Intergenerational group

I have the privilege of being a part of an intergenerational music group that meets on a weekly basis in St. Paul. Specifically, my son is the group member, but my husband and I get to be there, too. I love this group for two reasons. One is that it is co-lead by two music therapists, and the other is that I get to see babies and young kids interact with seniors. My son is the youngest (at three months of age it’s hard to be younger), and I estimate a couple of the seniors to be in their nineties. I knew I would enjoy the group, but I am surprised by how much I loved being there. I’ve worked with seniors and toddlers, separately, in the past. Seeing the two age groups interact was really special, and I am looking forward to our next session.

Have you ever observed an intergenerational group?

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month: What music expresses

Several of the clients I see have autism. Some use speech to communicate, others do not. Some find the ability to express their needs through various gestures, some sign language, and other physical indications; others do not. Some of them have a combination of verbal and physical communication. Most of my clients with autism, however, find ways to express themselves within and through a musical medium.

By providing a client with a variety of instruments, both melodic and rhythmic, I find that I can notice a trend in the way he or she plays an instrument. Choosing melodic over rhythmic might give me some insight into a client’s emotional state; perhaps this client is feeling a need to explore different sounds within this timbre. Maybe he has more expressive tendencies at this time that only a melodic instrument can allow. If the client is playing in a very high register, I might believe that he is expressing happiness; in a low register, maybe the client feels sluggish or down. I may interpret the choice of a rhythmic instrument in a variety of other ways. When the client plays with staccato strikes, I might believe he is angry or frustrated. If the client’s tempo is quick, with light strikes, I may think he is feeling anxious or scared.

The information that is relayed through music will usually facilitate a better understanding on my part of a client’s emotional state. Musical conversations can at times ensue, but other times a client might need to simply vent to me. My job is to absorb all of this information and find the best way to validate and support this musical expression, and continue to do so throughout all of the transitions and various challenges my clients might face.

A thought on Thursday

I had another enlightening supervision session tonight. Thursdays are my really busy days, and I’m always a messy pool of goo when I finally make it to 6:45 and talk with my supervisor, but regardless, I took away a great thought:

“The therapist’s job is to say the unsayable.”

I’ve been noticing one of my clients offer resistance in regard to potentially uncomfortable emotions she seems to be experiencing. I say “potentially” and “seems to be” because alas, we haven’t gotten too far into some of these issues. (Which is not to say that we must; just to say that I’m aware of her blocking certain subjects.) Anyway, the above quote is valuable to me because I could actually speak the words “I’m noticing you don’t seem to want to talk about this anymore” (or anything else along those lines), as opposed to drifting over the silence or the displacement or however else that discomfort and unease is manifesting itself without acknowledgement.

That’s my very brief thought on this very big idea. Happy Thursday.

Teaching me the lyrics

My favorite part of the week thus far: When one of the elementary school kids I see in a special education class teaches me the lyrics to a song, and then goes on to add harmony before creating a song of his own about the Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Man, that kid made my week. Or month, even.

I love what I do.

Music, the co-therapist

Music is such a great co-therapist. What a revelation for a music therapist to have.

I can know this, and have known it intellectually, for years, but much of the time I have trouble trusting that the music in my music therapy sessions works more effectively than anything else.

One of my clients tonight had a lot of trouble transitioning into our session together. So much so that he balled himself up into a chair and decidedly did not communicate with me, verbally or otherwise. I sat with him in quiet before laying out a number of instruments, including the drum sets and kits on GarageBand (a favorite of his). I then played piano for a few minutes before he unwrapped himself and explored the instruments in front of him. Soon we had a conversation on our instruments, and I’ve never felt more connected to this client than I did tonight. Though he’s able to communicate verbally and has done so unabashedly in the past, we related to one another differently, and seemingly more clearly, tonight.

It’s nice to have another therapist in the room.

Subway flash mob

I feel rather distant from a number of things lately, but this is because we are so busy getting together the rest of our wedding planning. Obviously I haven’t been writing daily; but I’ve been working daily.

Last week’s UPS included:

  1. Acquiring new clients
  2. Seeing my once-a-month clients
  3. Setting up a high school student observation
  4. Acquiring new instruments and materials for the little ones I see each morning
  5. Getting a $15.00 discount at a children’s store, just by using foursquare

Last week’s NOT-SO-UPS included:

  1. Learning that I won’t be seeing a really special client after the Spring session
  2. Becoming frustrated with my (in)ability to continuously engage my little ones
  3. Becoming frustrated that I’m finding it more and more difficult to separate my wedding planning from my every thought
  4. Realizing I can’t keep up with everything I’d like to be doing right this minute
  5. Succumbing to feeling overwhelmed

Have a good week, everyone.


Experience: Play It Loudly

Play It Loudly, Play It Quietly

I’ve been working in early intervention all over the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro for about six weeks now.

I’ve come up with this music experience that has worked well for toddlers, pre-schoolers, and has worked on a long-term continuous level.


One group of six to eight (ideally no larger) toddlers or six to 10 pre-schoolers


Physical, sensory, social, cognitive


Somewhere between three and five minutes


In one circle on the floor


Maracas, egg shakers, chiquitas, small tambourines, bells, any small percussion instruments

I distribute one instrument to each client. I instruct them to show me “sleeping instruments.” Once each instrument is distributed, I tell the clients, “Show me ready position,” for which I model holding an instrument straight in front of me. I tell the clients to use their “listening ears,” because I will be changing up the ways I play and sing.

I sing through different actions (Play your instrument way up high) and some different qualities of sound (Play your instrument quietly. How quietly can you play?). I use a song that I created (out of desperation to get my little clients’ attention one day), and, of course, use different vocal qualities and guitar playing.

I then add something of a bridge to the song, in which I sing-instruct the clients to pass their instrument to their neighbor. Nine times out of ten, my clients pick up on the passing aspect, even in my larger groups. (We do utilize a practice round.) The passing provides each client an opportunity to play many, if not all, the instruments in the group.

I’ve been bringing back this experience, and especially in my pre-school groups, I’ve built up the difficulty and have been pleased with the successes that have been happening.