Songwriting can be an effective tool in music therapy, no matter the population or age group. Songs can be used to teach social concepts, process a difficult situation, learn material like a phone number/address, and countless other ways. Though there are songs out there that can apply to some client situations, making a song directly applicable and original to the client is important. For those with little songwriting experience, this may seem like a daunting or intimidating task. However, there are some basic tools and tips that can be a helpful starting point when first starting to song-write in sessions.
First it is important to clarify the goal of the songwriting, and that will help define how the song can be written. Is it the process of writing the song that’s important? Is the goal to teach information? Is the goal self-expression? These are all questions that can be asked prior to deciding how the song will be written. The therapist can compose the song alone and bring it into the session to teach it, the song can be mostly written by the therapist with structured help from the client, it can be a collaborative, 50/50 process, or the client can direct the songwriting process with support and minimal help from the therapist. For example, when using a song to teach important information like an address, it may be better to compose it ahead of time and introduce the completed song in the session.
The song itself can be a piggy back song, a parody, a mnemonic device, or a completely original song. Piggyback songs are songs that have melodies of already existing, familiar tunes, but the words are changed by the therapist. Parodies are similar, with melodies of existing songs, but the words are generated by the client and it can have a comedic effect. A mnemonic device is used to teach information like a phone number, so it is typically a simple melody that can be chunked/chained, and move from the short term to long term memory. When writing an original song, the lyrics, melody and harmony should be kept simple, straightforward, and age-appropriate. Keeping the goal in mind here is also important to select the appropriate songwriting technique.
Piggyback songs are my favorite to use in sessions right now. For one of my clients, I recently changed the lyrics to “Twinkle Twinkle” for a song we use to work on the push bells as a warm up for typing on a keyboard. The lyrics are “*name* can play the bells just right; playing the bells will help me type. When there’s a word I want to spell, I can practice with the bells. *name* can play the bells just right; playing the bells will help me type.” She loves it because it is a familiar melody, it says her name, and the words explain why we are doing that exercise. These songs can be fun and motivating for clients, but it is important to keep in mind that some clients may get frustrated if the words to their favorite song get changed. In this instance it may be good to use a song that the client is familiar with, just not their favorite song.
To read more about how songwriting can be used in music therapy settings, check out this blog http://www.makejoyfulmelodies.com/blog/3-ways-i-use-songwriting-in-music-therapy/. If you’re in the process of songwriting and having trouble, check out this blog about overcoming songwriters’ block https://musictherapyconnections.org/2016/07/9-tips-for-overcoming-songwriting-blocks/.
Sources: Angela Neve Meier, M.M., MT-BC, NMT http://www.themusictherapycenter.com/?page_id=5624