What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy utilizes the medium of music to resolve, maintain or improve the specific skills of a person with special needs. Although many of the techniques used by the music therapists can be effective when teaching the "average" student, it is generally understood that music therapists are trained to work with special needs students.

Why choose a music therapist? Music therapists must acquire a 4 year degree, plus complete the AMTA certification and 6 month internship.

What is the difference between a music teacher and a music therapist? When working with a music teacher, the student works at the teacher's level. A music therapist works at the student's level.

Teaching Method:

Although I teach piano, guitar and violin, the most common instrument I teach is piano. As my special needs students learn this instrument, the parents often report an improvement in their children's reading, writing, and behavioral skills.

Activities for Music Therapy

I like to start children on piano before other instruments because it's a linear and fundamental instrument. When teaching a child piano, I begin by using music books with letter names instead of notes. After they have a firm foundation in this method, I move onto reading notes. If a child is not ready to learn piano because of age or developmental level I use music therapy activities with them. These include activities put to music that work on fine and gross motor skills, perception, pincer grasp, following directions, rhythm imitation, singing and more. Fun stuff!

Teaching GOALS:

  1. Improve hand/eye coordination
  2. Develope fine motor skills
  3. Develope motor planning skills (when the brain engages the fingers)
  4. Increase attention span
  5. Enhance visual tracking

These goals are found on the childs IEP (Individualized Education Plan) goals.

Note to any prospective students - Any parent who has a child with perfect or relative pitch should try if at all possible, to find a teacher with perfect or relative pitch.

Case Studies

Danny was born with fetal drug syndrome and therefore had very severe learning disabilities and behavior problems. The first time he came for his lesson, he refused to come in the door. I tried to offer him instruments and achievable music therapy activities that he could do, but he refused. Over the course of several months, he inched closer and closer to me and the instruments until finally one day, he agreed to sit down at the piano with me. Soon after, he decided to learn how to play it; as soon as he did, Danny realized he was gifted and could play quite well.  He constantly struggled in all other facets of life – particularly in his classes and his social life – but he found a positive outlet in music through music therapy. He even improved his reading abilities by doing songs that involved stories.
Danny - age 10

As a girl growing up in the 1920s, Ruth took piano lessons. I began seeing Ruth in her 70s and 80s after she was diagnosed with dementia. Despite her memory loss, she was able to remember the songs she learned as a child. Long-term memory usually stays intact in dementia and Alzheimer's patients. The songs allowed her to remember her life as a young girl and we would discuss the significance of the songs she grew up with. It gave Ruth happiness to be able to remember so much in her life despite her current situation. Music often changed her whole demeanor: she would sometimes walk into her lesson in a bad mood but always left happy. Ruth always expressed how music changed the way she felt.
Ruth - age 87

David is an autistic boy who has trouble controlling his behaviors at home and in school. Music has become an outlet to deal with both this as well as recent traumatic events in his life. Although he is slow to learn, he has perfect pitch. Being able to successfully play his favorite songs gives him a sense of empowerment and control.
David - age 14