6 Tips for Staying Healthy Around Kids

 8 Tips for Staying Healthy

Don’t worry; none of my tips involve wearing a face mask! This post was inspired by Linda, a fellow music therapist who sent the following question in an email yesterday:

I was wondering if you could write one day about how you stay healthy when working with so many students.  I began working with over a hundred kids this school year and have already been on antibiotics twice for upper respiratory infections and had the stomach flu.  I clean my instruments after each use with antibiotic wipes and wash my hands constantly.  Aside from wearing rubber gloves and a face mask, I’m not sure what to do.  Do you have any suggestions?

Oh boy, Linda. I have been there and done that! In fact, I spent my internship — the first time I’d been exposed to many children on a daily basis — sick as a dog. We’re talking flu, sinus infections, pink eye, bronchitis…you name it, I had it at one point during those nine months.

And since I came right out of my internship into a job at a school working with over 120 children every week, I knew I needed to come up with better methods of self-defense against all those germs. There’s no single guaranteed method for avoiding sickness when you work in such an environment, but here are a few I’ve come to swear by:

  1. Get a flu shot. This may seem like a “duh!” statement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if half the people reading this do not make a habit of getting a yearly flu shot. My former workplace provided flu shots to all of its employees, so I was always first in line to get one. This year I’m on my own, but planning to get my shot before the week is over. It can be unpleasant, but avoiding 4 days (or more) of pure misery is worth having a sore arm for a day.
  2. Emergen-C. I keep multiple boxes of this Vitamin C-packed drink mix stashed in my kitchen. Anytime I feel a cold coming on, I stir a packet into a glass of water and repeat throughout the next couple of days. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it is effective!
  3. Stock up on antibacterial gel. There are multiple pump bottles of this stuff throughout my studio — on my desk, next to my piano, in my instrument closet — because I dive for it anytime I see a student touch his or her nose or mouth. I also try to make a habit of having students rub their hands down before touching the piano or any other instrument.
  4. Cold-Eeze. This falls into the same category of Emergen-C as a necessity, especially during cold and flu season. This is a homeopathic cold remedy containing zinc, and although it leaves a funny aftertaste, it seems to do its job.
  5. Remind parents not to bring their children for music therapy sessions or lessons when they are sick, no matter how minor the illness. I send out emails reminding parents that even coughs and runny noses qualify as reasons to keep students at home, because they can lead to more severe illnesses that spread like wildfire. You may not have this luxury in a school setting; if a child is showing symptoms, be sure to take extra precautions.
  6. If you do fall prey to germs and end up sick, stay home. Music therapists are notorious for “working through” illnesses rather than canceling or rescheduling sessions. I am guilty of facilitating music therapy sessions with full-blown laryngitis in the past, but I’ve learned never to do that again. My voice is my livelihood, and it’s just not worth the risk!

Other no-brainers like eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and not touching your mouth and nose before, during or after contact with children should be heeded as well. Now it’s your turn: help Linda and the rest of us out by providing your tips for staying healthy around kids.

10 Tips for the Gigging Musician

Tips for the Gigging Musician

One of my favorite things about summer is playing gigs — something I don’t have much time for during the school year.  I played my first gig ever back in 2008, and I’ll admit it: I was a little clueless.  But three years and countless gigs later, I have a much better handle on things.

So yesterday when Kimberly Sena Moore posted on Facebook about playing her first gig next week, I was inspired to whip up this post with a few tips I wish I’d known way back when.

  1. Know your venue and audience.  My set list for a bar gig is not the same as it is for a gig like today’s, which is outdoors on the Old State Capitol plaza.  It helps to have a general idea of who will be listening, and what the environment will be like.  Bar = all adults, lots of talking and background noise.  Outdoor public area = children will probably be present, more eyes and ears on the performer.
  2. Dress comfortably.  If it’s hot (it’s going to be 96 today!), wear something that will help you stay cool but that is still appropriate to the venue.  Keep in mind that you’ll probably be bending over to set up equipment.  And if you’re going to be standing (which I always do during a gig) make sure your shoes are comfortable.
  3. Be well prepared. There’s nothing worse than going into a gig feeling less than confident about the songs you’re playing.  Start with songs in your comfort zone, and gradually add new material.  It helps to play shorter gigs at first, so that you don’t have as much music to prepare.
  4. Put some thought into your set list.  I always arrange my songs so that there aren’t too many fast ones all at once, and definitely not too many slow ones in a row.  Vary the order not only by tempo, but also by genre and style.  Keep your audience guessing!
  5. Throw in some crowd-pleasers. I do a mix of originals and covers at all of my gigs, but I’m always sure to include songs that are guaranteed hits.  Songs like “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, and any other songs that are current or classic always go over well.
  6. It’s okay to use music. Some people feel pressured to have their repertoire completely memorized, but it’s not essential to a successful gig.  The audience could care less whether you have a music stand in front of you, as long as you are entertaining.  Just make sure not to have your eyes glued to the music — know it well enough so that you only have to glance at it from time to time.
  7. Arrive early and set up with plenty of time to spare.  You don’t want to be scrambling around, checking levels, and tuning your guitar when people expect you to have started playing already.  I always make sure I have a few minutes to just chill before I start my set.
  8. Interact with the audience. Sometimes it can be difficult to do this, especially when there is a lot going on and the setting is less intimate.  But when you can, personalize your performance by telling stories about the songs you’re performing, give shout-outs to people in the audience, etc.
  9. Take breaks if you are playing a long gig. I made the mistake of only taking one quick break during my first couple of 3-hour gigs.  My voice and fingers were not happy with me afterwards.  Even if you take just five minutes, be sure to give yourself time to use the restroom, have a drink of water, and say hi to people in the audience every hour or so.
  10. Have fun! Don’t get too wrapped up in playing and singing perfectly.  If you’re enjoying yourself, that will shine through and the audience will enjoy you, too.  Invite your friends and family so that you have familiar smiling faces to look at and who will cheer you on.

Playing gigs is a LOT different that facilitating a music class or therapy session, as I quickly realized.  But it’s a chance to work on your musicianship, as well as get your name out there.

What tips would you add to my list?

My BIG Book of Music Therapy Songs

My B-I-G Book of Music Therapy Songs

This was my bible during my first year as a professional music therapist.  Throughout the nine months prior that I spent in internship, I compiled songs that I thought might come in handy (or already had) for music therapy sessions.  I’m so glad I took the time to do that way back when, because here I am, four years later…still referring back to it and adding new songs as I go.

Of course, not every song is relevant anymore, especially now that I write most of my own material.  But every single song on my recent list of 12 Songs Every Music Therapist Should Know can be found in this giant binder, as are many of the songs I’m about to add to that list.

I received several requests for my FULL list of essential songs, and since I aim to please, here goes!  Note: I am not elaborating on each one as I did in my original list, because if I did, you’d still be reading this tomorrow…

  • “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers)
  • “All Good Gifts” (Godspell)
  • “All Star” (Smashmouth)
  • “American Pie” (Don McLean)
  • “Amazing Grace”
  • “Apples & Bananas”
  • “Be OK” (Ingrid Michaelson)
  • “Blackbird” (The Beatles)
  • “Blue Skies”
  • “Blue Suede Shoes” (Elvis Presley)
  • “Boogie Baby”
  • “Boom Boom, Ain’t it Great to be Crazy”
  • “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson)
  • “Brown-Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison)
  • “Bushel and a Peck” (Guys & Dolls)
  • “Change the World” (Eric Clapton)
  • “Circle of Life” (Elton John)
  • “Clap For Love” (Little Miss Ann)
  • “The Climb” (Miley Cyrus)
  • “Colors of the Wind” (Vanessa Williams)
  • “Day by Day” (Godspell)
  • “Defying Gravity” (Wicked)
  • “Do-Re-Mi” (The Sound of Music)
  • “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (Bobby McFerrin)
  • “Everybody” (Ingrid Michaelson)
  • “Fire & Rain” (James Taylor)
  • “Firework” (Katy Perry)
  • “Fix You” (Coldplay)
  • “For Good” (Wicked)
  • “The Girl I Mean to Be” (Secret Garden)
  • “Glory of Love”
  • “God Only Knows” (Beach Boys)
  • “Hallelujah” (Jeff Buckley)
  • “Happy Together” (The Turtles)
  • “Here Comes the Sun” (The Beatles)
  • “Hero” (Mariah Carey)
  • “Hey Jude” (The Beatles)
  • “Horse With No Name” (America)
  • “How Sweet It Is” (James Taylor)
  • “I Believe I Can Fly” (R. Kelly)
  • “I Can See Clearly Now” (Lee Towers)
  • “I Don’t Care if the Rain Comes Down”
  • “I Got Rhythm”
  • “I Have a Dream” (ABBA)
  • “I Will Remember You” (Sarah McLachlan)
  • “I Want To Teach the World To Sing”
  • “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
  • “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”
  • “In the Jungle”
  • “Jingle Bells”
  • “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”
  • “Jump, Jive ‘n Wail” (Louis Prima)
  • “Just the Way You Are” (Billy Joel)
  • “Lean on Me” (Bill Withers)
  • “Let It Be” (The Beatles)
  • “L-O-V-E”
  • “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music)
  • “My Girl” (The Temptations)
  • “My Wish” (Rascal Flatts)
  • “Never Never Land” (Peter Pan)
  • “No Day But Today” (Rent)
  • “No One is Alone” (Into the Woods)
  • “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing” (Schoolhouse Rock)
  • “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (The Beatles)
  • “The Rainbow Connection” (Kermit the Frog)
  • “The Raindrop Song”
  • “River of Dreams” (Billy Joel)
  • “Seasons of Love” (Rent)
  • “Shake Your Sillies Out”
  • “Side by Side”
  • “Someone to Watch Over Me”
  • “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
  • “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King)
  • “Sunrise, Sunset” (Fiddler on the Roof)
  • “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay!”
  • “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”
  • “This Little Light of Mine”
  • “Three is a Magic Number” (Schoolhouse Rock)
  • “Three Little Birds” (Bob Marley)
  • “The Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)” (Greenday)
  • “Top of the World” (The Carpenters)
  • “Twist and Shout” (The Beatles)
  • “Under the Boardwalk” (The Drifters)
  • “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Pinocchio)
  • “Wide Open Spaces” (Dixie Chicks)
  • “You Are My Sunshine”
  • “You Gotta Be” (Des’ree)
  • “You Raise Me Up” (Josh Groban)
  • “Your Smiling Face” (James Taylor)
  • “You’ve Got a Friend” (James Taylor)
  • “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (Randy Newman)
  • “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”

Notice the nice little scroll box? Right around song #35, I decided it was mandatory. Hopefully I’ve given you some new ideas for songs to add to your own repertoire…and like my last “essential” songs post, I want to know: which tunes am I still missing?

P.S. Did you know that you can gain instant access to a vast collection of over 200 songs (mp3, lead sheet, and instrumental track), videos, tutorials, and visual aides, plus ALL new releases from Listen & Learn Music?

Learn more about Listen & Learn Plus

Overcoming the Mid-Afternoon Slump

Overcoming the Mid-Afternoon Slump

My job is exhausting, both physically and emotionally.  It requires high energy, the continuous use of my voice, and lots of movement, as do most jobs that involve working with children.  My typical day as a music therapist is long and busy without much downtime factored in, so can you blame me for being a little sleepy in the afternoons?

You can probably empathize.  And you probably know just as well as I that it only takes one yawn (usually as a result of seeing someone else do it) to set off a never-ending chain.  It happened to me just yesterday, in fact.  I was in the middle of a classroom music therapy session, and a staff member sitting right in front of me yawned.  I tried to stop myself, but the yawn came anyway…rudely interrupting the weather song I was singing.

But here’s the thing: my students don’t care that I’m tired.  They expect the same amount of energy out of me that I gave another class earlier in the day, and I don’t blame them.  So I have a few little tricks up my sleeve for beating that mid-afternoon slump we all dread so much.

  1. Eat an earlier lunch. I eat my lunch between 10:30-11 am, which not only serves as a late morning pick-me-up, but also wards off any after-lunch sleepiness I might otherwise experience later in the day.  Since my school day ends at 3 pm and my long afternoon/evening of lessons and private music therapy begins at 3:30, I just plan to have a small snack in between.
  2. Pump yourself up. Before every classroom session, I take some big, deep breaths and picture myself leading the session with tons of energy.  If I start to feel groggy during the session, I re-focus on that mental image.  It almost always helps get me back on track.
  3. Look at the students, not the staff. I love my co-workers, but many of them just aren’t good at hiding their exhaustion.  Their yawns are often what get me in trouble!  So instead, I focus all of my attention on the students (most of whom are always full of energy).
  4. Plan small rewards throughout the afternoon. Before I go off to each afternoon session, I choose one enjoyable thing I’ll do for myself afterward.  This could include listening to my favorite music, checking out Facebook and Twitter, or calling my husband.  Regardless, it’s something I can look forward to — and keeps me feeling happy and awake.
  5. Don’t try to be at 100% all the time. There is most definitely a place for more mellow, relaxing songs and activities in a music therapy session or class.  Distribute them throughout the day and reserve that extra energy for when you start running low later on.  (I’m still getting over my fear of “boring” my students, even after four years as a professional; it’s okay if you are, too.)

How do you make it through long days without setting off a yawn epidemic?  Maybe it’s an extra cup of coffee or a walk around the parking lot…whatever the case may be, I want to know!  Mostly so that I can try out your techniques for myself :)

The Ins & Outs of Running a Studio

Running a Private Practice or Studio

Earlier this week, I received an email from a reader with a few questions regarding the business and practical aspects of running a music therapy and teaching studio.

Thank you for all you do for music therapy advocacy and encouraging music therapists with ideas. Your energy and ideas inspire me to be more creative in my own practice. I’ve been following your blog for about 6 months now and love it, especially for the practical ideas it gives me for interventions. I’m a music therapy contractor working with hospice patients and preschool children at this time. I have only contracted with facilities until now, at which point I have an opportunity to possibly be the music therapist at a new “alternative” music academy. My understanding is that it is geared toward adaptive music lessons for kids with special needs, and they also want music therapy to be offered.

She then proceeded to list her questions, which I answered at length via email.  After all that typing, I decided that since I get these kind of questions so often, I’d just share my answers here on the blog.  So here they are!

Should I bill each student and have them pay for the upcoming month at the beginning of the month, to reduce chronic late payers?

Honestly, I prefer weekly billing. My students’ parents know that I expect payment every week at the lesson or session, and if for some reason they forget, they just double up the following week or mail me a check. However, I’ve been using (and 100% recommend) the online studio management software Music Teacher’s Helper and this makes monthly billing a snap.  You should also take into account whether or not you have time for make-up lessons and sessions; at this time, I do not, which is why I lean toward weekly billing.

What should the consequences be if a payment is late?

I currently do not have a late payment penalty in place. Maybe I’m lucky compared to most, but I almost never have to deal with late payments. I think this has to do with the fact that my students pay weekly. If you do choose to bill monthly and want to have a late payment penalty in place, you could decide on a flat fee or maybe charge the cost of a lesson.

What should the expectations be for behavior in the studio?

I make my expectations very clear in the form of a letter to families when they join my studio. I outline my policy for parking, entering (don’t knock or ring the doorbell, take your shoes off), and waiting (use the living room, you may watch tv, where the restroom is located), as well as how I expect students to behave in their lessons or sessions.

The #1 expectation is respect — not only of me, but of my instruments, equipment, and the studio as a whole. It’s important to establish this early on, and to enforce it regularly. I’m laid-back in many ways as a teacher and therapist, but not when it comes to the treatment of my materials and myself. I also have a NO WHINING/I CAN’T policy that is repeated far more frequently than I’d like :)

What forms should a parent/student sign?

At the start of the summer session (when I commonly take on new students in larger batches), I give out an annual survey to all of my existing students’ AND new students’ families. It asks for all the typical contact information, in addition to diagnosis (if applicable), current goals, expectations, concerns, allergies, and anything else I might need to know as an instructor and music therapist. This keeps me up to date with my current students, and helps me get to know the new ones.

Do you send students home with “practicing” homework each week?

For both my mainstream and adapted piano, voice and guitar students, I fill out an assignment sheet and progress note at each lesson so that the parents and students know what is expected at the next lesson. There is a space to log practice/work time, and both the parent and student sign it. I’ve been doing this for the past couple of years, but will be moving to an electronic system (again, using Music Teacher’s Helper) this summer.

If so, what do you assign?

My students work out of a combination of method books, worksheets, sheet music, and other materials that I provide. I have each of them bring a 3-ring binder to their lessons every week, and that is where we keep their loose papers, progress notes, assignment sheets, and monthly calendars.

Assignments usually include whichever piece(s) of music they are currently working on, a written assignment from their theory book, and sometimes memorization work (i.e. scales, chords, reading notes on the staff).

Please note that the above applies to students who take mainstream and adapted lessons. In most cases, I don’t assign take-home work to my music therapy students, though I do send them home with CDs and materials from our sessions to supplement our work together.

How do you monitor and reward their progress?

Each week, we take out the assignment sheet from the previous week. We talk about the things they were to work on, and address any difficulty they might still be having. I’ll look over any written assignments, and then have them play their piece(s) and/or exercises for me. This is the point at which I fill out progress notes for parents to see after the lesson.

My younger students have the opportunity to choose a sticker from my vast collection (I have a sticker-buying addiction!) and place it on that day of the calendar if they have finished their work and played to the best of their ability. This is almost always the case. I don’t have a reward system for my older students, aside from verbal and written praise on their progress notes.

If you have additional questions about running a private practice and/or studio, feel free to leave them in the comments.  It’s a topic that is very much on my brain these days since I’m busy getting things in place for the summer session, which will be here before we know it!

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