A Fresh Look at Songwriting in Music Therapy

This week’s symposium topic was songwriting. We discussed all aspects of the process, from chord choice to lyric writing. Many songwriters tend to use the generic I-IV-V chord structure for their songs. This discussion reminded us that while that may be easy, there are many more options, and re-harmonizing a familiar song can be a good way to practice this, even if the only change is to simply add the seven. Something as small as that can change the whole sound of a song and make it more interesting and engaging. Additionally, the chords you choose to use with your melody do not have to be predictable. The note in your melody does not have to be the one (do) or fifth (sol) of the chord, it could also be the seventh or ninth, or it could be a passing tone. Remembering little tips such as these that you learned in theory class can be helpful when trying to enhance your songwriting experience.

When beginning the lyric writing process, it is important to keep a few things in mind. First, use words that are specific and concise – less is more. The less “fluff” in your lyrics, the easier they will be to understand and the better they will convey any intended meaning. Choosing a single topic or theme and painting a specific picture around that is a good way to accomplish this. When working with a client, it is best to choose something concrete (season, color, object, etc.) as opposed to something abstract. Second, it is important to identify “I” (the narrator) and the “you” the singer/writer is speaking to (the audience). This will give the song direction and make it easier to understand and relate to. On that same topic, it is notable that there are two types of thinkers when it comes to songwriting/listening. The first type of person is one who thinks of a song as something they are singing to someone else, and the second type is a person who views a song as if it were being sung to them. Identifying which way you (or your client, co-writer, etc.) perceive a song will also help push you in a direction that will make your song more accessible and easier to relate to.



Our topic for symposium this week covered various types of assessments that can be used for music therapy. We each presented on a different assessment and discussed what it addresses, the target age range, and how the assessment is administered. The main assessments we discussed were the ALST, the SRS-2, and the PEDI.

The Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) examines functioning levels of speech and language for children 11 to 18 years of age. A series of verbal and visual cues are included, prompting open-ended and yes/no answers to address three domains: Language use, language content, and language form. The purpose of the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2) is to assess social skills among children of various ages. Four types of forms can be used depending on the ages of the clients: ages 2.5 to 4.5, ages 4.5 to 18, ages 19 and up, and an adult self-report. The assessment is administered in everyday settings, such as at home or in a classroom, and can be given by teachers, parents, and others with whom the client interacts with on a regular-basis. A quantitative scale is used to evaluate symptoms, which reflect the severity of ASD demonstrated by the client. Five areas are addressed in this assessment, including social awareness, social cognition, social communication, social motivation, and restricted interests and repetitive behavior.

Finally, the last assessment we discussed was the Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI). The purpose is to assess functional skills and performance in children with disabilities, ages six months to 7.5 years. The PEDI can either be administered by a professional clinician who is familiar with the child, or by a parent report and structured interview. Three domains are addressed, including self-care, mobility, and social function. It consists of a questionnaire, evaluating the child’s engagement in daily functional tasks within these three domains (i.e. brushing teeth, eating food, etc.). A child’s performance of daily functional skills are measured by the level of caregiver assistance needed to achieve the tasks.

In conclusion, assessments are a vital part of music therapy. They address non-musical domains in which a child needs help in, and provide a baseline for measuring progress when music is added. There are many other types of assessments that can be used outside of the ALST, SRS-2, and PEDI. The age of the child and the areas you are assessing can determine which assessment to use.

Transformational Design Model (TDM)

Last week, Tara presented on the transformational design model. It is broken down into five parts: assessment, goal, therapeutic plan, therapeutic music exercise, and the transfer of therapeutic learning into the real world. The assessment portion includes a summary of the client’s strengths and needs, as well as some basic diagnosis and background information. The goal is as it sounds – it is the specific and measurable goal that will be addressed through therapy. The therapeutic plan includes examples of ways the goal would be addressed by other therapies that do not use music, such as reading sentences containing words with the target sound or sounds. The therapeutic music exercise portion describes how to use music in a way that will work on those same objectives that a non-music therapist would be using to address the goal. Any relevant NMT techniques would also be included in this section. Where a non-music therapist might have the client read sentences that contain words with the target sound and model the oral motor process for them, a music therapist could write a song that describes the steps in the oral motor process (i.e. tongue behind the teeth for /t/ or lips together for bilabial syllables such as /b/, /m/, or /p/). Once the client has mastered the oral motor portion of making the target sound, the music therapist could then write or use a song with lyrics that contain the target sounds to practice it contextually and strengthen oral muscles needed for speech. It is repetition that builds the neural pathways in our brains, allowing us to learn and improve our abilities, and music is a great tool to structure that necessary repetition and provide opportunities to practice and repeat those skills we wish to improve. The last step in the process is to transfer (generalize) the therapeutic learning into the real world. Once the client can successfully produce the sound within a musical context, the music will be faded out and the client can begin to transition from singing to speaking by reading books or having conversations. This generalizes the skills learned and mastered through music into skills the client can use in their daily life.


Goal Writing Tips

This past week in symposium, we reviewed tips for writing client goals. It was a nice refresher from all I have learned in my recently completed coursework in school. My biggest take-away from this topic was the acronym SMART; this provides an outline for things to consider when writing goals for clients. “S” stands for specific, meaning be specific about the desired action from the client. “M” represents measureable, meaning to specify how the action will be measured (i.e. using a stopwatch, 3 out of 4 trials, etc). “A” stands for achievable, meaning make sure the action and time frame are reasonable for the client and his or her functioning level. “R” is for relevant, which refers to making the goal relevant to where the client needs the most improvement. Finally, “T” stands for time limited, which means to set a time frame for when the client should achieve the goal. These are great tips to remember when writing new goals for clients.

Another important part of this week’s discussion was examples of things to avoid in goal writing. Goals should be specific, so it is wise to avoid using vague language, such as “client will improve his/her behavior”. It is important to specify the exact behaviors the client should improve on, such as “client will increase his/her ability to take turns” and then writing the intervention that will help with this goal (i.e. learning words to a taking turns song, taking turns with a friend or the music therapist playing an instrument, etc). For music therapy goals, musical experiences are used to address non-musical goals. Overall, it is important that the goals are specific, reasonable for the client’s age and functioning level, and that there is a clear way to measure the goal.


Nerissa’s End of Internship

It’s absolutely amazing how quickly six months has passed. It seems like yesterday that I moved across the country from Miami, slightly resistant to starting life from square one, but also excited to learn as much as I could before entering the world as a professional music therapist. There were so many highlights during my internship, including the joy of sharing music at Jam Sessions, the annual recital when my clients got to show off their hard work on various instruments, and a client’s CD release party which was maybe one of the most fun things I’ve ever attended, much less been a part of. I’ve been so inspired by my clients, who have shown me that even though they may have challenges, they are capable of so much and can accomplish great things. As my internship comes to a close, I would like to share some important tips and things I have learned in order to be a successful professional:

Timeliness. I have adjusted to the laid-back lifestyle in San Diego, but I still consider timeliness to be important. Arriving on time shows your clients and your team that you value their time and are ready to work. As a youth orchestra conductor once taught me: “Early is on time. On time is late. Late is wrong.”

Preparation. In internship, there are many session plans and various assignments to be prepared. It is important to use your time wisely in order to maximize your productivity. When you are prepared going into sessions, you can devote your entire focus on the client, and not on trying to figure out how to play a song as you go or what you will do next.

Organization. With so many clients on the caseload, and so many internship assignments, it is easy to get overwhelmed. It is important to develop an organization system that works for you so that you can plan how to use your time and how to organize the various documents, visuals, and instruments that are needed on a daily basis.

Now that internship is done, I am looking forward to my next adventure: a Master’s program in Art, Creativity, Education & Culture at the University of Cambridge! On to the next!