Friday Fave: Inaugural Guest Post!

Since launching Listen & Learn Music a year ago, I have been extremely fortunate to connect with so many wonderful parents, music educators, and fellow music therapists. Twitter and Facebook have also been wonderful tools for networking within the music therapy community, and I’ve gone from feeling completely isolated as the only music therapist in my city to having contact with colleagues across the country.

Today I’d like to introduce you to Listen & Learn’s first-ever guest blogger, Kimberly Sena Moore,MM, NMT, MT-BC. I met Kimberly via Twitter, and quickly discovered that in addition to being a wonderfully nice and interesting person, she is a fountain of knowledge in the field. She is Director of Neurosong Music Therapy Services, Inc. and blogs at Music Therapy Maven (where I recently had to opportunity to write a guest post). A Neurologic Music Therapist and Board-Certified Music Therapist, Kimberly has a keen interest in understanding how our brain is affected by music and a strong desire to educate the public about music therapy, as evidenced in her article as follows:

The 5 Most Important Things to Know About Neurodevelopment

My favorite graduate courses were the neuroscience courses. It fascinated me how the brain was organized, how it functioned, and how this incredibly complex and dynamic organism could be broken down and understood in simpler parts. Amazing.

And now that I work with trauma-influenced children, I’ve learned much more about neurodevelopment. I have had first-hand experience of the profound and pervasive effects their experiences have had on their ever-growing and ever-changing brains.

In that spirit, I wanted to share with you the 5 most important things you need to know about neurodevelopment. These five concepts are foundational to understanding how our brains, and how our clients, grow, develop, and learn. And here they are:

1. Neurodevelopment is Predictable. Our nervous system develops in the same order every single time. Every time. The first systems to develop are the more primitive ones – those in the spinal cord and brainstem. These structures also happen to be life-sustaining and are responsible for basic regulatory functions (e.g. heart rate, respiration, consciousness, etc.). Our brain then develops in a sequential fashion – once the primitive systems are in place, development moves to the more complex structures (e.g. the neocortex). In fact, did you know that, even though our brainstem is basically fully developed at birth, parts of our neocortex are not fully developed until our mid-20s? And it happens in the same way….every single time.

2. Neurodevelopment is Hierarchical. Our brain is organized in a hierarchical fashion. The simpler, more primitive structures are responsible, or mediate, the more basic, primitive, simpler functions (e.g. the brainstem is responsible for many of our life-sustaining functions mentioned above). The more complex structures mediate the more complex functions (e.g. the neocortex is responsible for verbal skills and abstract reasoning). And our brains are wired (no pun intended) to develop in this hierarchical fashion. The simpler, more primitive structures need to develop before the more complex ones can. Success at one stage depends on success at previous stages. We had to learn how to sit up, before we could crawl, before we could stand, before walking, then running, jumping, etc. We didn’t start out running – the first step was to learn how to sit up. And it’s the same with neurodevelopment. We need to learn how to breathe and pump our blood before we can talk or make moral decisions. Neurodevelopment is hierarchical.

3. Neurodevelopment is Use-Dependent. “Use-dependent” is a term Dr. Bruce Perry, a Texas-based researcher, uses. Use-dependency is a reason why we are so individualized, despite the fact that our brains develop in the same, predictable way every time. Neurons are the only cells in our body that change based on our experiences. This ability affects the whole brain. Our brain is constantly reacting to what occurs in our environment. It’s a very plastic organ. It responds to what is occurring in our environment and, if needed, will change so we can adapt to our environment. So the brain of a child who grows up in neglectful, abusive, chaotic environment will need different skills that the brain of a child who grows up in a stable, loving, nurturing environment. Their two brains will develop differently because they will adapt to the needs and skills each child requires to survive. Use-dependency – how our brains develop depend on how they are used.

4. Neurodevelopment begins in the womb. We are shaped by our experiences even before we are born. Our brain is changing and adapting to the environment in utero. Scary, huh? (It was when I was pregnant!). The brain of a child whose mother experiences abuse while pregnant will be different than the brain of a child whose mother experiences love and support while pregnant. Those two children will have been exposed to their mothers’ emotions, chemicals, and stress and will develop differently as a reaction to those experiences. Our in utero experiences affect our developing brain. It begins in the womb.

5. The first 3 years are the most important. The amount of learning and growing that takes place in the first three years of life is mind-boggling. Our brains will never grow as rapidly as they do when we are babies, infants, and toddlers. It’s during these early childhood years that that the majority of brain development occurs. According the Dr. Perry, our brains are 90% adult size by the time we turn 4. And the learning that takes place in those early years have profound and pervasive effects throughout our lives.

If you are interested in reading more, I would recommend the articles and writings of Dr. Bruce Perry. Although he is a neuroscientist and research, you will find his writings accessible and easy-to-understand. You can find much of his work available for free on his non-profit’s website, the Child Trauma Academy.


Several of the classes with whom I work at The Hope Institute are specially designed for children with behavioral issues and disorders. Usually those students are some of the sweetest and most enthusiastic kids I see all week, but there are times where it is very apparent why they were placed in that particular classroom.

One of the problems we often seen is disrespectful interactions with peers. Whether it is a gesture, verbal exchange, or even a look, such behavior can set off not only the involved students, but also can result in classroom-wide disruption.

Respect is a word that is spoken often around here, and I wanted to echo its importance in my music therapy sessions. One of the simplest ways to do so is to foster positive interactions between students – the goal of this song:

You can help somebody feel good today,
Do you know the easiest way?
Just give a compliment to someone else.
Think of something nice to say.

The first time I led this activity, it was like pulling teeth to have students volunteer and compliment a peer of their choosing. However, after everyone had a turn, hands were going up for seconds and thirds. It is sweet to see these outgoing, outspoken kids suddenly become shy as they either give or receive a compliment, but it is apparent how much they enjoy giving them and how much it means to be on the receiving end.

This has become a weekly activity in the behavior-centered classrooms. I sing the verse, call on a volunteer to take his or her turn, and then sing the verse again before the next student goes. They know what to do, but the lyrics remind them that they are causing good feelings in their peers just by giving a simple compliment.

Music is for Ourselves, Too

I know I’m not alone in the fact that I am constantly forgetting this, and then being reminded of it every so often. Those of us in the music therapy or education field, particularly those who work with children, are so focused on how music can help our students and clients that we often lose sight of music’s role in our own lives. Most of us probably went into our profession because we were positively affected by the presence of music in our lives, and wanted to share that with others. At least, I know this was the case for me. Yet very rarely do I take the time now to listen to or write music for myself.

Very recently, I experienced one of those aforementioned “reminders”. I’ve really liked Ingrid Michaelson, an indie singer-songwriter, ever since her song “The Way I Am” was made famous in an Old Navy commercial (if you are chilly, here, take my sweater…). I checked out some of her other songs, but sort of forgot about her until recently, when her album Everybody was released. I purchased it on iTunes, and burned it to a CD so that I could listen to it in the car.

Well that was two weeks ago, and I haven’t stopped listening. I really identify with several songs on the CD, particularly the title track. It’s usually the last song I listen to before I get to school, and today I realized how refreshed I felt, how inspired, just by hearing that song. It was a familiar feeling; I’m easily moved by music when I actually take the time to listen. But that is the key – taking the time to really listen, and discover which music is a positive influence on our lives, our work, our sanity.

It’s hard to take off my music therapy hat. In fact, I think it’s glued to my head! After I finish my last session or lesson of the night, I think to myself, “What song could I write to help Susie with (insert goal here)?”. A blessing that I love my job so much, but at the same time, a curse that I have a difficult time walking away from it, separating the “music” from “music therapy” every once in a while.

What music do you listen to for yourself? I’m very interested in hearing about the musical outlets that you seek outside the realm of therapy, education, and parenting, so please share.

The Leaves on the Trees

As I’ve mentioned, oh, just a few hundred times or so before, summer is the #1 season in my book. But there’s just something about the change in temperature, the beautiful colors, and the smell outside as fall approaches that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. The crisp air is so refreshing, and everything seems brand new.

Fall doesn’t officially begin until next week, but I’ve already begun brainstorming and writing songs all about the coming season. The first of those is “The Leaves on the Trees”, which imitates the process of trees shedding their leaves: slowly at first, and then faster and faster until all the leaves are on the ground.

The leaves on the trees,
They sway in the breeze,
They sway all around, all around.
Slowly first, then faster
Until all the leaves fall down.

(Repeat, gradually getting faster each time)

My students love, love, LOVE these “speeding up” songs, and no matter how fast I play, they always yell, “Faster!”. Instruments that work well with this type of song include shakers, bells, tambourines, or anything that a child can play easily and quickly.

How are you and your students preparing for fall? The walls of The Hope Institute (where I work) are covered in autumn artwork, and the kids are already talking about Halloween. They are one step ahead of me!

Tone Block Time

What a weekend! Saturday evening was the Celebrity Chef dinner at The Hope Institute, and my students did an AMAZING job singing three songs in front of an audience of over 300 people. Not only did we receive a standing ovation after the second song, but the entire audience remained standing and clapped along with our closer, an upbeat goodbye song. I received so many compliments for my students’ hard work, and I have to say, it was definitely one of the best moments in my career as a music therapist so far. Oh, and the CDs we made were a huge hit, too. All in all, a very successful night!

But the fun didn’t stop there. Yesterday was the first Church Mice class of the fall session, and oh my goodness, did we have an awesome turnout. Around 20 families attended, and it was so exciting to see all the kids enjoying themselves as we sang, played instruments, and danced around the room. One of the instruments that I always incorporate into the class is the resonator bell, or tone block as we call them at Church Mice. I wrote a new song especially for our tone blocks, which goes like this:

Ring, ring,
Hear the chime.
Now you know it’s tone block time.
Ring, ring.
Loud and clear,
Ringing is the sound you hear.

_________ makes her tone block ring,
As we all play along and sing.

_________ makes his tone block ring,
As we all play along and sing.

Ring, ring,
Hear the chime.
Now you know it’s tone block time.
Ring, ring.
Loud and clear,
Ringing is the sound you hear.

Each child has a turn in the spotlight to play his or her tone block. It’s so cute to see their faces light up as their names are sung! I love when those who are the most shy at the beginning become the most eager to play and be heard as the class goes on. Such a fun time!

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