Building a collection

Posted: July 29, 2010 in Instruments

During my very first observation of a real music therapist in my freshman year, I got a very important piece of advice: Start collecting rhythm instruments NOW.  Since then, I’ve had musical instruments on just about every birthday/Christmas list, and I have built up a nice collection.  Even so, there’s always more that I want.

The music therapy department at Innovations in Learning owns very few instruments – a keyboard, a tubano, a tambourine, a buffalo drum, and an Easycussion glockenspiel (with a C pentatonic scale and attached mallets).  These instruments are nice to have, but by no means what I need.  The departing therapist mostly used her own instruments, and I will probably do the same.  However, as part of the process of building the program, I think the instrument library needs to be expanded.

Following is a list, in no particular order, of instruments/equipment that I think are important elements of a music therapist’s arsenal.  This list is by no means comprehensive, and there’s going to be variation depending on your population.  However, I think these are good starting points.

  • Piano/guitar – This is the most obvious thing.  Without a piano or guitar, the music therapist is extremely limited in what they can do.  I know there are MTs out there who use harps, and and I’m sure there are other instruments that can substitute for a piano or guitar.  However, in terms of a basic necessity, piano and guitar can’t be topped.  Guitar is of course more portable, but a piano provides more of a richness of sound that you can’t get from other instruments.  Get ’em both.
  • CD Player/MP3 player + dock – Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the use of recorded music in therapy.  I didn’t go to six years of college so I could press play on a CD player.  However, there’s no doubt that there are a number of things for which you need a recording.  CD players are on their way out, but they still have their uses.  If possible, get an MP3 player.  You can load lots of music and playlists, and it’s much more portable.  If you want to get fancy, get a combination CD player/MP3 dock.  And if you can get a dedicated iTunes account to go with it, so much the better.
  • Djembe – Djembes are just cool.  They are portable, they are uniquely shaped to be used in a number of positions (under the arm, while being straddled, sitting on the floor, etc.), and they produce a variety of sounds.  Percussion is a vital part of music therapy, and while you need several different styles of drums, a djembe is one that I think everyone needs.  And I don’t have one.
  • Boomwhackers – Who knew that tuned plastic tubes could be so much fun?  That’s what Boomwhackers are – plastic tubes tuned to different notes in the scale.  You can get diatonic or chromatic scales, and you can get them in different sizes for different octaves.  You can also get Octavators, caps that will lower a tone one octave.  These are great for anyone.  Just be careful – the temptation to have sword fights with them can be overwhelming.
  • Recording equipment – Not only is a video or tape recorder a good tool for assessment purposes, it can also be a powerfully reinforcing item, particularly for kids.  There’s a certain joy in being able to watch or listen to yourself when you’re that age.
  • Songbook – Now, obviously, we need music to play, and as good as it is to compose originals, everyone has different tastes.  It’s an observable fact that people tend to be more engaged with music they are familiar with and enjoy.  So, we get songbooks.  However, I find that most songbooks out there in the market are about 90% fluff – it’s pretty much just what they could get the rights for.  There’s not much variety, and you’ll have to buy numerous books to get a collection of stuff that’s going to be appropriate for what you need.  And so I propose making your own.  I have a notebook of songs that I’ve been working on since college.  They’re just lyrics and chords that I’ve pulled off the internet and arranged to my own limited skill set.  And so I have a songbook of over 100 songs that I like and I can find a use for.  It takes a lot of work, but it has been invaluable to me.

This is just a start, and I’m happy to take more suggestions.  Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

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