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.


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