What is Music Therapy?
Down Syndrome Amongst Us, Issue 5/1997, p. 30-2. Copyright © 1997|
Kathleen A. Coleman, RMT-BC
Registered Music Therapist, Board Certified
Prelude Music Therapy
3360 Spruce Lane
Grapevine, TX 76051
Reprinted with the permission of Sarah M. Sander, Editor
32 Rutlage Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Fax: (718) 834-5255
Music therapy is the prescribed, structured use of music and music strategies by a trained music therapist to influence changes in the learning or behavior patterns of a child. It is one of the related services listed in both the federal and state laws pertaining to the education of individuals with disabilities.
Parents often choose to seek out a music therapist because they notice that their child is particularly responsive to or motivated by music. Parents wonder if music would be a tool to help the child learn needed skills. Indeed, music can be an effective learning tool for many children with disabilities. The effectiveness of this tool varies from child to child and music therapy is definitely not a miracle cure for any type of disability. However, since music is processed by a different area of the brain than speech and language, a child may be able to more easily absorb information and skills presented with music. Music is also motivating and fun, which is useful when working with a child who demonstrates low motivation to learn.
Music therapists working with children who are developmentally disabled select objectives from the IEP (or from whatever education plan is in place, if the individual is not school age) that can be reinforced and supported through the use of music strategies. The music therapist then selects and designs songs, instrumental activities, movement activities and other types of related musical approaches that will help address the designated IEP objectives. For example, a music therapist might have a child who has the following objectives on his/her IEP:
The music therapist might use number flashcards paired with a song about numbers to encourage number recognition. She might also utilize instruments with numbers taped to them to further develop number recognition. A song that lists the days of the week could be used to develop the skill of saying the days of the week in correct order. The music therapist consistently encourages the student to use a short phrase to request items. Often, when a student sees something he or she really wants, then a phrase can be more easily encouraged. Pairing the reading of safety and survival signs with a particular song assists the student in retaining this information more successfully.
- recognizing numbers from one to ten
- saying the days of the week in order
- using a short phrase to request items
- reading 5 safety and survival signs
Why Does Music Therapy Work?
The following profile illustrates the ways in which music therapy can be of value in assisting children with Down syndrome to learn.
- The brain is a musical brain. The rhythms of sound have a powerful
impact on cognition. The information most adults consistently recall
from childhood is songs and rhymes.
- Emotional engagement is the key to effective learning. Music therapy
engages the emotions; thus unlocking the brain and preparing it for
- People have at least seven distinct intelligences. One of these
intelligence areas is the musical area. Often people with special needs
learn best through music because that part of the brain is an older part
of the brain and less likely to be damaged from birth defects,
- Enriched environments literally change the brain. Intelligence is not
static. Students can lose brain cells in impoverished classroom
environments; i.e., classrooms that are barren and unchallenging. Music
therapy provides a way to enrich the educational environment of a
student with special needs.
- Singing and chanting relaxes students which puts them in the optimal
state for language learning.
- The rhythms of sound have a powerful effect on cognition skills. For
students with special needs, retention of cognitive skills may be more
consistent when music therapy strategies are used.
- Memorizing songs and rhymes is a helpful step towards developing
- The rhythm and repetition of the texts of songs help students
internalize the sounds and patterns of language.
- Long term word for word accuracy in recall often comes if something
is set to words and melody. (i.e., A-B-C song)
- Connecting song, language and movement dramatically increases
- Rhythm, rhyme and music are powerful hooks to memory. Adults remember
songs from childhood and the emotional context surrounding them.
- Research studies have shown that 80 - 90% of individuals with autism
respond positively to music as a motivator.
- Research has shown that music is a valued tool for stimulating the
right side of the brain; and also is helpful in encouraging bilateral
activity between the brain hemispheres.
- The area of the brain that responds to music is located in a
different area than the speech and language area.
- Music can be paired with primary reinforcers (food!) to help a
student develop a reaction to a secondary reinforcer and reduce
dependency on food rewards.
- The sounds and vibrations of music can be a temporary replacement for
self-stimulating behaviors exhibited by a student.
- Music is an easy reinforcer to deliver; it doesn'
t require heavy duty
- Music used as a reinforcer does not tend to cause satiation, which is
a common problem associated with food reinforcers.
Colby is seven years old and is a gregarious, personable young boy. He
thoroughly enjoys all life has to offer including his dance lessons,
camping, fishing, playing with his friends and reading books. He attends
a regular first grade class with help from the resource room teacher.
Colby has Down syndrome, which causes him to learn more slowly than the
average child his age. He learns best when concepts are introduced
repetitively in various ways. Math skills, such as number concepts and
addition are more difficult for Colby, while letter skills and reading
come more easily. Colby'
s excellent memory helps him retain skills once
he is able to master them.
s parents decided to pursue music therapy because Colby had
always liked music and was in need of a therapeutic avenue to work on
language and academic skills. Although private speech therapy had been
helpful in the past, he had benefited all he could from this avenue
learning. Music therapy offered a different way to reinforce goals on
his Individual Education Plan. Pairing specific learning skills with
music seemed to help Colby concentrate and retain information.
s current Individual Education Plan (IEP) prioritizes primarily
academic skills in the areas of language arts, mathematics, science,
health, physical education and fine arts. In addition, he does receive
speech therapy through the school district. Speech therapy objectives
include: choosing the picture that does not belong, identifying an
object or picture by function, telling the function when an object is
named, answering questions from an oral story, giving personal
information in sentence form, and understanding and responding to "wh"
questions. Speech therapy also addresses articulation of the "K", "G" and "F" sounds.
Colby began receiving music therapy in the summer of 1990. Initially,
he attended a group music therapy session offered during the summer. At
the end of the summer, his parents decided to enroll him in private
music therapy. When Colby first began music therapy, he spoke primarily
in single words and a few phrases. He was always willing to try any task
presented with music, so motivating Colby was quite easy. Initial focus
of music therapy was on expanding Colby'
s vocabulary and length of
utterance. Colby rapidly learned the names of instruments, even unusual
ones such as the cabasa, and began to request his favorite instruments
with longer phrases and sometimes simple sentences. Academic concepts,
such as color, shape and letter identification were addressed through
music therapy by using various songs and instrumental strategies which
reinforced these concepts. Providing a tape for Colby to listen to at
home or in the car was additional reinforcement.
Currently, Colby receives private music therapy once a week for thirty
minutes. His music therapy objectives include such skills as completing
a rhyme with a rhyming word, sounding out words by using beginning and
ending consonants of a word, acquiring a basic sight word vocabulary
related to music (i.e., names of instruments), demonstrating
understanding of number quantity to 10, stating his address and phone
number and several other skills. One of Colby'
s favorite songs, The
Riddle-Rhyme Song, encourages him to complete each verse with a rhyming
word. He quickly mastered the eight verses, which left the therapist
with the task of writing more verses!! Colby enjoys one strategy in
particular which involves choosing a card with the printed name of an
instrument from a stack of cards. When he correctly reads the name of
the instrument, he has the opportunity to play that instrument. He is
always able to identify the word drum!
His parents think that music therapy has been particularly helpful in
reinforcing the goals from Colby'
s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
In their words, "music therapy provides a different and fun avenue for
learning, and provides the additional repetition that Colby needs to
learn and retain specific skills."
Revised: February 17, 1999.