Music Therapy

Music therapy is the evidence-based approach of using music to address non-musical goals. Interventions used vary widely based on the needs, abilities, and preferences of the individual participating, and they are thoughtfully selected and implemented by a credentialed music therapist. Neurologic Music Therapy is a clinical model of music therapy that utilizes a system of techniques based in the neuroscience of music’s effects on the brain.  Some examples include:
  • Singing favorite songs to promote and improve speech
  • Rewriting song lyrics to identify and express emotions
  • Dancing to music with a strong beat to promote smooth and controlled body movements
  • Writing songs to help sequence daily tasks
  • Musical games designed to promote attention and executive function

Music Therapy for Speech Goals

Music therapy can help stimulate speech, improve clarity, and promote expressive language. By singing a familiar and enjoyable song, the music therapist can prompt a client to sing along by providing spaces for the client to fill in words. When someone sings “You are my….”, our brains naturally want to complete the phrase- “Sunshine!”

To improve clarity of speech, a music therapist may teach some vocal exercises as a warm up to singing the client’s favorite songs. One popular and silly-sounding vocal warm up, “mommy made me mash my M&M’s,” can provide the singer an opportunity to practice the “m” sound, word sequencing, and pitch variance all at the same time!

Music therapists can use the lyrics of a client’s favorite songs as an opportunity to explore emotional language and communication. We can talk about how the singer might feel based on the words in the song, and even re-write the lyrics to explore other feelings and ideas. We could even work together to write a new song completely from scratch!

Music Therapy for Motor Goals

Music therapy can help develop fine and gross motor skills through movement to music, playing instruments, and more. Gross motor skills targeted may include walking with a steady gait, coordinating intentional movements, or increasing range of motion, depending on the individual. To help promote an even walking gait, a music therapist can play music with a strong steady beat as the client walks. If you have ever walked or ran to music, you may have noticed that your body naturally wanted to match the pace of the music. This same principle is applied in music therapy, and is used to help people who have trouble maintaining an even walking pattern.

Some people have trouble making controlled, intentional movements. 

For this, a music therapist may create a simple choreographed dance that helps the client practice these movements to music with a strong beat. The beat provides structure for the movement, and helps the client’s body learn how to time the movement appropriately. The therapist may also provide rhythm sticks or a drum for the client to tap to the beat of the music, providing a target and purpose for the movement.
To practice fine motor skills, the music therapist may utilize teaching the basics of playing piano or ukulele, which each require practice in controlling finger movement. We can start by playing piano keys using one finger at a time, then adding more as the client progresses. There are also bells and other percussion instruments that can be used as motivating ways to practice intricate finger movements!

Music Therapy for Mental Health

Music therapy can provide opportunities to connect with others in a non-threatening environment. Playing music in a group can be a way to engage and communicate with peers without needing to hold conversations, or even make eye-contact. Improvisation can allow for a nonverbal form of communication, while lyric analysis and song writing can help with identifying and processing emotions.

Music can be used as a conversation-starter to discuss building self-esteem, coping with difficult emotions, or exploring unfamiliar situations. Using song lyrics to discuss issues takes the pressure off of someone talking exclusively about themselves, and helps them find comfort in knowing other people experience similar emotions and struggles. Music therapy utilizes the musical preferences of the individual, allowing for self-expression, independence, and agency within the therapeutic process.

Music Therapy for Sensory Processing

For people who have trouble with sensory processing, music therapy can help teach healthy coping skills to address sensory needs. Music naturally integrates multiple senses, and the predictable nature of music can be inherently soothing. For those who are seeking specific sensory inputs, music therapy can provide the following:

  • Auditory stimulation: listening to preferred music at a volume comfortable for the participant
  • Tactile stimulation: touching and playing drums, piano keys, guitar strings, and other instruments of varying textures
  • Proprioception (sense of body-awareness): squeezing muscles and joints to a steady beat can be an exercise taught through music therapy that can be used in daily life to receive this type of input in a healthy way



For those who are avoidant of specific sensory inputs, music therapy can help provide self-regulation skills in times of over-stimulation. The motivating nature of music may also provide a bridge to making unpleasant inputs more tolerable. Some examples of this include:

  • Auditory stimulation: listening to soft, easily-predictable melodies through headphones to block out the source of the over-stimulating noise
  • Tactile stimulation: the desire to hear the sounds of instruments may provide motivation to explore various textures and allow for adjustment to the sensory input
  • Vestibular stimulation (moving through space): performing a series of movements set to preferred music that are slow, linear, and predictable so that it may provide a way to experience this sensory input while avoiding overstimulation


1:1 Music Therapy– A music therapist working with an individual client to create and implement a treatment plan. Interventions used will be based on musical experiences that are motivating for the individual, and that also focus on their specific needs, abilities, and goals.

My Little Love and Me” – A group for children 5 and under and their caregiver using music as an opportunity for bonding as well as exploration of language, motor and sensory integration skills.  Participants will be able to sing, move and play along with the therapist to create meaningful experiences with their child. This group is also offered virtually through Google Meet. 

Movement to Music– A group that uses stretching and dancing exercises to practice gross motor skills, sequencing, and mind-body connection. Participants will have the opportunity to perform dances, suggest preferred songs, and learn how to use stretching and breathing exercises for self-regulation.

Social Jam- A casual group provided to allow socialization and self-expression through group music-making and improvisation. Participants will have the opportunity to play a variety of instruments and sing along to chosen music along with a group of their peers.

Drumming Empowerment – is a fun, evidence-based whole person strategy which promotes socialization and ensures a healthy, non-strenuous workout.  On a deeper level it build bridges while fostering nurturing, support, camaraderie, self-respect and respect for others.

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