded or covers their eyes if they are averse to blindfolds. 1-2 friends move quietly around the room and use items already in the environment or hidden small percussion and play the item or instrument. Friends sit back down. The person in the middle takes off their blindfold and walks around the room to find the item or instrument played while they were blindfolded. The other students can help by saying hot, cold, or warm to help.

We hope you can incorporate these rhythm games into your practice or classroom. Happy Friday!

{Autism Awareness Day!}


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April is one of my favorite months of the year. The sun shines once again for a solid 12 hours, April Fools Day is observed, AND most importantly, it’s Autism Awareness month! Over the last five years, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of the most unique, fun, challenging, and loving individuals I have ever worked with. Yes, they all have things that “link” them together and give them a common diagnosis, but each client has a different personality, favorite activities, and lessons to teach all of us. Music is a way to express individuality in a setting that is positive and successful. My clients can participate in a meaningful experience that is engaging and work on goal areas such as gross, fine, cognitive, and regulatory skills.

“Music has the advantage of demanding attention that a visual stimulus cannot, because it intrudes immediately through ears that cannot be closed voluntarily.”       -Hanser

Hanser’s observation explains why music therapists can effectively help clients achieve goals in a variety of areas. For example, if one of my clients is having a hard time slowing down his body, we will choose a song together, and he will jump on a trampoline while hitting a paddle drum that I move around. The client may not respond to a visual for “calm body” but with music, I can meet the client where he is and using the iso-principle, bring him to the calm body that will be necessary for him to be ready for kindergarten.

The actual goal we were working toward may read “L will participate in filling in the blanks of a song sung by the therapist for 90% of opportunities with minimal assistance”. In the meantime, the secondary gains that are built in to the therapeutic music intervention include  gross motor goals by crossing midline and bilateral movement, visual tracking, breath control, and self-regulation. The client is able to build self-esteem by participating in a meaningful activity, creating rapport with an adult figure, and responding to bids for interaction (socialization!) with the therapist.

Musical experiences are positive so people participate because they are enjoyable and successful. They learn to seek out and trust the therapist because that is needed for the experience to be successful for the client. Individuals that engage in positive creative efforts gain self-control and create a healthy emotional outlet.

Happy Autism Awareness Day!