If I Were a Music Therapy Student NOW…

Tips for Music Therapy Students

If only we could go back in time and do certain things over again, knowing what we know now. Better yet, having the resources we have now. The years I spent in graduate school studying music therapy (2004-2006) seem like ages ago; SO much has changed in our field, in technology, and the world as we know it.

Recently I’ve received a few emails from students preparing to begin their music therapy studies, and this is the most common question: “What can I do while I’m in school to prepare my career as a music therapist?”

It’s fun to put myself in their shoes and — armed with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained after being in the field for all these years — come up with a list of all the things I’d do as a music therapy student in 2014.

  • Start your digital music collection. And by digital music, I don’t mean audio files; I’m talking sheet music, lead sheets, and scores. If possible, purchase in digital form (I love musicnotes.com) so you don’t have to spend half your life scanning. Been there, done that, no fun.
  • Find a music reader app that works for you. As a music therapy student/intern/professional, you will most likely have an iPad or similar tablet device on which to access your music. I use a combination of GigBook, the Musicnotes app, and Ultimate Guitar depending on the song type and the context in which I’m using it.
  • Play, play, play that guitar. I didn’t even pick one up until the summer before I left for grad school, and after I learned the basics, I only played when I had to. Big mistake. I was able to muddle my way through practicums using my limited guitar skills, but I really had to buckle down when I started my internship. The best way to motivate yourself is to choose songs you really want to learn for yourself, not just the songs you have to learn. That being said…
  • Learn and memorize the basic repertoire. There is a pretty universal set of songs for each population that you’ll need to know and play fluently, so save yourself the stress and just go ahead and learn them. Your professor probably has lists, or you can find them on various music therapy sites online. A few years ago, I made a list of music therapy songs I think everyone should know.
  • Know your piano chords and be able to play from a lead sheet. Yes, everyone has to take keyboard skills as part of the curriculum, but those classes won’t necessarily prepare you for when a client wants you to play his or her favorite song on the radio without ever having heard it. I strengthened my keyboard and improv skills by choosing songs I know and like, finding the lead sheets (lyrics and chords only) on my Ultimate Guitar app, and then accompanying myself while singing.
  • Write your own songs. I cringe when I think about how much time I wasted searching for songs and material to use in my practicums during grad school. Why didn’t I just come up with my own? The only way to become a great songwriter is through lots and lots of practice, so get to work.
  • Get as much hands-on experience as you possibly can. Offer to volunteer at practicum sites and ask your professor how you can get involved with/assist/observe other music therapists in the area. Not only is this great for resume-building when it comes time to apply for internships, but it will also help you get a better idea about which population you want to work with in the future.
  • Ask for instruments and materials as gifts. This is one thing I actually did start doing as a student, and I’m so glad I did. Each Christmas and birthday, I would make a wish list of music therapy equipment, and by the time I headed off to internship, I had a trunk full of supplies without ever having purchased anything myself.
  • Start making connections online. Reach out to the music therapists who are doing work you admire and are inspired by, whether via email, Facebook, or just reading and commenting on their blogs. You never know where these connections might lead down the road. As a professional who has been around for a while, I still love to hear from students who are interested in my work and have questions for me. It’s exciting to watch our field grow, and get to know the students who will one day be our colleagues.

Fellow music therapy professionals: what would YOU add to this list? Please share in the comments. And if you’re a music therapy student, I envy you just a little for having so many resources and pieces of technology at your fingertips!

Can’t Hold It Back Anymore

No Mo' "Let It Go"

It just doesn’t seem right to be singing about frozen fractals when it’s 80 degrees out. But that didn’t stop the melodious strains of “Let It Go” from flowing out of my fingertips today…multiple times.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the movie Frozen and just about every song in it. I am thrilled that so many of my students love these songs, too; we’ve enjoyed singing/playing/piggybacking them for the last six months. But I know it’s time to move on when Parker’s babysitters (who are within earshot of my studio) ask how in the world I’m not tired of Frozen music yet.

I’m a firm believer in repetition, and I don’t tire of songs very easily. I’m happy to ride the wave of whatever music is most popular with my students at the moment. We’ve been through phases where all we did was Wicked, Adelle, Les Miserables, “Happy” — really, I could go on and on with this list. Frozen, however, will go down in the record books as THE longest phase yet.

I’m really proud of my students for our work with these songs in both music therapy and lessons, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that I’ll have a break from them (the songs, not my students!) when the spring session ends in a little over a week. Especially “Let It Go”. The one that haunts my dreams at night.

Guitar Lessons With Amy Benton

Guitar Lessons with Amy Benton

I met Amy Benton at Illinois State University, where we were both music therapy students. I was always impressed with her talent as a guitarist and songwriter, not to mention her lovely personality. I was thrilled to find out she had moved to Springfield, and it was so nice reconnecting with her over coffee this past summer.

I couldn’t be happier to share that Amy is now offering guitar lessons and currently taking new students of all ages. Here’s a little more about her.

Amy grew up in Taylorville, IL. She took guitar lessons, volunteered playing music at local nursing homes, performed in the community, started a music program for kids at the park district, and taught guitar lessons. After completing an internship at a school for autism, she graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor in Music in music therapy. She moved to Tennessee to pursue songwriting and performing. She got board-certified, started a music and movement program for preschoolers at a YMCA in Tennessee, and worked as a music therapist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Amy has had several songs recorded by independent artists, an album produced by Pat Flynn, and opened for many national acts. She now resides in Springfield, IL, where she started “6 Strings \ 6 Weeks” (a program for adults who always have wanted to play the guitar) through Springfield Area Arts Council, teaches guitar lessons, and performs regionally.

Any student would be lucky to have Amy as a guitar instructor. If you live in the Springfield area and are seeking lessons, please contact me via email.

Friday Fave: Festival Time!

NFMC Piano Festival

Every February, many of my students participate in the Illinois Federation of Music Clubs’ Junior Festival. This will be my fourth year as a member of the federation, and it’s no less nerve-racking than it was when I first started!

At the end of October, I help my students choose their two pieces (one required, one choice) that they will learn, memorize and then perform at Festival. It’s a long few months, and by the end of January, we’re all ready for the big day so that we can move on to some new repertoire.

But all their hard work pays off in the end: last year, two of my students received their first gold cups, meaning they received a “superior” score three years in a row. This year, I have 5 students hoping to receive their first gold cups.

I like participating in Festival for many reasons, both for my benefit and the benefit of my students. Here are just a few of them:

  • It makes me a better teacher. My job is to help those kiddos get ready to perform not only for an audience, but for judges who will score their playing. No room for slacking!
  • My students are held accountable for their practicing. If they don’t do the work, they don’t get that superior score. It’s funny how motivation levels skyrocket between October and February :)
  • It’s an opportunity to learn from other teachers and students. I really enjoy being amongst a group of teachers, all of whom have different teaching styles, and my students can learn from the other participants.
  • Performing in Festival builds self-confidence. There’s nothing better than the smile on a student’s face after he or she has played well and received a great score.

It’s going to be a busy weekend for all of us, as they perform both on Saturday and Sunday while I’m busy serving as a room chairman (of two rooms, this year!). I have a feeling we’ll all be much more relaxed come Monday…but until then, wish us all luck!

You, Me & Music Therapy

In the music therapy world, January is social media advocacy month. During this time, music therapists all over the country use social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and so on) to advocate for our field, share our stories, and spread the word about music therapy. The theme this year is CONNECT — which immediately inspired the song in the video above.

It is, without a doubt, through my connection with my clients that I best advocate for music therapy. By providing them with the best services I possibly can, I’m able to improve their lives and therefore, the lives of their loved ones and caretakers. They (the family members, teachers, health professionals, and other team members) become my biggest advocates because they have seen the power of music therapy first hand. It’s amazing how many people can be educated about music therapy because of a single client.

I connect with my clients mainly through the music I write specifically for them based on their interests, needs and goals. Sometimes, though, we write songs together…or my clients write their own songs with just a little guidance from me.

Each of those songs has a specific purpose, and so does the song in the video, which I adapted from one of my current favorites, “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers. It’s a shout-out/love letter/thank you note/ode to my clients — because they are the reason I advocate for music therapy. They are the reason I have the best job on earth.

Want to read more about social media advocacy month, along with blog posts from other music therapists spreading the good word? Check out this page, put together by Kimberly Sena Moore, who does such wonderful work organizing this month-long event every year. And to learn more about music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association.

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