Archive for the ‘Music Therapy’ Category

The Songbook: Party in the USA

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Music Therapy

Song #4 for the songbook (after a long back) hearkens back to a simpler time when Miley Cyrus wasn’t crazy:


It’s very popular to hate on Miley these days (and for good reason), but I will freely admit that I like this song.  It’s more because of the message than anything to do with the singer herself.  It’s a story of a girl from Tennessee that has come to Los Angeles for the first time to be a big star.  We’re probably meant to think it’s autobiographical since that was basically the plot of Hannah Montana.  But we don’t find out if this girl makes it, we simply get to hear what happens when she hears her favorite music:

So I put my hands up, they’re playin’ my song, the butterflies fly away
I’m noddin’ my head like “Yeah!”, movin’ my hips like “Yeah!”
Got my hands up, they’re playin’ my song, I know it’s gonna be okay
Yeeeeeaaaaah, It’s a party in the USA!

This speaks to the “music as a universal language” we talk about in music therapy, and it’s one of our core principles.  Music can make us more comfortable in challenging situations.  If we’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s comforting to know that they listen to the same music.

The song itself is fairly easy to play.  Most of it is in a I-iii-vi-V pattern, which I play F-Am-Dm-C.  I know a lot of people hate that F chord (I’m one of them), but just nod your head like yeah and it will be OK.





Song #3 for The Songbook is Sunshine on my Shoulders, a 1971 song by John Denver.

I have to say that this particular song is at least in my top five favorites of all-time, if not in one of the top spots.  It’s just so beautiful…the imagery created by the words, and Denver’s voice just make this song heart meltingly wonderful.  But that’s my opinion.  Let’s be objective here.

When doing lyric analysis on this song with some clients, I’ve asked if they think it’s a happy or a sad song.  Sometimes they’ll say happy, sometimes sad.  I can see where everyone is coming from – it has a bittersweet quality that Denver was so good at.  But oftentimes, it’s the line “Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry” that convinces people it’s a sad song, even though the first line is “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.”  Sometimes it’s hard to understand how you can have conflicting expressions of emotion.  From an early age, we’re taught that we smile when we’re happy, and we cry when we’re sad.  But sometimes we can cry when we’re happy as well.

I remember when I figured this out for the first time.  I went to go see ET in the movie theater as a kid.  This is the first time I remember seeing a movie in an actual theater.  Anyway (spoilers for ET ahead), there’s a scene where ET has seemingly died.  I remember weeping because I was so sad.  Then, ET started talking and moving and acting silly, and I was laughing, but I was still crying.  And it hit me…I could be happy and still be so filled with emotion that it needed to leak out my eyes.

I like this YouTube clip because of the interview John Denver is giving right before the song (and not so much the saxophone solo).  He mentions that the “out-of-doors” was always a great inspiration for him, because it’s a shared human experience and something we can all relate to.  And I think that keys right into why Sunshine speaks to me.  I don’t necessarily like sunshine (I burn), but I do like being outside and enjoying the wonder of creation.

The song, too, is about wanting to share a feeling of happiness:

If I had a day that I could give you
I’d give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I’d sing a song to make you feel this way

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I’d tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I’d make a wish for sunshine all the while

In music therapy, I think this song can be a great starting place for a discussion about emotional expression, particularly things that make us happy.  Lyric analysis can be used to dig in to why you would want to share your feelings with others – good and bad.  The chord structure is fairly simple, so a group could be brought together to play together on various tone instruments easily, and it’s slow enough with a consistent chorus that it can be a singing exercise as well.

Thanks for reading!  Hope you have a sunshiney day!

YouTube Friday: Harlem Shake

Posted: March 8, 2013 in Music Therapy

If you are unfamiliar with the Harlem Shake meme that’s been blowing up on the internet lately, here are a few to get you acquainted.

YouTube Friday: Skoog

Posted: February 15, 2013 in Music Therapy

Here’s an instrument I didn’t know about: the Skoog.  Apparently, it was designed for people with special needs, and they even talk about music therapy on the website.  This video (by comedian Brett Domino) is a good demonstration of it in a comedic setting – well, I think it’s funny.

For more on the Skoog, go to  If it didn’t cost $850, I might be thinking more seriously about getting one.

YouTube Friday: The Peace Carol

Posted: December 21, 2012 in Music Therapy

I was asked recently what my favorite Christmas song was.  I have two: O Come O Come Emmanuel and this one.

YouTube Friday: Launchpad

Posted: August 10, 2012 in Music Therapy

It’s amazing what some people can do with technology…


Posted: August 1, 2012 in Techniques

One of the ways I keep my sanity is by playing around with some of the songs I play nearly every day.  Oftentimes I’ll switch the styles, and play that ballad as an upbeat rock tune (I do this with Imagine).  Other times, I’ll play with the lyrics and sing my own verses with the songs.  But my favorite thing has always been to switch the mode – specifically, from major to minor.


This is something I’ve been doing since college.  I’d be noodling around with a song on piano, and change the key so it was in minor.  I started out with kid songs – Twinkle Twinkle and I’m a Little Teapot are both pretty good in minor – then moved on to more popular songs.  It’s amazing how much the tone of the songs change.  Right now, I’m enjoying Brown Eyed Girl in minor.  This whimsical nostalgic song about the days of past youth becomes a mournful tale of lost love just by lowering a few of the tones.

I don’t often do this in sessions – sometimes I will when we’re improvising or just messing around.  But, in my practice time, it’s a fun exercise.  It doesn’t work quite as well going from minor to major, so I don’t really do that.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.





Two years ago today, this blog began with the following words:

Today I started my second full-time job as a music therapist.  In the next few days, I will be leading a music therapy session with my own clients for the first time in five years.  And while I’m excited about the future, I am pretty terrified of the present.

It’s been an interesting two years.  I’ve built up a pretty good caseload, currently with seventeen individual clients and five groups I do on a weekly basis (two with kids, three with adults).  We hired a new music therapist last November, and are beginning the process of looking for a third.  We’ve also been working on starting up an internship, which will provide some interesting new challenges.  I’m enjoying the job, and I’m having fun with all I’m doing.

It’s been tough to keep up with the blog, partly because I’m having a hard time finding things to say.  I’ve been glad I can keep up with YouTube Friday at least.  But thanks for sticking with me.  Thanks for reading!


Happy Fourth!

Posted: July 3, 2012 in Music Therapy

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, where we in the US celebrate our independence by blowing stuff up and not going to work.  It’s nice to have a day off – gives me a chance to actually write something on the blog.  Life has been busy as I approach my second anniversary at my job.  I’ve been seeing clients, though schedules have been messed up because of the summer.  I finished up a kids social skills group last week, and that went really well.  The adult group I run has been working on patriotic songs to sing at a local nursing home, though due to a scheduling mix-up, we’re going at the end of July instead of the end of June.  We had a big company meeting a couple of weeks ago, for which my fellow music therapist and I ran a drum “circle” (more like a drum rectangle, with everyone in rows).  That was a fun experience, and we ran another, smaller one at the company picnic last week – mostly kids jumping in on that one, and I had to leave early because the heat and sun was getting to me.

So overall, things are going well.  I’m going to try to do more posting in the future – I know I’ve said that before, but this time I mean it!  Or something.  Anyway, enjoy your day off if you have one!  Thanks for reading!


I had a session with A today at her day program.  She tends to flit around the room and play with stuff, so I got the brilliant idea to cover up the phone with my guitar gig bag, just to obscure it a little bit.  Apparently, I inadvertently turned on the intercom and treated the whole building to my hello song before someone came and informed me.  Sigh.

Just had to share.