Thursday, July 23, 2009

8 questions for...a music therapist

Here are Max and Sabrina during a recent music therapy session (Sabrina regularly joins in). If you ask me, Max has a lot more potential to end up as a drummer in a heavy-metal band; Sabrina is rather, uh, blase about the whole thing.

This is Joanne, the music therapist who's been coming to the house weekly for the last couple of years. She is a supremely sweet person with a magical voice who just happens to resemble a Disney princess. I thought I'd share some of her wisdom with all of you:

Joanne, can you explain exactly what a music therapist does?
"A music therapist is a certified professional who uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of a person or group of people. As a music therapist who works with children, I often reinforce the goals of the speech, physical and occupational therapists through singing, instrument playing and movement to music. You can check out for more information." [Note from me: to find a music therapist in your area, send an email to, mention your area and include your address.]

When did you first decide to go into music therapy?
"I knew I wanted to be a music therapist the first time I ever heard the term—my junior year in high school at a clarinet workshop. To have such a passion for music and to be able to share with others such a wonderful be able to have that as a career and use it to help others grow is a blessing!"

Please share some of your favorite CDs for kids to groove to.
"Are You Ready? Here We Go! By Mr. Steve & Miss Katie, a great husband and wife team who write original children's music. Also, Music Together: Family Favorites. Music Together has a great curriculum for children and has compiled some of their best songs on this CD. And African Playground & Latin Playground by Putumayo, a compilation of great songs from around the world for both adults and children."

Explain what kind of progress you've seen Max making in the two or so years he's had music therapy with you.
"Most notable is that Max is now using both hands more often during instrument play. Initially, he wouldn't even attempt it and often refused trying something that required two hands. If he knew it was going to be difficult he often tried to choose something else. He is much more confident now, he has such determination to play the instruments that he wants, that if it requires two hands, he practices until he gets it. If he drops the drum, he picks it up and tries again....he is unstoppable! Max's confidence also rings out in his singing. When Max, Sabrina and I sing to "Part of Your World" Max takes big breathes to hold out long phrases, gets louder and softer at the appropriate parts of the song, he uses is quite possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I am still trying to get a complete video of him singing this...Max prefers to be using the camera instead of performing for it...but I will keep trying because this needs to be captured on film!"

Got another success story you'd like to share?
"I had the opportunity to work with a seven-year-old girl who was selectively mute. She would talk, sing and giggle all day at home, but was stricken with such fear and anxiety when at school. She didn't utter a word for months and months, but her mother insisted that she loved music so I invited her to come to choir. For a while she sat there with her arms folded across her chest trying her hardest to look disinterested and annoyed. I did my very best to ignore this behavior and continued to share my excitement for the songs and my enjoyment of singing them. Soon she started tapping her toes to the beat and instead of crossing her arms she was clapping her hands. I desperately wanted to hug her and share my excitement over this, but I was so afraid to scare her off that I held myself back. One day while rehearsing for the concert I heard the most gorgeous harmony coming from the back row...from this girl!!!!! From that day on she came in and sang her heart out, soon that transferred into talking in class too. At her graduation ceremony she even sang a solo!!!!!!! Of course, I was crying the whole time while wearing a grin from ear to ear and conducting!"

What are some music things parents can do at home with their kids to encourage them to sing?
"I think being a role model is the best thing a parent can do to encourage their child to sing. I find the more you want to push them into singing the less they want to! But the more you enjoy it and you want to do it, the more they want to join in. It's contagious! Not being afraid to be silly and sing at the top of your lungs to a tune is key. The kids don't care what your voice sounds like so you shouldn't either."

Any suggestions for a good musical-instrument activity to do with kids?
"Good ol' pots, pans and wooden spoons never fail. Since it is out of the ordinary, it makes it that much more fun and special.
I also like making shakers out of paper towel/toilet paper roles and beans or pasta. Just put the beans inside, tape up the ends and you have an instant percussion instrument. This also works with a water bottle. For more creative ideas on how to make instruments out of household items go to ehow."

So, are Max and Sabrina your cutest clients ever?
"As Sabrina would say to me....uh, yeah!!!!!!!"

One more video, for your viewing pleasure. Sabrina starts off doing a solo, since Max wanted to get behind the camera, but he joins in at the end.


  1. Ellen,
    That is soo freaking cute, I can't stand it! You have a Disney Princess in the making!

  2. That therapist should make a DVD with lessons for children and directions for parents!

  3. So adorable! Connor is a big fan of the drums, too-- though he prefers the bongos. Maybe they should start a band!

    Connor loves music too, (his favorite type is Taiko drumming) and we've considered music therapy for him. Since our insurance won't cover it, though, we have to pick and choose our activities, and we'll stick with his faithful pony Thunder right now. Certainly something we'll consider for the future, though.


  4. So adorable and thanks for the information!

  5. Sabrinas message to us all about drumming:



  6. OMG....this post and the videos made me SO happy. I got such a kick out of watching both of them. It amazes me how Max follows directions...and has some rhythm there, too! And it totally amazes me how Sabrina has memorized every word of that song -and can sing in tune! She is destined for the stardom, that one. Watch out. Oh, and her blase attitude made me laugh out loud.
    You've inspired me to look into Music therapy for Gavin. I am a musician (I guess you could say) so it's like "Musical Theater" all day and night here...he loves music. I think this kind of therapy might be really good for him. Thanks for the information! And please keep posting videos like this...and the driveway dance party...they make me SO happy.

    p.s....Max's music therapist is beautiful!

  7. Violet enjoys music therapy too, it's such a good thing!

  8. Sarah, you nailed it—that's exactly what was going through Sabrina's little head!

    Felicia, I am passing your suggestion along to Joanne. She SHOULD make a DVD. Great idea!

    Candace, Sabrina would correct you if she read your comment—she is not a princess in the making. She IS a princess. Hence her nickname, Sabrinarella.

    Just woke up at ungodly hour in Chicago at BlogHer conference, watching these videos cause I miss the kids.

  9. They are both adorable! Music therapy sounds wonderful. Thanks for the info.

  10. As a music therapist in training, this has been so useful - thank you so much for sharing! I'll definitely continue to read your blog :)


Thanks for sharing!

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