As my internship is drawing to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about closure. There are plenty of different ideas on how to facilitate a closure session; you can write a song together about your experience making music in your sessions; you can record a video of you and your client playing a shared favorite song; you can even write a new song about the transition and how it might relate to that particular client.

In my experience with children with autism, change and transitions can be very difficult to process. Kids in general are not usually familiar with the concept of “internships”, as they have no need of that knowledge yet, so it’s not exactly easy to explain why you won’t be in the session two weeks from now. One of the biggest challenges I am currently facing in trying to provide adequate closure for my clients is having to say goodbye to the clients who took a long time to warm up to me. Now that we are both comfortable with each other, I’m already having to say goodbye.

An insight I feel I have gained is to highlight the positives in the situation. Remind them that yes, soon you won’t be in their sessions, but they are going to keep working on a certain song, or they get to keep doing one of their favorite activities in the future. This can help give them a sense of continuity, so they know that not everything is going to change. Also, you can pose it as a helpful challenge, that they have to “help out” their new (or returning) therapist who may not know about everything we’ve been working on. Encourage them to show how much they’ve learned or progressed by “showing it off” to the therapist taking over! 

It’s extremely important to document and communicate the important needs of your clients to the incoming therapist. With some clients, it might be very important to them to maintain a certain structure; some need to mix things up in order to keep sessions interesting for them. Some clients need specific kinds of prompting in order to avoid over-stimulation; some kids are flexible and will adapt to therapists working with them differently. In any situation, it’s important to not only document, but to also make personal notes on helpful hints and specific interventions that you can email or hand off to the therapist taking your place. 



Piano Accompaniment Workshop

Our team recently had the pleasure of doing a workshop on piano accompaniment techniques with JayJay Lim, a wonderful music therapist based in the San Diego area.

We started off with a simple warm up; playing V7 chords in a circle of fifths pattern. Using a metronome to keep us all in time, we played 2 measures of C7, 2 measure of F7, 2 mesaures of Bb7 and so on. If this workout is comfortable, the next step is to play through the circle of fifths playing V7 inversions. JayJay also suggested playing through this same exercise playing min7 chords. Again, if it’s easy, play inversions! Of course this warm up is good for your muscles, but doing it without sheet music is good for warming up that cognitive functioning too!

Next, we reviewed some important tips for effective accompaniment. If you’re leading a singing intervention in a group, it’s important to give your clients some kind of introduction so they get a feel for the key, the tempo, and when to join in. JayJay suggests introducing the song by playing the melody line of the last 4 measures of the song, then giving a strong cue with their starting pitch or with the first few notes of the melody.

JayJay encouraged us to practice a few easy folk songs, including Home on the Range and You Are My Sunshine, with the left hand playing a pattern or just a bass rhythm, and to only play chords in the right hand on the first beat of each measure.  

One of the most beneficial tips I took from the workshop; put two colored stickers an octave apart on the keyboard and only play right hand chords between those two stickers, including V7 chords. You can play on the stickers, but you can’t go past them! This forces you to get more comfortable with inversions so you’re not always playing everything in root position.

I’ve been incorporating these into my daily practice time and I have already seen a huge improvement! It’s easy to fall into the same playing patterns or accompaniment styles, especially if you’re not a pianist (like myself). Simple, functional practice techniques like these can go a long way in increasing your flexibility and familiarity on the keyboard. The less you have to think about which keys to play for which inverted chords, the better off you’ll be in not only accompaniment, but improvisation and performance as well.


Best of luck in your practice time!




Meet the intern behind the posts: Rachel Jacobson

DSC_0321Rachel Jacobson is an intern at the Music Therapy Center of California. She is pursuing her bachelor of music therapy from the University of North Dakota in with an emphasis in voice. Throughout her education, Rachel has been a leader at her school. She has served as a student ambassador and was the vice president of the American Music Therapy Association for Students at UND. She has also taught voice lessons in the Warren, MN public school system.

“After watching my grandpa battle Parkinson’s disease, I knew that I wanted to become a music therapist. What used to be easy, daily tasks for my grandpa became difficult and slow chores. Yet, when music was involved, he could sing, he could dance, and there was always a skip in his step. Music made a difference in his life. I want everyone to experience the joy he got from music. Not only does music therapy bring joy into people’s lives, but it is also an evidenced based practice. I know this is the right career path for me because I can bring science and music together in order to help many different people.”


Hello! I’m Rachel, the new intern here at the Music Therapy Center. I am so excited to be starting my second week here!

This week I learned how to play music on a banana. I never thought in a million years I would be able to create a sound by just hitting a banana. How did I do this? Technology!

Technology is so important for music therapists. It plays many roles within a therapist’s practice. A therapist could use a Q Chord for bedside music therapy, for different tactile stimulation, or for motivation to work on fine motor skills. A Yamaha EZ 220 has a follow the lights feature for step by step playing. You can use different beats and melodies from EZ 220 while a client improvises on the piano.

Apps have also become big in the music therapy world. There are so many apps to download. You can find the right ones for each individual client and the goals that you are working on. Plus, you can have a guitar tuner, chords and lyrics, and a metronome on your iPad too. Some good apps include:
-Speak up: This app is great to work on vocal volume. If you are working on increasing volume, the client can speak or sing into the it, and they have a fun visual to show the increase in volume.
-Articulation station: This app has consonants, vowels, and blends all in fun formats for kids.
-First & Then: Use this app to take pictures of the order of things you are doing. It motivates the client to be engaged in the less preferred activity because they know a fun activity will come right after.

There are so many apps out there that are great tools for music therapy sessions. I encourage you to go exploring and find some apps that you can incorporate in your sessions.

The MaKey MaKey was my favorite thing to learn about. This is when I got to “play a banana.” This “instrument” allows a person to hook up a chord to everyday objects and play them like an instrument. This could be used with many different clients. You can create a piano on stairs to work on gross motor skills. When working on fine motor skills you could create a remote with different sounds. Or, hook up the alligator cords to various items (like a banana). Above is a video of Toby and I playing the MaKey MaKey.

So, how could you incorporate more technology in your sessions? I challenge you to find out, it could make a difference!