Youth Helping Youth Coffeehouse Gig at Newbreak Cafe

On May 21st we had one of our Youth Helping Youth coffeehouse events benefiting MTCCA’s nonprofit – Banding Together at Newbreak Coffee and Café in Ocean Beach. It was an amazing event filled with multiple performances from clients, staff, and jam session crew.

Banding Together provides scholarships for individual music therapy sessions as well as Jam Sessions for teens and adults throughout the year. Jam Sessions give participants the opportunity to take an active role in creating and playing music in a group setting. This allows for them to work on social, psychosocial, and executive functioning skills. Each participant receives a volunteer mentor who encourages him or her to get involved in the musical experience. Over this past Jam Session season (Jan-May 2017) I was able to mentor a number of participants and observe astounding growth and development of various social skills in the jam session crewmembers. Not to mention that each of these sessions are provided at no cost to the participants or their families!

At the Youth Helping Youth event, a number of our Jam Session participants performed some songs we sing at Jam Sessions. The Kingsmen, a band consisting of 5 of MTCCA’s longtime clients, performed a set of songs. The Kingsmen have been together for seven years and have performed with acts like The English Beat at the Belly Up and Willie Nelson’s son, Lucas. Their hard work paid off and they sounded great! Guest artist, Hannah Quinn also performed and did an amazing job singing and playing piano covering some of todays pop hits.

To finish off the afternoon, a few prizes from generous sponsors were raffled off with proceeds from the tickets going to Banding Together. Jam session crewmembers and members of the Kingsmen got to pull the tickets and read the winning numbers. It was truly an afternoon to remember.

Check out Banding Together’s Facebook page here where you can see videos from this event and many others:

There is one more Youth Helping Youth Coffeehouse Fundraiser on June 4th from 2-4pm at Brew Coffee Spot in El Cajon. Hope to see you there!

Here’s one of the videos from Facebook:

kingsmen newbreak

Shannon Flaherty



ABA Presentation

Many of the clients we work with at MTCCA participate in multiple therapies on a weekly basis. This provides us the opportunity to co-treat and work on similar goals in a variety of ways. Recently, we observed a presentation by ABA therapist, Brittany Monclus, which shed light on the different behavioral techniques many of our clients utilize on a daily basis. Brittany works for The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), one of the worlds largest applied behavioral analysis organizations.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) refers to a systematic approach to the assessment and evaluation of behavior and the application of interventions that alter behavior. Many of the interventions used in ABA therapy utilize a reward system, largely based around the methodologies of operant conditioning.

During the presentation, Brittany covered topics ranging from reinforcement to scaffolding strategies. One of the favorite things I learned from the presentation was how to use rewards to benefit therapist and client as much as possible. It is important to set up expectations first so the client is aware that if he or she does not complete a challenging task, he or she will not get the reward. At first I thought this was simply bribing the child to do something undesirable, but Brittany emphasized that if the reward is set up before an intervention, it is positive reinforcement, not a bribe.

Since then, I have incorporated the challenge-reward strategy with numerous clients. With one younger client, I began using a two-step “first, then” schedule. I present the client with a list of unfamiliar or challenging interventions he can choose from for the “first” section, then I present him with another set of preferred interventions for the “then” section. This gave us the opportunity to broaden the list of interventions he chose to do in a session and has reduced the clients challenging behaviors throughout difficult interventions.

I have utilized the challenge-reward strategy in other ways, such as: a point system, where the client needed to reach a certain number of points in order to participate in a preferred intervention at the end of the session, and a timed activity, where I challenged the client to participate for a specific amount of time before moving onto a reward activity. Again, the importance of preparation and setting appropriate expectations for the client are incredibly important. Overall, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to observe the presentation and apply some of these techniques to my own work.


For more information on CARD and ABA therapy please visit:


Shannon Flaherty

MTCCA Senior Intern

My time with the Kingsmen

During my internship at The Music Therapy Center of California, I have had the wonderful privilege of working with one of their rock bands who call themselves, Kingsmen.  It has been such an extreme pleasure to work with this esteemed rock n’ roll group.  We have had so much fun rehearsing a wide range of styles.  The members of Kingsmen have all shown a willingness and probing interest with wanting to play different types of tunes.  Throughout my internship, we have explored pieces of music from the 1960’s such as “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, to songs like “Awake and Alive” by the band Skillet from 2009.  We also had a lot of fun exploring the twelve bar blues, and took turns improvising blues licks over the 12 bar blues format.  When I first started rehearsing with this group, I soon realized how motivated everybody was to play music.  I have seen such a great improvement with a variety of skills when working with these wonderful guys such as learning how to identify problem areas in the music, how to solve those problems, and how to work cohesively as a group.  It was great to witness how all the members of the Kingsmen were able to quickly correct their mistakes when things were not grooving!  Working with this ensemble has also allowed me to improve my own skills as well.  I was able to improve with making clear lead sheets, structuring productive rehearsals, and increasing my ability to give clear and concrete instructions to set the group up for success.  I can’t wait to see the next direction this group takes, as they have been known to consistently play a wide variety of tunes.  Please go see this wonderful group of guys the next chance you get!  You can also view a video of the Kingsmen play a really cool set of music during the 2016 Autism Speaks Walk last October by clicking on this link! Enjoy!

-Brandon Wright

Jam Sessions from Banding Together

Jam Sessions from Banding Together

Experiencing Jam Sessions during my internship at The Music Therapy Center of California was truly a wonderful thing to be a part of.  I had heard that Banding Together hosts free community Jam Sessions for individuals with special needs, and that they were very cool.  I really had no idea how cool they were until I got to experience it firsthand!  The first thing I noticed was how excited all the participants were when they were arriving to the Jam Session.  It was clear that everyone was very enthusiastic and excited to be there.  When the Jam Session began, I was taken aback by the amount of positive energy in the room.  As I looked around, I observed how engaged everyone was.  It was obvious that this was their time to rock out and have fun!   I came to learn that these one-hour Jam Sessions are not just structured to have fun, but to increase skills in socialization, emotional expression, and communication.  From the very beginning, I saw how the music motivated the participants to converse with each other, and how drum circles were facilitated to increase attention skills, confidence, and personal expression.  Jam Sessions also feature guest artists who are musically active in the San Diego scene!   These artists perform a couple of tunes and answer questions from the group.  After experiencing these sessions for about 6 months, I witnessed how a lot of the individual’s showed improvements with expressing themselves, willingness to socialize, and increased communication.  Jam Sessions from Banding Together is truly a wonderful thing.  Please check out the Banding Together website at,

-Brandon Wright

Talk Time With Reid Moriarty

Talk Time with Reid

A couple of months ago at The Music Therapy Center of California, Reid Moriarty approached me after a piano lesson and asked me if he could interview me for his “Talk Time with Reid Moriarty” series.  I have heard that Reid has been doing these interviews, and was pleasantly surprised when he approached me to do one.  We sat down in the office, and Reid was prepared and ready to go.  I got a kick out of how Reid announced me as “the man with the Dell computer.”  Prior to the interview, Reid initially would see me furiously typing on my Dell computer taking notes, which is why I became to be referred to as “the man with the Dell computer.”

I thought that Reid had great questions, and could tell that he had done quite a few interviews.  I learned that Reid has interviewed Temple Grandin, best-selling author, autistic activist, Ph.D., Martha Barnette, NPR radio co-host from “A Way with Words”, and Keith Lockhart, Conductor, Boston Pops Orchestra just to name a few!  He started the interview by asking me how I chose saxophone as my first instrument, if I’ve ever been in a band and experiences I’ve had with them, where I grew up, what I’ve been currently listening to, what my first job was, and how I got into music therapy.  It was great to experience the positive energy and enthusiasm that Reid brought to the interview.  This type of energy is contagious, making it a lot of fun for both of us.  You can listen to the interview from this Soundcloud link:  If you ever have the pleasure of being asked to do an interview by Reid Moriarty, I recommend jumping at the chance!

-Brandon Wright

Securing Employment-Unit 2 from “Music Therapy Career Success”

A valuable resource that I was exposed to during my internship at The Music Therapy Center of California was the e-course, “Music Therapy Career Success” from  This free music therapy e-course has four different units.  Units 1-4 include: Exploring Career Options, Securing Employment, Maximizing Your Career, and Weathering a Storm.  The unit that I studied was Unit 2, Securing Employment.  I found this to be very worthwhile resource to have at my disposal to refer to get ideas with how to market myself as a music therapist.  Inside this particular unit, there a six audio tracks with Cathy Knoll giving a lecture on each track.  Cathy Knoll is a wonderful speaker, and explains everything in a clear, concise, and sequential manner.  The topics covered within this unit emphasize making the most of your education, exploring employment options, making yourself visible in the community, how to convince established companies that they need your skills, how to negotiate a salary, and tips on how to make your personal marketing materials look professional and stylish.  You can request a free copy of the “MT Career Success” e-course from Music!  Send an email to to request one or all of the free music therapy e-courses.  I highly recommend having these materials at your disposal, and it’s FREE!  I wish everyone well on their music therapy journey.  Happy listening!

-Brandon Wright

Visual Learning

Everyone has a different learning style, meaning – they have a way that they learn and retrieve information that may vary from others. When working with children, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum, it is important to know how they prefer to learn information. Many of the clients I have worked with love visual aids, whether our schedule for the session is portrayed through images or there are pictures accompanying their favorite song lyrics to assist with reading and comprehension.

Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and world-renowned autism spokeswoman, eloquently described her way of learning and thinking in an article called “Thinking In Pictures.” This article struck me, as Temple’s visual mind can accomplish incredible feats focusing on fine details, seeing problems before they happens and understanding different perspectives – including those of the livestock she works with.

For visual learners, verbal language can be complex and hard to understand, especially when dealing with words that aren’t concrete, e.g. emotions or prepositions. If the visual learner has an image connected to the abstract words, the concept itself becomes easier and the person’s vocabulary expands.

There is a quote by Albert Einstein that embodies the importance of learning styles:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

It may take extra time getting to know a person’s learning preference but at the end of the day, the benefit vastly outweighs the effort.


You can read Prof. Grandin’s article here: 

She also has a wonderful ted talk explaining the importance of diverse thinking, which you can find here:


Shannon Flaherty

Winter Camp Jam

Winter Camp Jam

Last December, I had the pleasure of being part of The Music Therapy Center of California’s Winter Camp Jam.  This awesome event involved interactive music experiences that focused on having fun as well as increasing social skills for individuals with special needs.  One of the experiences that was a lot of fun was doing a songwriting activity using the tune “Deck the Halls.”  Participants were asked to think of something that they liked or would typically see during Christmas time (Christmas cookies, Christmas lights, etc.), and then they would incorporate that into the song.    It was great to see how helpful this songwriting experience could be with orienting individuals with special needs to what happens during this holiday.  I learned that this type of songwriting tool could be utilized with any type of subject.  Another experience that was a lot of fun was the drum circle.  It was wonderful to see individual’s take leadership roles by getting up in front of everyone, and cueing the group on how to play.  Some of the participants were initially shy, but then were motivated to lead the group after they saw their peers successfully perform the drum cues!  This fun winter camp also entailed decorating Christmas cookies, as well as making fun arts and crafts.  It was great to see how much fun everyone had at the Winter Camp Jam, and I’m glad I got to be a part of it with the MTCCA’s wonderful staff and volunteers!  To view a video of Camp Jam, you can visit The Music Therapy Center of California’s website at, click on “Our Services”, and select “In-clinic programs.”

-Brandon Wright

“Look Who’s Dancing”

Look Who's Dancing

“Soundcheck Jams” is an initiative provided by Surfdog Records and Banding Together.  These two organizations teamed up to provide opportunities for teens and young adults with special needs to get on stage with various distinguished artists.  Last October, “Soundcheck Jams” had the special opportunity to share the stage with legendary artist Ziggy Marley at The Belly Up Tavern in Solana beach for a sound check!  This special occasion happened to occur during my internship at The Music Therapy Center of California, and I was very fortunate to be there with everyone!  When we arrived, we could hear the band warming up.  Ziggy Marley’s band was so polished, that their warm up sounded more like a full-fledged performance than a sound check.  When it was Ziggy’s time to take the stage, all of the participants were invited to join him on stage for his hit song, “Look Who’s Dancing.”   This was a truly magical moment.  Everyone was having such a great time feeling the music and dancing.  You could feel the wonderful energy coming from the band and the “Soundcheck Jams” participants!  To catch a glimpse of this beautiful experience that everyone shared together, you can click on the following link:  Have fun watching and listening to these legendary grooves, happy faces, and great dancing!

-Brandon Wright

Client Appreciation Day at the Pumpkin Patch

Client Appreciation day at the Pumpkin Patch

Last October I had the pleasure to attend the Client Appreciation Day at the pumpkin patch in Rancho Bernardo.  This was a really fun event!  All of the clients from The Music Therapy Center of California were invited!  It was great to see all that were able to make it!  One of the things that I got to be exposed to was the singing of Halloween carols!  This was a great learning experience for me!  I had always wondered about what kind of repertoire to delve into when Halloween comes around.  It turns out that the Halloween carols were actually Christmas carols that had the lyrics adapted to fit the Halloween spirit.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun this was for everyone including myself.  One example of these adapted tunes was “Silver Bells” being adapted to “Shivery Yells.”  The participants loved it when the chorus of “Shivery Yells” came around where everyone was able to show off their spooky moans, cackles, and shrieks!  This was just another confirmation to me that in music therapy, anything can be adapted with the right amount of creativity.  The Music Therapy Center had also set up a lovely booth where participants could make their own corn shakers to shake to the music.  Pumpkin and skull shakers were also available.  I had a lot of fun at this event, and will definitely be prepared with sufficient repertoire for the next Halloween season!

-Brandon Wright