Musical Attention Control Training: MACT
What is MACT?
Musical Attention Control Training, or MACT, is the use of music experiences and/or musical elements to practice a specific type of attention.
To really understand MACT, we’re going to take a closer look at the “A” in that acronym, for attention.
Attention is the selective awareness of or selective responsiveness to the sensory environment around you. The ability to choose where you focus your attention is the first step in the learning process, and we all differ in our abilities to control our attention. The good news: we can develop attention control skills like building blocks through structured practice! We can conceptualize the types of attention as a pyramid, starting with focused attention as the base:
What does MACT look like in a music therapy session?
Music therapists tailor MACT exercises to suit their clients’ interests and clinical needs. As a result, MACT can look very different from session to session or client to client. MACT exercises may entail the use of many different music-based therapeutic music experiences.
For example, music therapists may facilitate sustained instrument-playing incorporating preferred and (the ever tricky) non-preferred instruments. Alternatively, a sustained attention exercise may call for the client and therapist to play instruments while the client adjusts their playing style (e.g. fast vs. slow, loud vs. soft, high vs. low, etc.) in response to musical cues (ideally without verbal prompts) from the therapist. A music therapist may target selective attention by introducing extraneous sound “distractors” to a music experience and challenge the client not to respond to (e.g. turn head to look at) the distractors.
Alternating attention exercises may require a client to shift their attention between two tasks, like tracking visual notation (e.g. sheet music) and playing an instrument simultaneously. At the end of the day, MACT could refer to a wide range of active or receptive music experiences, as long as they are designed to practice one or more types of attention, and utilize music as a delivery medium.
How music makes it work:
Active and receptive music experiences share powerful patterns of brain activation in the bilateral frontal lobes, brainstem, and attention systems in the cerebral cortex. This overlap ensures that the attention skills practiced with music will translate to other contexts, like school or vocational skills. Furthermore, music experiences like instrument-playing, singing, or improvising are often intrinsically motivating, allowing music therapists to get our “foot in the door” to engage with clients and bolster attention skills. Finally, music, as an organized auditory stimulus, brings timing, grouping, and temporal organization so that attention can be sustained and strengthened over time.
Thanks for reading!
Step one to helping our clients achieve their goals is writing a great goal for them to be successful! This can be a tedious job, as goals and objectives are intended to be precise, detailed targets. There many components to a solid goal, and each are equally important and serve a unique role. There are goal-writing checklists that can be adapted to any client and population to help us create goals that are rational and intentional.
The SMART goal checklist guides the writer through the major pieces of creating a goal. According to SMART, goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time limited. The infographic below provides a bit more information about each part.
Let’s look at the following goal:
By December 2018, Client A will improve cognition skills by improving sustained attention through playing an instrument for 2 consecutive minutes without stopping in 3 out of 4 trials with minimal prompting (no more than 1 verbal, gestural, or physical prompt).
First is the time deadline, which is when the goal is to be achieved by. This could vary by setting. Hospitals might have shorter time frames, schools will probably line up with IEPs. In this case, the client and therapist are aiming to achieve this goal in December of 2018.
After assessing the client, we identify the specific goal area (e.g. cognitive, motor, speech, etc.), and add details of the desired skill/behavior. Do we want it to increase, decrease, maintain functioning? This describes the what of the goal. In this case, it’s cognition skills through sustained attention.
Then, we can look at the how. How are we going to help the client achieve this goal? What means of exercise or intervention will we use? And how often will they participate? Out of how many trials will they be successful? This is where we think about measurability and achievability. Here, the how is ‘playing an instrument for 2 consecutive minutes.’
Along with these components, we must also include our type and level of prompting. The prompting in this goal would be ‘minimal prompting’, and the three types of prompts to choose from are verbal, gestural, and physical. Don’t forget about the option of independency! Our purpose is to help the client achieve the highest level of independence possible, so aiming for independence is the ultimate achievement.
“Big goals are important. You should always have a clear vision of where you would ultimately like [the client] to be. But be sure to set a number of smaller goals along the way. Accomplishment drives ambition.”
– Beau Taplin
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.
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 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!
We had a blast this morning at the Autism Speaks Walk! I cannot imagine a better way to spend my last day of internship. It was an honor to join in with this amazing community, advocating for individuals with autism. Moreover, it was an honor to perform on stage with The Kingsmen, The Yakety Yaks, and members of the Jam Session program. These talented teens and young adults showed me and everyone at the walk what it looks to overcome stage fright, to work hard, to be an amazing team member, to be proud of your accomplishments, and to HAVE FUN!
Check out these awesome musicians!