A year’s worth of ideas…

Whether you work with children or adults, it’s almost inevitable that various holiday topics are going to arise in your work as a music therapist (or teacher, mom, aid…). While it’s not always necessary to include holiday discussion in a session, it’s often a good way to work on reality orientation, age appropriate cognitive and social objectives, and the encouragement of creativity (not only from your clients, but from YOU as the therapist). Holidays, big or small, are great for providing inspiration and new topics to cover in the music therapy session, so that you’re less likely to fall into a rut. Plus, it’s the nature of things. The world turns, days pass, and holidays come (and go).

Yesterday I wrote this post, focusing on singing and signing Rachel Rambach’s songs for each month. They’re great tools for beginning discussion of various things about each month (holidays, weather characteristics, seasonal activities, and the like). I got to thinking “wouldn’t it be great if we had a comprehensive list of months and their special days? Ah-ha! Thus develops this post! I’ve included below a “comprehensive” list of holidays and other events (I HOPE) throughout each month. Check it out:

  • January – New Year’s Day; Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday
  • February – Groundhog’s Day; Valentine’s Day; President’s Day; Lent begins (Ash Wednesday)
  • March – Saint Patricks’ Day; 1st day of spring
  • April – April Fool’s Day; Earth Day; Easter
  • May – Cinco de Mayo; Mother’s Day; Memorial Day
  • June – Flag Day; Father’s Day; 1st day of summer.
  • July – Independence Day
  • August – NONE
  • September – Labor Day; 1st day of fall; Grandparent’s Day
  • October – Columbus Day; Halloween
  • November – Veteran’s Day; Election Day; Thanksgiving Day
  • December – Pearl Harbor Day; 1st day of winter; Christmas Eve; Christmas Day; New Year’s Eve; Hanukkah; Boxing Day; Kwanzaa

Apparently I missed the memo about August having no holidays. Seriously? I think it slipped my mind since my family seems to like having birthdays in August. In any event, that’s a list for those of you who want a quick “cheat sheet.” After completing that list, I thought “hmm, what about all of those other fun observances that you hear about in random places… on the radio, at the salon, on the internet, at school…?” In case you were wondering, here’s a few monthly observances to get you started, that I found might be appropriate for use in a music therapy session! I found them here. I couldn’t list them all because it’s RIDICULOUS how many monthly, weekly, and daily “observances” there are each month.

  • January – International Creativity Month; National Get Organized Month; Rising Star Month; Self-Love Month; Shape Up US Month; National Polka Music Month; Carnival Season
  • February – American Heart Month; International Boost Self-Esteem Month; International Expect Success Month; National African American History Month; National Laugh-Friendly Month; Relationship Wellness Month; Youth Leadership Month
  • March – Deaf History Month; Irish-American Heritage Month; Music in Our Schools Month; National Color Therapy Month; National March Into Literacy Month; Play the Recorder Month; Sing With Your Child Month; Women’s History Month
  • April – Autism Awareness Month; Celebrate Diversity Month; International Guitar Month; Jazz Appreciation Month; National Occupational Therapy Month; National Poetry Month; Stress Awareness Month
  • May – Better Hearing and Speech Month; Clean Air Month; Creative Beginnings Month; Gifts from the Garden Month; National Physical Fitness and Sports Month; National Family Month
  • June – Black Music Month; Great Outdoors Month; National Safety Month; Professional Wellness Month
  • July – Family Reunion Month; National Recreation and Parks Month; Social Wellness Month
  • August – American Indian Heritage Month; Happiness Happens Month; What Will Be Your Legacy Month
  • September – Baby Safety Month; Childrens’ Good Manners Month; International People Skills Month; International Self-Awareness Month; National Piano Month; Self Improvement Month; National Hispanic Heritage Month
  • October – Down Syndrome Awareness Month; Emotional Wellness Month; National Book Month; Fire Prevention Month
  • November – Native American Heritage Month; National Military Family Appreciation Month; International Drum (Percussion) Month; Family Stories Month
  • December – Universal Human Rights Month; Safe Toys and Gifts Month

Of course you could also add that the Superbowl is in January or February, depending on the year, and that May holds the Daytona and Indianapolis 500 as well as the Kentucky Derby, and Wimbledon is sometime in June I think. I’m sure there’s many more I missed, but I hope this gets your creativity going! Happy singing…

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Signing (and Singing) Throughout the Year

Last year, while looking for age appropriate reality orientation material to use with my adults of varying levels of ability, I decided to take a look at Rachel Rambach’s Listen & Learn website. It’s a wonderful resource for music therapists, teachers, and anyone looking to assist a loved one with learning every day tasks, moving, socializing, and the like (look her up once and you’ll forever be stopping by her page to see what great ideas she’s come up with)! In this particular instance, I came across her “Months of the Year” songbook (complete with mp3 recordings of each song and chorded lead sheets).

I initially began learning and using these songs with my adult community group, to expand on various topics related to seasonal activities, holidays, and general reality orientation. We started using them back in June of 2010 and I haven’t stopped using them since. Not only are they good for reality orientation, they’re great for working on memory recall, self-expression, turn-taking, and other social skills. I typically play through the song, encouraging my clients to sing along when they’ve learned it, and then follow it up with “quizzing” the group on various facts about the month (i.e. how many days there are, what number of month it is, what holidays take place in the month, what’s the weather typically like, etc). They LOVE it and it’s really helped in building meaningful relationships between each member (they’re constantly giving high-fives and saying “great job!” to each other, after a correct answer).

After a short amount of time, I realized that these would be great to use with another group of mine, as well, though a small obstacle showed itself: one person in the group (who happened to be the highest cognitive functioning client) was deaf. Although she was supposedly fluent in sign language while she was still attending the state school, since she’d graduated high school she had used less and less sign language as the years passed. One of her goals was to begin communicating more, through the use of ASL, and this proved to be a great tool for doing so! I began creating a “ASL Lead Sheet” for each month, as it came, and presented this along with the song to help engage the client in the activity, to increase communication between her and her peers, and to begin rebuilding her sign language vocabulary. I typically take the chorus, since that’s what repeats most often, and put it into sign language in the best way possible. Here is an example, used recently:

My ultimate goal for this particular client is to get her to be able to independently recall each sign on the second verse, following modeling during the first verse. We’ll get there eventually! In the mean time, she’s progressing quite well, and I’m learning more sign language, too! While it was initially quite the task to come up with each sign, copy and paste each month, and the like, I finally took time out of my day to complete the year’s cycle. Now, all I have to do is pull out the new month’s lead sheet and it’s ready to go. No excuses! How do YOU use sign language in your sessions? Happy singing (and signing)!

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Reproducible Books!

When do two books turn into unlimited books? When you buy reproducibles! On one of my trips to the local teacher’s supply store in the last couple of years, I found several “Take-Home Reader” reproducible books that I wanted, but two that I felt I HAD to buy (you know, we must demonstrate restraint at some point). Both were produced by “Frog Street Press,” and were from the “Sing & Read” line of books. While I love writing my own songs, when the creativity flows and it’s necessary, I often prefer to use songs that are already written, for one primary reason: lack of time! With 29.25 client hours a week, with 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there in between sessions, I find minimal amounts of time while at work to actually be creative (except “in the moment” with clients, of course).

These books, come to find out, lend themselves perfectly to my work with children with developmental disabilities. Not only do they work on shapes and letters (as you will see below), but can also be used to work on sight-reading and beginning reading skills, counting, color identification, object identification, attention to task, and the like, all of which are often outcomes currently on an IFSP or IEP as written by special education teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists.

The first book I will talk about, as I just completed three more reproducible books from it to begin using with my clients immediately, is “Sing & Read Shape Little Books.” The book provides 10 reproducible shape books, one for each of the following shapes: circle, triangle, square, rectangle, octagon, diamond, trapezoid, oval, star, and heart, all set to music using well-known songs. Additionally, it provides various shape activity sheets related to matching, tracing, and labeling. I used the following process to complete each of 4 books (circle, rectangle, triangle, and square):

  1. Photo copy each page (8, front/back). The book is in black and white and I actually like that I have to color them independently because it provides me with more therapeutic opportunity (I’ll talk about this next). I use regular printer paper, though you could certainly use card stock as well.
  2. Cut out each page to match, in size, according to the dotted lines provided. Then color. I use marker to produce bold pictures, but colored pencil would work too. Because many of the objects are repeated throughout the individual book, I take care to color them all the same. I.e. in the triangle book, as you will see below, all “Trixie Triangles” are colored green. All flowers are colored orange, and so on. This lends to color identification activities. Additionally, I use the objects on the page to facilitate counting (i.e. “how many flowers are there?”) and object labeling (i.e. “What’s in the sky?”). Not only are we working on the base outcome of shape identification, we’re now working on many other cognitive goals as well!
  3. Glue papers back-to-back with glue stick and fold along the center line. I find this it helps to do this BEFORE laminating, as well as after, to help define the center of the page.
  4. Laminate! I think this is essential so that sticky fingerprints and drool can be wiped off (sorry, folks, it’s the nature of the job). After laminating each page (which now consists of two glued back to back — the book explains this), I line them up and trim them to be a universal size, before punching two holes along the side. Then, I thread yarn or twine through each hole and there you have it! A book!

You’ll see a picture of the finished copy of each of the shape books I’ve presently completed, to the right. These are wonderful tools for music therapists, as well as speech and occupational therapists alike. In my music therapy sessions, I plan to use these in conjunction with my Remo Shape Drums, as well as with my line and shape drawing interventions. The worksheets in the back of the book will work well with independent drawing and shape reproductions, as well as the chalkboard I use on a daily basis.

The second book I want to talk about is “Sing & Read Alphabet Take-Home Readers.” My book looks different than the one pictured on the link above, but I’m confident it has the same material inside. It contains a reproducible book for each letter of the alphabet, put to music from a number of well-known songs, exactly like the previously mentioned shape books. I’ve made the G, S, and K books (two of which are pictured to the right). Many of these use animals throughout the book (the “K” book is about “Katy Kangaroo”), so I make sure I have a stuffed animal prop to use as well. Beanie Babies lend themselves well to this, and I use them daily.

I hope this gives you some good ideas. Even if you don’t buy reproducible books to make yourself, I hope I gave you some good ideas to use with books of all kinds. As a therapist, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate more learning into each activity. Books are so great for this! Also, it should be noted that you can buy these books already made, though they are more expensive and don’t allow you to be as consistent with colored objects in the book. Until next time, happy singing!

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Playin’ the Keys!

We got a new toy at the office: a Yamaha DGX-640 keyboard! I am so excited that my suggestion became reality in our clinic, in only a matter of a couple of months. =) Due to the nature of music therapy with the developmentally disabled, I find myself using the keyboard in nearly every session, no matter what cognitive level my clients are currently functioning at. We had two small Casio keyboards (like this) that do the job, though lack the musicality and age appropriateness I feel I need with many of my clients. Now, we have replaced one of the keyboards (which will hold a permanent position in the new “group” room at our new office, when we move in), with this piece of equipment.

While the small casios, as mentioned above, are great tools to use for visual tracking skills and attention to task (utilizing the lighted notes), and are good for portability, I can’t wait to see what I can do with my clients using this new keyboard. There are many clients I work with who are learning to play the keyboard, and who need added work on individual finger and hand strength; the weighted keys lend itself to this! Additionally, I can upload any song from the keyboard to garage band, and vice versa, so we can create any number of compositions to be shared across the media world!

I am not always the type of person to sit down and read a manual from front to back, especially for something such as a piano. However, as there are many things this keyboard can do, I’m not trusting myself to just “find out” on my own. So, here I sit, reading the manual and discovering a large list of things to incorporate into my sessions from this point out. I’d like to know what YOU do with your clients/students with the keyboard and how you use new models such as this one, or other media devices, to provide opportunities that may not otherwise happen in therapy. Thanks, and happy playing!

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Love in a Music Therapy Session

I found myself sitting at my desk last friday and thinking “wow, it’s already January 20th,” which was followed directly with “time to break out the Valentine’s Day songs.” While I have never been one for Valentine’s Day on a personal level (give me flowers on ANY other day, just because), I find that it is significant to my clients no matter what population I’m working in. When I worked in hospice, I helped many of my clients work through what might be their last Valentine’s Day spent with their loved ones. Or, I worked with clients who had already lost their loved ones. Now that I work with children and adults with disabilities, we’re talking about Valentine’s Day parties at school, the giving/receiving of valentine’s, sugary treats, dances, and the like.

In an attempt to find a song that could be appropriate for both age groups I work with, as well as varying levels of cognitive ability, I came across Tom T. Hall’s “I Love.” After coming across the song, per a suggestion from a staff member at a local ARC day program, I kicked myself for not having found this sooner! It’s the perfect lyric analysis and songwriting song, and can be modified in numerous ways. I used it today with an adult ARC Day Program group and it was a huge success! One of the things I like most about the song is that it doesn’t immediately make people have to come up with someone they love, or talk about a personal relationship (which is sometimes a taboo subject). If using it in hospice, I can imagine myself first analyzing the song “as is” and then doing a simple songwriting intervention with objects and things they loved, prior to (perhaps) delving deeper into discussing people they love or have loved. Such a great idea!

Here is a list of other Valentine’s Day songs that I find appropriate for use with various client populations, depending on your objectives for the client/group. There are some great opportunities for lyric analysis, songwriting, and emotional expression (even laughter) throughout!

  • I Love, Tom T. Hall
  • I Love the Mountains, Traditional
  • All You Need is Love, John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  • Love Me Do, John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  • Can’t Buy Me Love, John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  • Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, Bob Crewe
  • Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys
  • Happy Together, Gary Bonner
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), James Taylor
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand, John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  • I’m a Believer, Neil Diamond
  • Love Me Do, John Lennon & Paul McCartney
  • My Girl, Smokey Robinson
  • What the World Needs Now is Love, Hal David
  • You Can’t Hurry Love, Edward Holland
  • I Love You You Love Me, Barney and Friends
  • L-O-V-E, Bert Kaempfert
  • Love Somebody Yes I Do, Traditional
  • Jesus Loves Me, Traditional
  • Love Me, Collin Raye
  • Have I Told You Lately That I Love Me, Scott Wiseman
  • I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder
  • I Feel the Earth Move, Carole King
  • Bicycle Built For You, Traditional
  • I Love You a Bushel and a Peck, Traditional
  • Lavender’s Blue, Traditional
  • Frog Went A-Courtin’, Traditional
  • Candle on the Water, Pete’s Dragon
  • I Get a Kick Out of You, Cole Porter
  • I’ve Got a Crush On You, Gershwin
  • I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Cole Porter
  • My Funny Valentine, Rodgers/Hart
  • Love For Sale, Cole Porter
  • When I Fall In Love, Young/Heyman
  • I’m in the Mood For Love, McHugh/Fields
  • As Time Goes By, Herman Hupfeld
  • All Shook Up, Elvis Presley
  • Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley
  • Endless Love, Lionel Richie
  • Just the Way You Are, Billy Joel
  • Love Train, Gamble/Huff
  • Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Traditional

This leads me to ask YOU what songs you use that I have left off. I know there are hundreds more. I’m interested to hear what you do with your clients, kids, families, students, and the like! =)

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Fruit Shakers

Before I begin, let me make a sincere apology to my readers (if there are any left). It seems I fell off the face of the blogging planet during the latter part of this year. So sorry! I apparently didn’t keep last year’s resolution (see this post), which was to “routinely post in this blog;” chalk it up to another failed resolution. I hope to do better this year and not let my readers (you) down.

Moving on… as I continued my work last year (and now) with children and adults with disabilities, I relied more and more on my fruit and veggie shakers (mentioned in this post). I love them, my clients love them, the staff love them, and there are many goals and outcomes that can be facilitated through their use. It’s a win-win! However, I found myself coming to two conclusions: 1) I need more, and 2) they’re expensive! I have a set of these fruit shakers and these veggie shakers at my office, and I love them. Additionally, my mom found some on ebay  and gave them to me for Christmas (thanks, mom)! These include a few gourds and squash (including zucchini and pumpkin), a tomato, a small apple, a banana, corn, and others. They’re fantastic, but still not cheap.

While working at the local developmental center one morning, and contemplating my options, several staff members had suggested I try to make some shakers with those little plastic kitchen food items that are sold with play kitchens. In addition to being cheaper and bought in bulk, they’d be smaller and fit better in the child’s hand. Hmm. Would that work? At some point last summer, after this idea had been hatched, I found these at a garage sale (see picture >>>>). 

Score! They were $2.00 for the entire set, which also included soup cans and cereal boxes, which I promptly donated to a local thrift store. While I can find a purpose for nearly ANY shaker, I felt that was a bit “far fetched,” even for me. After the initial excitement of my find wore off, I was hit with one question: how do I turn these into shakers that the kids won’t destroy immediately? Time for some brainstorming!

I eventually decided to fill each with about a half tablespoon of barley (it’s what I had when I raided the cabinet). Rice, beans, or other grains would work fine, also, and it’s fun to experiment with different weights and sounds. Luckily, when these toys are made, they are left with a small whole at the top. Some of these were large enough for me to stick the grain through, others needed to be opened a bit more (with my trusty mini-screwdriver). It was somewhat tedious, as I had to stick each grain in individually (man has not made a funnel small enough for this task). Next came the hard part however… how do I close this up permanently?

I ended up putting super glue (the kind that sticks your fingers together if used without caution…) and glued scotch tape over the hole. The hope is that the glue holds the scotch tape on so that the kids cannot pull them apart (fingers crossed)! Since I have MANY more shakers to make, I may try some using hot glue, as well. If I can fill the hole a bit and get it to stay without the kids pulling it off, it may work better than the super glue. Any thoughts?

The bag-o-goodies shown above has many fruits, veggies, and even bagels and donuts (ha!) so who knows what songs I may come up with in the future to go with my shakers. How do YOU use shakers in your work?

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Imagine That

I promised I’d post this months ago. Yet another battle lost with dedicating myself to something else. My apologies! If you remember, I wrote this previous blog entry about my father and his personal experience with music therapy. I mentioned that he’s been writing songs for more than 40 years, and a favorite of mine has always been “Imagine That.” The recording I’ve used here is one from his “Songs of Promise” album, which my step-mother and I assisted with some years back. He wrote the song, in reality, about 30 years ago, and I’ve been singing it my entire life.

I used it with a group of 9 adults with mild-moderate developmental disabilities back in April of this year, to discuss various feelings, consequences of actions, and the like. Additionally, the final verse pays homage to “Earth Day,” which was a good topic for discussion that month (and as always, in my opinion). I had all intentions of posting this at least in May so that you could continue to discuss “Earth Day.” So sorry I didn’t get to it in time, but I hope you’re able to use this with your clients, students, and children, and can make it relevant to various situation all year ’round.

IMAGINE THAT – Lyrics and Chords

imaginethat.analysis – Ideas for Lyric Analysis

I encourage you to take the song, learn it, and use it as you find appropriate for your situation, clients, etc. I do, however, wish that you give credit to my father, Steven L. Edwards, whenever it is used. Thank you, kindly. Happy singing!

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