My Top 10 Music Therapy Instruments

Top 10 Music Therapy Instruments

Any music therapist will tell you that it’s really hard to pick favorites when it comes to instruments. After all, they are our tools, and we choose them based on the specific needs and goals of our clients.

That being said, there are definitely certain instruments I tend to gravitate to more often than others. And since I frequently receive emails from students, interns, and new professionals asking which instruments I recommend, I’m sharing them here with you. I left off the very basics (shakers, tambourines, rhythm sticks, jingle bells, etc.) as those are a given.


Click Like This, Clack Like That

Click Like This, Clack Like That Album Cover

Castanets aren’t your everyday instruments; they usually garner a little more interest than shakers or drums. Yes, they are fun to play, but even better, castanets are excellent for addressing fine motor skills.

We bring out castanets quite often in both our classes and music therapy sessions, which means I’m always writing new songs to help target all the goals they can address. This is one such song: it gets those fingers moving, and it also touches on the concepts of high and low.

This song is included in my songbook collection, Ring, Sing, Strum & Drum. The download contains the notated sheet music (as opposed to just the lyrics and chords) along with the full and instrumental recordings.

Members of Listen & Learn Plus! have access to all of the above in our shared Dropbox folder. Membership includes just about everything else in my resource library and collection — come over and join us!

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Cabasa Bossa Nova

Cabasa Bossa Nova Album Cover

The cabasa is one of those instruments I use all the time, in both my music therapy sessions and classes. Its tactile qualities make it interesting and fun for kids to play, and doing so is great for working on those fine motor skills.

This is only the second dedicated cabasa song I’ve written (here’s the first), though I definitely see more in my future since it’s such a frequently used instrument. I will warn you, sometimes I get this song stuck in my head…and it’s reeeeally hard to get out ;)

The cabasa makes a great passing instrument, which is how we use it in our classes since we don’t have enough for every child. It’s an excellent exercise in sharing, since most kids aren’t too happy to give it up — we may need to invest in a full set of cabasas eventually.

Members of Listen & Learn Plus! have access to all of the above in our shared Dropbox folder. Membership includes just about everything else in my resource library and collection — come over and join us!

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Shake It, Baby!

Shake It Baby Album Cover

Last week during our music therapy intern’s supervision meeting, we asked her to make a list of songs that could be used with shakers. After she named a few, my business partner Katey and I couldn’t help but chime in with our own favorites. In just minutes, we had a super long list of both original and familiar songs perfect for shaking along.

One of my most frequently used shaker songs is an original that I wrote for one of my music classes a while back. It’s one of those easily adaptable, learn-in-5-minutes, back pocket tunes that works in a variety of settings.

This song also happens to be super popular amongst the 2-year-old crowd; my son and his friends are big fans and request it frequently. Parker now wants to sing every song “fast, slow, up high, and down low” and I think this song might be the reason why ;)

What shaker songs top YOUR list of favorites? If you need more shakin’ inspiration, consider joining Listen & Learn Plus! Members have instant access to tons of instrument songs right inside the Dropbox folder I share with them.

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Lollipop Start & Stop

Lollipop Start & Stop Album Cover

For some reason, telling kids to “freeze” while playing an instrument is a whole lot more effective than just asking them to stop. The part where they have to wait is deliciously excruciating for everyone involved — okay, delicious for me, and mostly just excruciating for them ;)

That’s the basic concept of Lollipop Start & Stop, but not only do they have to listen for the words “freeze” and “go”, but they also have to watch for hands raised and thumbs up. I’m all about getting as many senses involved as possible, as you know by now.

Lollipop drums are always SUCH a hit (pun intended) because they are colorful and fun to play, and I like them because they aren’t too loud compared to bigger drums. Just this morning I had 15 or so toddlers playing them in my early childhood class, and they were surprising amazing at stopping and starting at the appropriate times.

This song is super adaptable in that you can change the words and signals used to let kiddos know when to play and stop. I think I’m going to have a good time keeping them on their toes each time we sing this one!

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?

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