The Transformational Design Model (TDM)

Transformational Design Model- the music therapist’s bridge from research to clinical application

As an evidence-based profession, we learn early on about the importance of research and its applications to our clinical work. Unfortunately, the translation of information gathered from these studies can blur in our representation and cause frustration to both client and therapist. In other words, reading and applying research can be hard.

The transformational design model (TDM), developed by Dr. Michael Thaut, is a model that provides a means of transforming the scientific model into functional clinical applications. It encourages therapists and students to create meaningful interventions, and avoid adapting generic music activities to address therapeutic goals by implementing a step by step guide that focuses on transformation validity, aesthetic and artistic functions. Step number four is the key in this process, as it guides the music therapist to translate the musical application from the non-musical interventions implemented by other therapies and services.

Design Process

For example, a client might have a speech and language goal to be able to answer yes and no questions. Step one will assess their strengths and needs, and step two creates the specific, measurable goal.

Step three identifies the means other therapists, such as a speech therapist, would use to address the goal. In this case, it could be by utilizing picture cards and yes/no questions, e.g. ‘Is this a cat?’ when the picture could be a cat, or maybe it’s a dog- yes or no.

Step four is where the magic happens in music therapy. The music therapist could create a song that asks same types of questions, but provides cueing and reinforcement that can be learned and associated with the correct answers. For example, when asking ‘Is this a dog- yes or no?’ the music therapist could utilize specific pitches for each answer. If the client has difficulty initiating the answer, the specific tonal cue can assist in selecting the correct answer.

Finally, in step five the music is slowly backed out so the client can generalize the experience to daily living.

As a new intern, I’m anxious to have the opportunity to use this model to create interventions for all my new clients. I think it’s a beautifully formulated way to approach clients from more of the therapy side, and then really using the music as a tool designed specifically to address the client’s needs.


Top Internship Learnings

Even though in some ways the 6 months felt like it flew by, I have learned so much it can be hard to put it into words, or even recognize some of the changes because my learnings have become so much a part of my daily routine as a music therapist. Below I am sharing just a few of my learnings:

I’ve learned through this internship that I have a unique ability to personally connect with others and this is also one of the parts of being a music therapist that I enjoy. I have always been interested in a career where I get to help others find success and that was one of the main reasons why I was so interested in working with students with special needs. I have also found through this internship that I am not only interested in working with people with disabilities but also older adults with memory impairment. Part of helping to guide a person’s successes is getting to know them or their family members and what their goals are. Being able to find what they respond to best is important and is a skill that I have seen grow during my internship. I feel more confident creating individualized interventions for clients, and I now have the techniques to adapt in the moment when necessary.

Secondly I have been excited about how much my repertoire has grown throughout this internship. Because I have had the opportunity to work with clients of different diagnoses and varying ages I have at least started to dip my toe in many genres of music, which I think will help me as I continue on my journey. During college classes we often had to memorize songs for tests or for practicums and I was able to do it, but I found in my internship that this skill became easier because I was using the songs I wanted to memorize on a daily basis and I felt much more successful. This skill is important because it allows the therapist to fully connect with the client and not be distracted by looking at the music or trying to remember what chord comes next. Especially in a group setting it is helpful to have music memorized because then the therapist can have more opportunities to connect with each client on an individual basis, which allows for the therapist to move around the room more. I realized about 4 months into my internship that this skill was improving and it was very encouraging me to see my progress from the beginning of my internship.

It is sometimes hard to articulate all the progress I have made, but I am so thankful for an internship where I was able to learn so many different aspects of being a music therapist.





Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University, consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and a spokesperson for the Autism community. In 2017 she was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has taught so many about how the autism brain works and her article Thinking In Pictures or her Ted Talk The World Needs all Kinds of Minds are two great resources for anyone who works with individuals with autism.

Her article and Ted Talk shares many of the same ideas so I will be pulling what I have learned from both to quickly summarize her thoughts that I have found very helpful in my work. The first point that she makes is that she has a very visual memory and she sees every object as a specific picture in her mind. Her first example is, when someone says church steeple most people see a general picture in their mind, but for her she see’s a specific steeple and then various other specific pictures after that like Google images. Later in her article she goes on to say that sometimes those pictures are connected to memories or other events and when she thinks of one thing then that relates to another, and another and she begins to associate and can get lost in her own mind. This learning was very significant for me because many of the clients I have worked with I have noticed how one object or word can cause them to go down a track of associations that don’t always make sense to me, and often they have a hard time stopping their train of thought. In the article she also compared the way she thinks to virtual reality where she is in another world and has the ability to adapt and change any picture that she see’s in her mind. This is why she has been so successful in the livestock industry because she is able to put herself in the cattle’s shoes and adapt their areas with her brain to create a more are comfortable resulting in more humane treatment of cattle.

She continues on to say that there are many types of thinkers and she is concerned that the education system is beginning to shy away from certain techniques and classes which creates a difficult environment for those with autism because those might be the areas they succeed in. From her findings, she believes there are visual thinkers, music and math thinkers (who think in patterns), and verbal and logic thinkers. Everyone thinks differently and all different types of thinkers are needed to make the world go round. For more specific ideas from Temple Grandin check out the links below, and maybe even check out the movie that was created about her called Temple Grandin.

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Thinking In Pictures- Article

Ted Talk Link:


If you want to learn more about Temple Grandin and all the amazing work she does check out her website: http://www.templegrandin


A Resource for Music Therapy Career Success

If you ever need an awesome FREE resource check out MT Career Success, a free music therapy e-course from This course has five units and is a workbook and audio discussions that help you prepare for career issues for students, interns, new professional, and experienced professional in music therapy. You can even earn CMTE credits for each unit if that is something you are interested in. If you are looking for more free courses Music Works Publications also has several ethic courses.

There are four units within this e-course, which include, exploring career options, securing employment, maximizing your career, and weathering a storm. For this blog post I’m going to focus on some highlights from the second unit, securing employment. I’ve learned that it is important to take advantage of your learning time as a student because even though it may seem like you are busy, as a professional you will have less extra time to learn. It is important to offer top quality services by knowing the current research and being open to different jobs that you may not have envisioned because you never know where it will take your career and how it will benefit other professionals in your field. In Chapter 2 of this unit Cathy Knoll gave some great tips about who to reach out to when you are in the job search. For example reach out to advocacy groups for clients, educational agencies, and try and volunteer so you begin to meet people and understand how those agencies or companies are run. This will help aid you in the process if you do present a program proposal because you know who you are working with, you can gain some understanding of their budget, and you may gain supporters through clients, caregivers or employees that believe in your work.

One of the biggest takeaways I found from this e–course was learning about the differences and benefits of using the top down or bottom up approach when contacting a facility for employment. It is important to consider both ways because every company is different and one approach might be better then the other depending on the company’s style. The top down approach is going straight to the administration and writing a letter to ask for an appointment, introducing yourself over LinkedIn, making a phone call, or sending an email. This approach works well when you are prepared to present how music therapy could greatly positively impact their clients and you feel as though the administration is open to new ideas. The bottom up approach is where the referral comes from the clients or staff because this will have a greater impact on the administration and may lead to more success. Each approach is different but this is important to assess when approaching a company because it could make or break your chance of success with the administration.

This information above has just scratched the surface of unit 2, and if you want to learn more I highly suggest checking out this free resource. You can find this resource by going to



MTCCA In an IMAX Theater Near You

Did you know that MTCCA is going to be in an IMAX Film coming out in February 2018? The movie is called America’s Musical Journey (Trailer) by MacGillivray Freeman Films. Angela Meier, myself, Reid Moriarty, and a few of our students got to be a part of this film and share about why music therapy is so affective for individuals with special needs. During filming, we had the chance to meet and perform with Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc. Look out for the performance in the movie of I Need a Dollar by Aloe Blacc, featuring Reid Moriarty on vocals, Angela Meier on keys, and MTCCA students playing the shakers. MacGillivray Freeman Films has produced over 40 IMAX films and garnered two Academy Award nominations. They filmed one of the highest grossing IMAX films of all time, Mt. Everest. It was such a pleasure to work with them, and we are very excited to see America’s Musical Journey when it comes to IMAX theaters in February 2018.

Here are a few pictures from the filming experience!




Another fun Sneak Peek Trailer


Summer Camp Jam- Join Us Next Year

Summer Camp Jam happened back in August but it’s never to early to be thinking about having your child attend, volunteering at camp, or maybe even being a guest musician for our campers. Camp Jam (Summer) is a 4-day music therapy camp for youth with autism or other special needs. Camp Jam provides unique opportunities for developing social skills and making new friends through fun and interactive music experiences. Each camper is paired with a camp counselor to encourage them to participate, stay engaged, and assist with any other needs they may have. Campers play instruments, write songs, move to music, make arts and crafts, and hear a concert from a local musician everyday at camp.

I had the opportunity to be a camp counselor at a few Camp Jam’s and it is so exciting to see the camper’s progress during the few hours or few days they are at camp. Summer Camp Jam is where you can see the most progress because the campers attend for four days in a row, which allows them to get comfortable with the schedule. This unique experience fosters increased participation, engagement, and willingness to be in a leadership role, which is important for the youth we work with. Below are a few pictures from Summer Camp Jam to give you an inside peek at what we do!







As a music therapist the first step when working with a client is assessment. Assessments are important because it helps the therapist to learn more about the client and guides the therapeutic process and goal writing. There are many different ways to do a music therapy assessment, and there is not yet one standardized way to do a music therapy assessment. This is because when working with other fields and reporting on a client’s progress it is easier to communicate with other professions when a standardized assessment that has been tested is being used. It is also helpful to use an assessment that other professionals are already familiar with, so there is consistent communication. Some music therapists write their own assessments based on their knowledge of the population they work with or based on already created standardized assessments. For this post I wanted to share a few standardized assessment that MTCCA has used and have found helpful when assessing clients with various needs.

The first assessment I would like to share is the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS). This assessment uses a likert scale to measure severity of social skills related to autism spectrum disorder. Most of the time this report is filled out by the parents, caretaker, or the teacher. This assessment focuses on five main social domains, social awareness, social cognition, social communication, social motivation, and restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Once the assessment is completed, the higher the score indicates increased severity of behaviors that interfere with social functioning. This assessment can be used for anyone from 2.5 years old through adulthood. SRS shows the best results when more then one person fills out the report for a participant. An accompanying CD-ROM analyzes the data and creates a report summarizing the client’s scores.

You can purchase this assessment at:

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The next assessment is the Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI). The PEDI is used for children 6 months to 7.5 years of age. Specifically the PEDI measures the capability and performance of functional activities of self-care, mobility, and social function. This assessment looks at a child’s ability to do an actual skill. Sometimes it is necessary to have the caregivers help at some point because of time restraints. The PEDI can also still be effective for a child who is older but they are functioning at or below the age of 7.5-years.

You can purchase this assessment at:

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The last assessment is the Special Education Music Therapy Assessment (SEMTAP). This assessment is used in the school setting when working with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The SEMTAP focuses on IEP goals and assesses them with music and without music to find out if music therapy should be a part of the student’s IEP. A criterion-referenced test is used to show the students abilities. This assessment is only used by a music therapist and typically includes, reviewing the child’s IEP, interviewing members of the interdisciplinary team, observing the child in a non-musical setting, administering a music therapy assessment, and then reporting and presenting the data collected.

You can purchase this is you are a music therapist from:

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There are many more types of standardized assessments and a great way to find more is by talking to colleagues that work with the population you work with.

Happy assessing!