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How does music therapy work?

So, you have decided that your child requires help to develop in one or all of the skill areas listed in the previous question or you have been informed that your child’s early intervention/special education program includes music therapy and are wondering what a Music Therapy program will look, feel and sound like – how will music therapy work? Well, the first and most important thing to know is that Music Therapy is a fun, positive and non-threatening therapy environment in which your child will be given the opportunity to flourish. The very nature of music as an endlessly versatile, universal language makes it the perfect tool to bridge the silent gap often heard in families of children with special needs.

Within special education, a Registered Music Therapist (RMT) is usually found working as part of an allied health and teaching team. The other professionals this type of team might consist of are a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), Occupational Therapist (OT), Physiotherapist (PT) and Teachers. In this type of setting, all professionals, including the RMT, are working towards achieving the same goals as set out in each child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). It is the RMTs job to plan the creative use of music to aid in the achievement of these goals. 

In a Music Therapy session, a RMT will usually play a guitar or piano/keyboard, sing and have a variety of untuned percussion instruments. As well as this musical equipment, the RMT may also bring along picture symbols and a repertoire of Makaton Key-Word signs to aid in communicating with your child as well as any other non-musical resources that may be required to most effectively assist in meeting the needs of your child.

There are several methods employed in Music Therapy and your child’s Music Therapy Program may include all of them or only one, depending on your child’s needs and the goals of the program. These include:

  • receptive methods – listening to live/pre-recorded music.
  • expressive methods – singing.
  • creative methods – engaging in song writing.
  • improvisational methods – engaging in the spontaneous, unplanned creation of instrumental/vocal interaction.

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