Winter/Holiday Interventions

Hello everyone, welcome to another blog post! 

This time of the year is so wonderful because you have the opportunity to do many winter and holiday themed interventions and sessions! I have talked about this a bit before in a previous blog post, but themed sessions that correlate with the time of the year is a great way to implement reality orientation with your clients. Since we live in San Diego and a lot of our clients have never experienced snow either, it is also another great way to teach them about different winter activities and what snow looks like! 

Today, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite winter/holiday themed interventions that we have facilitated over the past few weeks in December. I’ll also share the goals that you can target with these interventions as well.

  1. Build a Snowman

This is an intervention that you can use with both individual and group clients! I use this intervention for attention and listening goals. I printed, cut out and laminated various parts of a snowman, and used three 8×11” pieces of paper as a snowman’s body. For groups, I pass out different parts of the snowman, and within the song, different parts are called, and the client is supposed to hold up the correlating part of the snowman, and then they’re able to put it on the snowman. The parts are held on with velcro, so that they are able to easily detach and reattach. You can do the same thing with an individual client, but have the various parts of the snowman spread out, and then they find the correct part. I have attached a lead sheet of an adapted version of “Frosty the Snowman” that I wrote, along with a picture of my visual after a group of my clients completed this intervention 🙂 


  1. 12 Days of Christmas (piggybacked)

This is another intervention that I have created for my groups of clients that also focus on attention, sequencing and listening goals. I took the melody from the 12 Days of Christmas and changed it to the “10 Days of Winter”, and changed the lyrics so that each day is a different winter related object. Some objects I included are mittens, hot cocoa, fireplaces, snowmen, etc. I printed out photos of each object called, with one taking up an entire 8×11” sheet of paper, and then I pass them out to the clients. I explain that during the song, when their objects are called, they are to hold up the picture. This works great with bigger groups as well, because even if they do not have a picture, I prompt them to point at the picture of the object that is called. For example, when I sing “On the fifth day of winter, [facility name] gave to me, 5 snowflakes!”, the person with the picture of 5 snowflakes holds up their paper, and everyone else gets to point at the picture. 


  1. Holiday song fill in the blank 

Holiday songs can be a really great tool to use to help facilitate speech and work long-term memory because a lot of the songs are familiar to most clients. If you are familiar with the NMT technique called MUSTIM, this is a great technique to help facilitate both of these goals. You can facilitate this intervention with many different populations and settings as well, including older adults in memory care, a group of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as individual clients. Some of my most used songs for this intervention include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls. For example, in the song Rudolph, there are clear phrases and ends of lines. You can choose to leave off the last word in each line for clients to fill in, or make it more challenging by pausing in the middle of a line. For example, “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer had a very shiny _____, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it _______”. This is a great intervention to scaffold as well, and you can even scaffold it so by the end, they are able to sing the song entirely independently while you provide an accompaniment. 


  1. Pass Rudolph 

This is a great intervention to use in groups to allow clients to have the opportunity for a leadership role, and to work on listening skills. This intervention can be done with really any song, but in this case, we chose to use Rudolph because we have a stuffed Rudolph that we use as a prop. Clients are prompted to pass around the stuffed Rudolph, and when the therapist stops playing/singing, whoever Rudolph lands on, that person gets the chance to have a solo. The solo can be done with drums, tambourine, or any other percussion instrument, and they can even sing as well. The other clients are instructed to listen to the other person as they do their solo, and then to clap for them at the end. The therapist can provide an accompaniment on guitar/piano while the client has their solo, and can improvise words based off of what is happening in the moment to the tune of Rudolph. 

There you have it! Some of my favorite holiday interventions I have been using the past few weeks. I would love to hear from you all- what are some interventions that you’ve done? 

Happy holidays and see you in the next post!

– Juliana Hsu, MTI

Music Therapy Halloween Intervention Ideas!

Hello everyone, welcome to another blog post!

I realize that it is now November, but I still wanted to share some Halloween music therapy intervention ideas so that you all can start preparing for next year’s Halloween! All credits go to one of our wonderful music therapists, Esther Hood! She is the queen of coming up with new and creative intervention ideas for our clients.

One of the best things about these interventions is that they can be adapted for individual and group clients. We used these with our individual clients with autism, along with clients with special needs at group homes (6-8 people), and clients with special needs at a day facility (20-30 people). All of these interventions are based on attention goals, more specifically, MACT (for those of you who are familiar with NMT!) I will specify later on what goals we used for each intervention. 

  1. Halloween Hike

This is such a fun song to use, all of our clients really enjoyed all of the sound effects and interactive visuals! The lyrics to the song can be found here. A recording of this song can be found here. For this intervention, we worked on sustained attention. Visuals are passed out to the clients, each person either getting 1 or 2 depending on the size of the group. Visuals can be found here. If there are not enough visuals to go around, you can have the rest of the clients participate by making the sound effects and listening for what is next in the song! During the Halloween Hike, different objects are spotted throughout the song, and it is the clients’ job to pay attention to when their object is called, and then hold it up for the whole group to see, and then drop it in a plastic cauldron (if available), or a frame drum. For example, the first thing found on the hike is an owl, and whoever is holding the owl, they hold it up, and then drop it in the cauldron. 

You can also choose to make noises that associate with each object as another way to engage your clients, such as hooting like an owl. Continue this until all the objects have been called until the end of the song. During the line, “let’s get out of here!”, you can rapidly strum the guitar and have the clients run in place. This intervention can also be easily adapted for an individual client, but instead of giving them all 12 of the visuals at once, you can split them up into a field of 3 or more, depending on your client. 


      2. ~Spooky~ Bear Went Over The Mountain

This intervention takes the traditional song, “Bear Went Over the Mountain”, and gives it a spooky twist by playing the song in a minor key! I have been playing it in A minor, and the chords are I-IV-V. For this intervention, you can work on several different goals. I have used it with one of my clients who has a goal about decision making (MEFT), or you can also use this as another attention intervention (MACT). You may also choose to use this in a group setting. The visuals needed for this intervention can be found here and here

For this intervention, the client gets the opportunity to choose the lyrics that go into the song. The traditional version has the lyrics, “the bear went over the mountain”, but for this intervention, the client chooses words that replaces “bear” and “mountain”, with Halloween-related objects. For example, one of the flash cards says “bat” and “black cat”, which you would then insert into the song, and sing:

“The bat flew over the black cat, 

the bat flew over the black cat, 

the bat flew over the black cat 

to say Happy Halloween!” 

You can engage the client even further by having them sing along with you, or pausing before the object, and having them read the card out loud to you as a fill-in-the-blank exercise. 


      3. Hound Dog, but with monsters! 

 Another great intervention that I’ve seen Esther use is a piggyback version of the song “Hound Dog”. She first starts by showing the group pictures of different monsters related to Halloween, such as Frankenstein, a mummy, a vampire, etc. She asks the group (or can also be an individual client), what the monster is, and then what is something that they would do. For example, a common action for a vampire is to flip their cape. After deciding on an action, have clients mirror the action of the monster. Then, you can start singing “Hound Dog”, but insert the name of the monster into the song. Here is an example:

“You ain’t nothing but a vampire,

Flipping your cape all around [pause for action], 

You ain’t nothing but a vampire,

Flipping your cape all around [pause for action],

Well you ain’t never caught a rabbit,

And you ain’t no friend of mine!”


   4. Ghostbusters!

One of the most iconic and recognizable Halloween songs of all time is Ghostbusers! This is a great intervention that I have used with both older adults and adults with special needs. For older adults, this can work on short term memory and gross motor movements, and with adults with special needs, this can work on attention and gross motor movements.

For this intervention, I play a recording of Ghostbusters, and explain to the clients that every time they hear “Ghostbusters”, to raise their shakers high up in the air. If they have never heard the song before, I like to do a few trial runs by singing, “who you gonna call… Ghosbusters!” and modelling holding my shaker high up in the air. For adults with special needs, you can also use instruments, or you can use visuals of ghosts or other Halloween related objects. 

Throughout the entire song, you can explain to your clients that they can shake along with their instruments to get some exercise, and to be sure they are listening for their musical cues of when to hold up their shakers.

I’d love to hear from you all! What are some Halloween interventions that you’ve used in your music therapy sessions, or what are some of your favorite holidays to plan themes around? 

See you in the next post!

– Juliana Hsu 


Autism Speaks Walk + Kingsmen

Greetings, everyone- welcome to another blog post! 

I would love to share with you all a cool opportunity that occurred a few weeks ago, as well as some information about a few of our clients that I have the privilege to work with. On October 5th, we had the honor of going to the Autism Speaks Walk San Diego! In addition to that, some of our clients are in bands that The Music Therapy Center facilitates, and these bands got to perform on stage at the walk!

The walk was truly heartwarming and touching. One really special part from the morning was everyone gathering around together by the stage, and the emcee, Little Tommy gave special shout outs to all of the individuals that are either diagnosed with autism, or people who have family members and friends with autism. This was really special to see a sea of people who have come together for the same reason: to empower and celebrate individuals with Autism, and to look at the strengths that they hold instead of the “disabilities” part that people tend to focus on. A lot of Banding Together’s Jam Session members also were able to come up on stage and help us sing and dance right before this, which also made it very special! 

That being said, once a week, I have the opportunity to help facilitate a rock band that consists of four of our young adults with autism. We have a vocalist/keyboard player, an electric guitarist, a saxophonist, and a drummer. These four individuals are incredibly bright and talented individuals, each with their own big personalities. These clients never fail to make me smile and laugh every time I see them! For the past few months, we have been working on writing and performing an original blues song, and they were able to premiere that song at the walk! This was a huge step for them, as every person got a turn to improvise during the blues song. 


One of our goals as clinicians is for them is to step outside of their comfort zone and their box, because for individuals with Autism, getting stuck inside a routine and their own cycle can happen frequently. A lot of the times, The Kingsmen desire playing a song from top to bottom the same way every time, especially if the song is a cover, it has to sound exactly the same. Our goal with The Kingsmen Blues was to empower them to improvise and to let their own individual musicality and personality shine with their solos. Our electric guitar player was really excited to tell us that during his solo, he moved closer to the stage and went for it, because he has seen rock stars do that before, which was such a great thing for him! 

This event just made me realize even more how much talent and potential all of these individuals in the band have, and sometimes for them to reach their full potential, you may have to push them outside of their comfort zone. Even if they resist and may not like it at first, it can really help their confidence and self esteem, and they can learn a lot about themselves and improve as musicians as well. 

I’d love to hear from you! If you give adapted lessons, what are some of the ways you empower your clients to step out of their comfort zone? 

See you in the next post!

-Juliana Hsu

Session Planning: Using Themes!

Hi there everyone, and welcome to another blog post! 

This week, we’re going to talk themes! Before internship, I never really thought about centering my session around a theme. However, it’s a great option to help plan your session for several reasons which we will break down more later, including…

  1. It can help clients with reality orientation
  2. Centers the session around a specific topic
  3. Helps the therapist narrow down songs and interventions to use 
  4. Educate clients about topics that may be unfamiliar to them


  1. It can help clients with reality orientation

Choosing themes to center your session around based off of the current season or holiday is a great way to orient your clients to the here and now (for example, what time of year it is, important events, time of day, etc.). For example, in July, we did summer themed sessions in our older adult groups and at group homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. September 23rd was the official first day of fall, so we started doing fall themed session plans that week. During August, we also did a “back to school” theme. There are endless options for themes to incorporate, and the fall/winter is a great time to use themes with all of the holidays, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, winter, etc. 

  1. Centers the session around a specific topic

When starting out as an intern or student, often times, it can be difficult to smoothly transition between different interventions and songs that you use. However, if your session centers around a specific topic, it can be much easier to tie together everything that you are doing in a session. For example, for our “back to school” theme, we first started with a PSE intervention and used the song “School Days”. Afterwards, while you’re getting the next intervention ready, you can tie together the previous intervention by saying something like, “Not only are elementary aged kids also going back to school, but college kids are moving into their dorms and starting back at school too! Something fun that a lot of college students participate in include going to football games and watching the marching band! Let’s get our muscles moving by playing in our own drum circle and making our very own band!” Then, you can smoothly transition into TIMP by doing a drum circle. 

  1. Helps the therapist narrow down songs and interventions to use

So. Many. Songs. To. Choose. From. This is a great problem to have, but can often be quite overwhelming when choosing what songs to use in your sessions! However, if you choose a theme, it immensely narrows down songs you can use that will fit your theme. Google is your best friend when it comes to this. For example, are you doing a fall themed session plan? No problem! Type in “fall-themed songs” into Google, and it will automatically pop up the most popular songs in that category. This also fits into what we talked about above, where it can center your session around a specific topic if you choose songs that fit into a similar category. Some songs that we have used in a summer-themed session plan include: 

  • Summer of ‘69
  • Under the Boardwalk
  • Surfin’ Safari 
  • Hot, Hot, Hot
  • Jump in the Line 
  • Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
  • My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
  • In the Good Old Summertime
  • Under the Sea 
  • Let’s Go Fly A Kite
  • Summertime
  • Blue Skies
  • Any Beach Boys song!
  1. Educate clients about topics that may be unfamiliar to them

Choosing different themes is also a great way to educate clients on topics that they may not have a lot of opportunities to learn about. For example, we are currently doing a camping theme for our adult groups with ID/DD, which also ties into fall. A lot of clients most likely have not had the opportunity to go camping, so this is another educational opportunity for them to learn something new. For this session plan, I have different visuals that correlate to different interventions, and I allow clients to pick a visual out of a drum, or I hold up two options for them to choose from. This also gives them the power of choice. For example, there is a visual of a picnic table, and then that correlates with our “question of the day”, which asks clients what their favorite camping snack food is. I also facilitate upper body PSE by using scarves as kites, and a movement intervention with a parachute as the “tent”. Afterwards, our visuals each have velcro, and they stick onto a larger visual that makes an entire camping scene. I have included a photo of my visual below:

To make this visual, I printed out and laminated a generic forest background. Then, I googled stock images, cut out and laminated the visuals, and then finally put velcro squares on different parts of the background picture and my visuals. If you want to save yourself some time from making your own visuals, there are already lots of ready-made visuals that you can find on Pinterest or teacher websites! 

Some more examples of different themes you can use for teaching topics include world music, surfing, show tunes, movies, love songs and sports! 

I want to hear from you! What are some themes that you use?

Thank you for reading and see you in the next post!

-Juliana Hsu

Full-time Student to Full-time Intern: Transitioning Lifestyles!

Hello everyone!

It has already been almost 4 whole weeks since I started life as a music therapy intern! I thought I would write my first blog post about my still fresh experiences of what it is like to transition from being a full-time student to a full-time intern, and give some helpful tips of how to prepare for your brand new life and schedule!

First thing’s first- giving yourself enough time to move! If your internship is in a different location than where you currently are, especially if it is in an unfamiliar place, give yourself enough time to secure a place to live and to physically move your stuff and get settled. I was living in Lawrence, KS, so I had quite a long journey to go to get to San Diego. I flew out to California about a month before my internship started, and gave myself a week to find somewhere to live. Before I left, I compiled information with different apartment options, and a plan for visiting each one. Even if there seems like there aren’t many options online, once you are driving around the area, you will notice that there are complexes around every corner! It is especially helpful going at night to see if it is a place that you feel safe in.

I moved in about a week before my internship started, which I felt for me personally, was an ideal amount of time to get settled. Power through and try to get everything unpacked in the first few days- it’ll really help your new home actually feel like home! Take the rest of the time to really relax and explore the city before you are in full-blown internship mode! 

(^ Don’t let this be you)

Some important things to consider before your internship starts includes practicing driving to the office during the typical time you would have to get there, especially if that time is during rush hour. Do you usually have to go into work at 8 am and it takes you about 20 minutes to get there? Practice getting up early one day and head out around 7:30 and see if that gives you enough time! Remember, being early is on time, and being on time is late. I have found that the app “Waze” is really helpful. There is an option in the app where you can put what time you have to be at a certain destination, and it will tell you exactly what time you should leave based off of typical traffic patterns. 

Scope out the area around your office too- look for restaurants, grocery stores, walking trails- anything you think will be beneficial for you during your time during internship. I have an hour every day for lunch, and one thing I have been doing is going on at least a 30 minute walk every day during my break at a nearby park. It really helps me recharge, get some fresh air, and energize myself for the rest of the day! 

As for internship starting- what everyone says is definitely true. I thought after four years of going to school for 12 hours every day, I would be prepared for anything that was coming my way…

The kind of energy you need for music therapy sessions all day every day is very different. This is where self care is key (I know, I’m sure you’ve heard that millions of times, but it’s true!) Make sure you take the time to schedule in things you need to relax and unwind. Also, meal prep!!! It will save you lots of time and money. Not having to worry about what I am going to eat throughout the week is a huge time and headache saver. Also, always carry lots and lots of water on you, and keep snacks in your car if you are commuting to different facilities! 

Lastly… sleep! When you’re in school, you may only have to worry about facilitating sessions once or twice a week, but soon, you’ll have many back to back sessions every day! A healthy and working voice is very important, and sleep is the key to this. (And water… hydrate or diedrate!) 

I am really excited and looking forward to this new adventure for the next 6 months- happy reading and see you in the next post! And if you are also an intern or about to start your internship soon- congratulations! You can do it!!

-Juliana Hsu 

We Are the Champions

2017-06-11 19.41.38.jpgAt a recent party, we realized that MTCCA interns numbers 11 through 18 were all in attendance (pictured left to right: Tara Harwell, Becca Paoni, Kristin Hurley, Marissa Phillips, Chiara Francolino, Brandon Wright and Shannon Flaherty).How great it was to have 7 of our current and former interns together at once. Click here to view their spontaneous musical performance.

Meet Nerissa

We are excited to announce our newest intern!

Nerissa Manela is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Music in Music Education and Music Therapy at the University of Miami (UM), where her principal instrument is violin. She was very involved at UM, including her roles in the Alpha Mu Music Therapy Club, Secretary of the UM National Association for Music Education, and violinist in the Frost Symphony Orchestra. Nerissa has gotten involved in music therapy at the national level by serving as a student representative on the American Music Therapy Association’s internship Approval Committee. She also spent a summer in Ireland working with music therapists at COPE Foundation, an organization that serves over 1,000 individuals with disabilities.

“From the time I was in my primary school orchestra, the music culture impacted everything that I did. Music played such a big role in my life, and I wanted to pass on my positive experience with music to others. Music therapy allows me to pursue my passions for music and helping people.”

Meet the Intern Behind the Posts: Craig

CraigCraig Ruggels is currently a music therapy intern for The Music Therapy Center of California. He is pursuing his Maters degree in music therapy from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, after receiving his Bachelor’s degree in music from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.

Craig’s primary instrument is anything percussion. Craig as a music therapy student has become proficient in guitar and piano, as well. He has worked with individual who have mental, physical and psychological disabilities and/or impairments.

Craig’s story

“Music has always had a special place in my life; it has been there in times of celebration and not so happy times. Being able to play music gives me great joy. When returning to college to pursue my degree in music at a later stage in life I found the life of a college student to be incredibly stressful. I found music therapy as a way to relieve my stress and to give me a new direction to follow as a career. I have never regretted that choice, working as a music therapy give me a sense of fulfillment knowing that I am helping to improve the lives of others.”