Music Therapy & the Vestibular Sense

Learn about the vestibular sense and what music therapy’s role is within this!


Musical Musings: A Podcast Series

Musical Musings is a series of interviews with music therapists sharing how their work was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Music therapists share the ways they adapted their practice to meet the needs of their clients in the midst of severe restrictions. 

This podcast series was created for an internship special project with the goal of encouraging the music therapy community through sharing stories of resilient music therapists, advocating for music therapy as a profession, and increasing awareness of diverse settings and clientele of music therapists.

Musical Musings features interviews with Livia Umeda, MT-BC, Marissa Renella, MT-BC, Stephanie Labor, MT-BC, and Lauryn Cooney, a student music therapist.

Musical Musings is available for listening on Spotify!


Emma’s Top 10 Internship Learnings

My time interning at MTCCA has been a beautiful whirlwind. I am so thankful for all of the growth and experiences I have had here. Here are my top 10 learnings from internship:

  1. You have more time than you think. I used to think that 5 minutes wasn’t enough time to accomplish anything. In internship, I learned that you can use any amount of time to be productive. Whether you submit data, eat a snack, or take a cat nap, you can use whatever time you have to your advantage. It is all about your perspective.
  2. SLEEP! In college, I could try to stay up late studying, but in internship that does not fly. I learned that I need at least 7 hours of sleep to make it through each day. Internship requires so much of your body, it is imperative to rest!
  3. Less talk, more rock. This may seem obvious, but I learned to use music to drive everything in the session. The more time you spend talking, the more time your client’s engagement can derail.
  4. Be selective with your energy. Sometimes it pays off to go the extra mile in planning sessions or working on editing projects for your clients. However, an intern’s energy is stretched to the limit. It is important to balance with self care.
  5. Communication is key. It is critical to communicate with everyone you work with: supervisors, therapists, clients, clients’ families, facility staff, etc. So many problems can be avoided by checking in on a regular basis.
  6. Give yourself grace. The purpose of internship is to get supervision and feedback. it is a LEARNING PROCESS. A music therapist isn’t born overnight.
  7. Be adaptable. While adaptability is one of my greatest strengths, I have seen it pushed to its limit throughout internship. Being able to jump in and lead at any moment is a huge asset to the team and gaining valuable experience.
  8. Make music for fun! This is a key learning from my university program that has only become more relevant. It is so important to play your preferred music and instruments for self care in your free time. Don’t let yourself forget why you love music!
  9. Be present. The days go by so quickly and there are so many distractions and stressors that can steal your focus. Being present with your clients is the key to building rapport, adapting to their needs, and giving them the best services possible.
  10. Take risks. It might feel scary to try learning a song on the fly or adapt an intervention in the moment, but this is what music therapy looks like! You have to step out of your comfort zone to make music therapy possible. In the end, you will learn so much more from taking a risk than you would playing it safe.

I’ve enjoyed reflecting on everything I’ve learned throughout this amazing experience. I cannot believe this chapter of my life is coming to a close. I am beaming with gratitude for the education and experience I have gained. Thank you for everything MTCCA!

Much love,


Recording a Group in Garageband

The Yakety Yaks, a band of six teens and young adults with autism, has undertaken an exciting long-term project: a music video! The first step to creating their music video is making an outstanding audio track. We are using Garageband to record and edit the Yakety Yaks’ version of “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” by Wham!

Audrey, one of our full time therapists, and I co-lead the Yakety Yaks through rehearsals and projects. We began with recording our keyboard player’s track. In order to ensure the group’s recording came out as professional as possible, we needed to make sure our foundational track was on tempo. Audrey and I implemented a pre-recorded drum beat to keep a steady pulse throughout the song. After a few tries, we got an excellent recording of the keyboard and first vocal track!

One by one, we recorded each of the vocal tracks. As we recorded, we made some creative choices about the mix. Instead of having all six voices singing all at once for the entire song, we decided that each member should have their own vocal solo during the chorus! There are also some moments where just two vocalists are heard on the track as well. These solo and duet moments will provide opportunities to spotlight each member in the music video!

Audrey has taken on the daunting task of editing the song to make it sound as professional as possible. In order to keep some vocalists singing on tempo, she cut up some of their recorded audio to move it to the proper part of the beat. After a lot of hard work, the audio track is finally complete! The Yakety Yaks sound like total rock stars! We are excited to hit the ground running with filming in the next few weeks!

– Emma

Summer Sounds Virtual Jam Sessions

I have the unique opportunity of completing my internship during a pandemic. Before my internship, I didn’t have any experience leading music therapy sessions virtually. I am thankful to be working with music therapists who adapted quickly to making music therapy happen through screens and speakers.

One of the ways the Music Therapy Center of California has adapted to virtual music therapy is by piloting a virtual jam session program. Our Summer Sounds program is for teens with special needs. Every Wednesday night July-August, they learn social skills through music.

Making live music over Zoom can be challenging due to the delay of sound. To accommodate for that, we ask our clients to keep themselves muted while the music therapist is leading. In drum circles, we begin with the therapist leading the beat and demonstrating various hand signals for how to play (ie. start, stop, loud, soft). Next, we give an opportunity for clients to use the hand signals to conduct the drum circle. When they are leading, we spotlight their video so that they are the focus of the Zoom call.

Virtual jam sessions require a team to ensure the program runs smoothly. Typically, one therapist facilitates while the other supports by screen sharing the visual slide show, controlling which person is in the spotlight, and muting/un-muting individuals as they speak to the group.

A unique aspect of hosting jam sessions over Zoom, is that we can use virtual polls for the group to vote on their song preferences. Adjusting to virtual music therapy can be challenging; however, if you embrace the technology you can use it to your advantage!

For more information about virtual music therapy, visit a previous intern’s blog post on the topic.


Recital in the Park

MTCCA’s Recital in the Park is quickly approaching! Our students are very excited to share their pieces they have been working hard to prepare.

Beyond practicing the songs they will be performing, our music therapists have been preparing our clients for various social and emotional aspects of the event.

Some of our clients have never performed in front of a live audience. To help them prepare for the experience, we rehearse their role step by step. We practice waiting for their name and bio to be read aloud, walking quietly on stage, playing their full piece without stopping, bowing to applause, and walking off stage.

One of our clients becomes easily distracted by many sounds in an audience. To prepare him for his performance, we have rehearsed his piece with recorded simulations of laughing, crying, coughing, or other distracting sounds an audience might make. Our goal is to generalize his sustained attention skills from the session to the performance.

Performing in front of a live audience can be nerve racking. To set our students up for success, we talk our clients through emotions they feel surrounding the event. We empower them with strategies to process and express these emotions, as well as cope with them. We teach our students to listen to their bodies and take a deep breath when they need to calm down.

We are so excited to share the musical talents of our amazing students! We hope to see you on the big day!


A Day in the Life of an Intern

Many music therapy students ask, “What does a day in the life of an intern music therapist look like?” In fact, I remember asking this question when I interviewed for this internship. Interning in private practice is a unique and ever-changing experience. My short answer is that my life looks absolutely different every day. While my schedule has some consistency week to week, each day of the week is completely different.

18 June Clipart ideas | free clip art, clip art, june

Instead of sharing my schedule for each day of the week, I will share a Frankenstein version of a typical day, combining a few days into one.

On a typical day, my morning might start out in the community. I would lead a group music therapy session in an assisted living or group home. My supervisor and I will debrief and drive to the office. At the office, I will co-treat with another music therapist for an in-person client with autism. Next, I will take an hour lunch break. After lunch, I will co-lead a virtual session for a group of 30+ adults with developmental disabilities. Next, I will teach an adapted piano lesson for a young adult with autism. Then, I will have some administrative time to catch up on tracking data, session planning, writing my case study, and creating my special project. Next, I will co-lead a rehearsal session for a band of teens with autism. The end of my day is reserved for some clean-up and administrative time.

While this is what a typical day may look like, I have learned to be very flexible and adaptable. An intern’s schedule may change throughout the day! Clients cancel, no-show, and reschedule often. New clients are added and subtracted from my caseload at times. Adaptability is key to managing an ever-changing schedule!

Some individuals may find this type of scheduling overwhelming; not having a rigid routine to entrain to. However, I have found that this type of schedule is my ideal internship experience. I love having opportunities to lead sessions with populations and settings that are new to me. I am consistently challenged and never bored! In my short internship, I am thankful to be gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience with such a diverse client base.


Session Themes: Friendship

Sometimes when I’ve been working with a group or client for awhile, I can feel stuck in a routine of using the same songs each week. A great way to add variety to sessions is to select a theme! One of my favorite themes I’ve used with groups is friendship.

There are so many great popular songs about friendship! Here are some of the songs I use:

  • You’ve Got a Friend in Me – Randy Newman
  • Count on Me – Bruno Mars
  • With a Little Help From My Friends – the Beatles
  • Friends Will Be Friends – Queen
  • Lean On Me – Bill Withers
  • We’re Going to be Friends – the White Stripes
  • True Friend – Hannah Montana
  • Umbrella – Rihanna

The theme of friendship can be utilized to work on social goals in a group setting. After singing a song about friendship, the music therapist can lead a discussion on what it means to be a good friend. This is an excellent opportunity for clients to practice communication skills and leadership in a group and generalize learnings to their own lives.

Friendship is an excellent subject for songwriting interventions. Many of the songs listed above work well for Mad Lib songwriting. The music therapist can prompt their client to share qualities they value in friends to fill in the lyrics. For non-speaking clients, music therapists can provide choices to fill in the blanks. Many clients benefit from using visuals or communication devices in songwriting.

Selecting themes is an excellent way to imbed structure into sessions and make learnings more memorable for clients.


Mad Lib Songwriting

Songwriting is a very popular intervention for music therapists! It is an extremely versatile activity that can be adapted to any client’s needs and song preferences. For some clients, songwriting may be a daunting new challenge, but that’s where music therapists come in!

One of my favorite methods for songwriting is what we call the “Mad Lib” method. We take an existing song, remove some lyrics, and help our clients fill in new ones to make it their own. Our clients love this because we can take a song they already know and love, and make it personal!

One of my favorite songs to use the “Mad Lib” method with is Weezer’s “Island in the Sun.” I typically ask my clients about their favorite activities and places to visit in the Summer, and how it makes them feel. With just a short conversation about Summer fun, we can fill in the blanks of our song!

Here’s what a completed “Mad Lib” song might look like:

I have used Mad Lib songwriting to target executive functioning goals pertaining to problem solving, social goals like creatively collaborating with peers, or simply as a means of creative expression. Mad Lib songwriting can be adapted for any population, but I tend to use it most with children and teens. Many of my clients with autism benefit from the imbedded structure of this intervention. Nonverbal clients can select new lyrics with speech generation devices or the music therapist may choose to prompt them with visual choices (holding up a picture of ice cream or pizza).

Mad Lib songwriting can be adapted to any client’s preferred song! The music therapist can choose to omit as many words as their client can fill in and add new verses over time. This style of songwriting provides enough structure to make composition accessible to anyone!