Music Therapy Activities Wikia

When Music Therapy St. Pete, LLC’s founder, James E. Riley, was conducting his master’s degree and working with a large interdisciplinary team at a regional psychiatric hospital, he led a dedicated team to build a community resource for all board-certified music therapists (MT-BCs) and anyone else interested in music therapy. The website Music Therapy Activities Wikia (MTAW) is a free, online resource designed to be community driven and open-sourced; MTAW encourages everyone to contribute what they can offer (editorial administration ensures the accuracy of content) so as to bring together multiple perspectives, original ideas, experienced tips, and excellent resources. It is an “encyclopedic collection of therapeutic music activities, indexed by Goal/ObjectivePopulation, and Use of Music.” was featured in a post on Psychology Today, written by Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT. MTAW has been featured in regional and national presentations. It has been on social media and music therapy blogs. It’s definitely been on my Bookmarks bar and frequently referenced for new session ideas, holidays songs, iPad apps, songs for lyric analysis, and sooooo much more. Follow-up posts will further discuss everything the site offers.

So for everything this site can offer, what does it need?! Well, it needs YOU. This site is just beginning. It’s very young. The structure has been provided, but the content will continue to grow. People are searching through its pages, but we need you to take just a few moments to learn how easy it is to edit – or contribute new – material! It feels good. You’re already planning your own sessions, so share the love! Do your good deed for the day! Website managers can even collaborate with internship directors or university faculty to provide reports, allowing MTAW editing a class grade or intern project!

For any questions, ideas, or concerns becoming an active part of our music therapy activity/information sharing community, please reach out to THANK YOU!


Simple Blues Songwriting

Writing songs is easy! One especially simple technique builds on the 12-bar blues pattern: I-I-I-I – IV-IV-I-I – V-IV-I-I.

The blues can accompany anything, such as an interactive hello song: “Hello Erin, how are you today?” can be sung over I-I-I-I; “Alright now hello Erin, is anything new today?” over IV-IV-I-I; and “Well it’s really good to see you, I’m glad you’re here today!” atop the concluding V-IV-I-I. You can sing, or help your clients

You can also sing, or help your clients create, their own song. Start with one phrase, repeat it, and sing an answer. That’s it! This AAB pattern matches the blues progression. For example, here’s a little blues tune: “Sometimes I feel a little lonely. Sometimes, I feel a little lonely. But when I do, I call my friends and family.” This approach to songwriting is a lot of fun because it allows so much room for creativity. It’s fun to see clients discover how easy and rewarding the process can be. The simple AAB structure can be used to present an issue and address it. It can mirror dialogue between a child and their parent. How else will you use the blues? Let us know what else you innovate!


Smile, Laugh, and Sing the Music!

Here’s an upbeat, catchy, easy-to-learn song for spelling, identifying emotions, and learning about coping skills. Inspired by Wee Sing, “Smile, Laugh, and Sing the Music” is piggybacked to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Children practice their letters, or practice spelling smile, laugh, and music. Smiling and laughter are signs of happiness, but the MT-BC might use this song to discuss a wide range of emotions; behavioral signs of sad or difficult emotions might be taught to inspire coping skills. Labelling and gaining insights into what you’re feeling is an important first lesson, then followed by learning positive ways of handling such situations. Discuss and practice talking with an adult and other coping skills, but also including smiling, laughing, and singing!

Below are the lyrics, which you can sing in any key, and available for free download is a bright PDF if you would like a visual aid to help clients spell each of the words.

Smile, Laugh, And Sing the Music!

1) Oh, it isn’t any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E! No, it isn’t any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E! So smile when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble, If you’ll only take the trouble just to S-M-I-L-E!

Chorus) Smile, laugh, and sing the music! Smile, laugh, and sing the music! Smile, laugh, and sing the music, the music makes you strong!

2) It isn’t any trouble just to L-A-U-G-H…   Repeat Chorus

3) It isn’t any trouble to sing M-U-S-I-C…   Repeat Chorus

Download the colorful visual aide below to help with spelling. Suggested page transitions are indicated by the number in the version of the lyrics beneath the FREE download.

Smile, Laugh, And Sing the Music! (With PDF Page Numbers)

(1) Oh, it isn’t any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E! No, it isn’t any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E! So (2) smile when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble, If you’ll only take the trouble just to (3) S-M-I-L-E!

(Chorus, put PDF down out of sight) Smile, laugh, and sing the music! Smile, laugh, and sing the music! Smile, laugh, and sing the music, the music makes you strong!

(4) Oh, it isn’t any trouble just to L-A-U-G-H! No, it isn’t any trouble just to L-A-U-G-H! So (5) laugh when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble, If you’ll only take the trouble just to (6) L-A-U-G-H!  Repeat Chorus with PDF down

(7) Oh, it isn’t any trouble to sing M-U-S-I-C! No, it isn’t any trouble to sing M-U-S-I-C! So (8) sing when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble, If you’ll only take the trouble to sing (9) M-U-S-I-C!  Repeat Chorus with PDF down


Songwriting in Music Therapy Practice

Jones, J.D. (2006). Songs composed for use in music therapy: A survey of original songwriting practices of music therapists. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(2), 94-110.

Songwriting is a powerful yet flexible technique. Among many purposes and applications, music therapists write original material to personalize sessions, teach non-musical material or behaviors, and engage in the therapeutic process. MT-BCs help clients write songs to express personal feelings or perspectives, participate in a healthy way and to be part of a group project, or reminisce and contribute to their lasting legacy.

Extant literature has researched the extra-musical benefits of singing songs, listening to music, and discussing lyrics, as well the clinical efficacy of songwriting. “Songwriting has been documented as effective in achieving a number of clinical goals, including increasing verbal communication (Edwards, 1998), increasing socialization and interaction among group members (Hilliard, 2001), identifying and improving self-concept and self-esteem (Edgerton, 1990; Freed, 1987) increasing the expression of feelings (Cordobes, 1997; Kennelly, 2001; O’Callaghan, 1996), increasing a sense of cohesion among group members (Cordobes, 1997; Freed, 1987), and increasing coping skills, such as problem solving (Edgerton, 1990). Process songwriting is an effective technique for both individual and group therapy, and is a preferred intervention by certain clients (Gallagher & Steele, 2002)” (Jones, 2006, p. 96).

Writing a song can be done using many different methods. Original lyrics “piggybacked” to a familiar melody, or perhaps melodies can be built from client improvisations and verbal contributions. Songs can be prepared by the therapist in advance in order to target specific client goals. Instructional songs can be used to teach appropriate behaviors or to teach task analysis of daily living skills. Social stories can be sung in song and/or set to musical accompaniment. In addition to using these songwriting strategies supported by research, therapists will innovate new methods and applications. Songwriting is an exciting technique teeming with creative opportunities.

Jennifer Jones (2006) wanted to learn more about songwriting in music therapy practice. This post has summarized some of her literature review, and the following information is presented based on her survey: Seventy-three percent of 302 respondents acknowledged inclusion of original music in their work. Music therapists tended to report that songwriting was generally easy or almost always easy, and though participants learned through school and internship programs, songwriting skills were most frequently reported to be developed on their own, on the job. The most highly rated compositional choice was musical similarity to client preferences.

MT-BCs serving early childhood, schools, and individuals with developmental disabilities were much more likely to write songs than therapists working in older adult and mental health settings. Goals areas addressed through songwriting included emotional-expression (42 respondents), cognitive-academic-learning (37), behavioral-attentional-task-directed (25), social-communication goals (25), multiple goal categories marked (25), speech-communication (23), social-interaction (19), physical-movement (15), creativity goals (4), no response (4), and spirituality goals (2). No respondents reported using songwriting for musical goals. In descending order of rated frequency, music therapists decided to write songs because original material can be individualized, is novel and stimulating, renews creativity, strengthens the therapeutic relationship, offers a break from routine, and sometimes just because identifying an applicable composed song is time-consuming.

Cordobes, T.K. (1997). Group songwriting as a method for developing group cohesion for HIV-seropositive adult patients with depression. Journal of Music Therapy, 34, 46-67.

Edgerton, C.D. (1990). Creative group songwriting. Music Therapy Perspectives, 8,15-19.

Edwards, J. (1998). Music therapy for children with severe burns. Music Therapy Perspectives, 16, 21-26.

Freed, B.S. (1987). Songwriting with the chemically dependent. Music Therapy Perspectives, 4, 13-18.

Gallagher, L.M., & Steele, A.L. (2002). Music therapy with offenders in a substance abuse/mental illness treatment program. Music Therapy Perspectives, 20, 117-122.

Hilliard, R. (2001). The use of cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of women with eating disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19, 109–113.

Jones, J.D. (2006). Songs composed for use in music therapy: A survey of original songwriting practices of music therapists. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(2), 94-110.

Kennelly, J. (2001). Music therapy in the bone marrow transplant unit: Providing emotional support during adolescence. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19, 104-108.

O’Callaghan, C.C. (1996). Lyrical themes in songs written by palliative care patients. Journal of Music Therapy, 33, 74-92.


Repertoire Challenge 04: Songwriting

This fourth challenge concludes our first month of Repertoire Challenges. Today, or this week, or whenever you read this post, remember the many genres and populations you have memorized repertoire for. Think of the musical attributes, the lyrics, the clinical applications. For this final Challenge, have fun piggybacking a familiar song with new lyrics. Experiment with blues songwriting. Cut and paste quotes with song lyrics and compose a new poem to freestyle, improvise, or compose a song. Write an entirely original song. Facilitate a group chant, or go for an a cappela body music drum circle. The Challenge today is to consider the many different approaches to songwriting and the eclectic musical styles that can influence your product in order to plan out some new sessions that will be perfectly tailored to your unique clients.


Hello & Goodbye Songs

A familiar hello song for many music therapists is piggybacked from “Goodnight Ladies.” This simple tune is great for children and older adults alike. Listen to “Hello Friends!” and quickly memorize the lyrics: “Hello friends, hello friends, hello friends, I’m glad you’re here today!”

Next, you might greet each group member through song: “Hello Emma, hello Noah, hello Emily, I’m glad you’re here today!” Walk around and engage each person individually. Encourage the whole group to say, “Hello, Emma!” Ask for names if you haven’t yet met, shake hands, check-in, offer high-fives, ask questions, give specific reinforcement. If your group is small enough, or you’re providing one-on-one therapy, you could dedicate a whole refrain to each person.

Finally, conclude your sessions with the same melody but now sing, “Goodbye friends, goodbye friends, goodbye friends, we’ll see you another time!” Some clients may have more success participating if you sing, “Bye bye friends” instead.

What are some other great hello or goodbye songs? Comment below or add your ideas to the Music Therapy Activities Wikia page titled, “Hello Songs” or “Goodbye Songs.” Thank you!


April 2016

April is National Guitar Month! It is also National Poetry Month, Stress Awareness, as well as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and National Humor Month. Apparently we even have weekly celebrations: The first week of April is Library Week, and also Read a Road Map Week, the second is Garden Week, the third is Organize Your Files and Medical Labs Week, and the final is Administrative Assistants and National Karaoke Week. There’s already a lot for music therapists and private practitioners to celebrate or use as inspiration for our clinical work!

04/01/16 April Fool’s Day

04/02/16 Children’s Book Day

04/02/16 Reconciliation Day

04/08/16 MWR Regional Conference begins, ends 04/10

04/09/16 Name Yourself Day

04/14/16 GLR Regional Conference begins, ends 04/17

04/16/16 National Stress Awareness Day

04/17/16 Blah, Blah, Blah Day

04/18/16 All proposal submissions for the 2016 AMTA Conference in Sandusky, OH are DUE.

04/18/16 Your 2015 taxes are due! (Hopefully you’ve filed earlier than today!) Plus, if your 2016 income tax isn’t being withheld (e.g. self-employed, independent contractor, sole-proprietor, etc.), you should also pay the first installment (for the first quarter) of your estimated 2016 tax.

04/27/16 Tell A Story Day

04/28/16 Great Poetry Reading Day

04/28/16 NER Regional Conference begins, ends 04/30

04/30/16 National Honesty Day

Let’s practice guitar – pick it up every day this month! Practice those barre chords, your repertoire, improvisation, and having fun! Let’s help clients write poems and put them to music! Let’s discuss self-awareness, emotional expression, stress management, and relaxation techniques. Let’s consider the need ways music therapy can support those who have been abused.  Let’s read books! Let’s sing our way through the country through various themed activities. If you attended my recent Private Practice session, you may remember to “water the garden” every day, perhaps documenting in a timely manner, cleaning the dishes, or whatever routine tasks you must do regularly but don’t need to be concerned about! These holidays and the rest mentioned above are great reminders to be the best we can be. They offer inspiration for conversation topics and session plans. Enjoy!


Shout-Out! Music Therapy and Premature Infants

Melissa Sorensen of the George Center, Inc. explains how music therapy helps premature babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) meet their medical goals: to gain weight, learn feeding behaviors, and adapt to the environment out of the womb without being overstimulated. Read more about multimodal neurological enhancement (MNE) and the Pacifier-Activated Lullaby (PAL) by checking out her blog post here:


Saint Patrick’s Day in Music Therapy

Margie La Bella is well known for her blog and collections of songs. She published this list of of her top 10 activities for the Saint Patrick’s Day holiday. This is must read (listen, and learn) resource to jump start your session planning! Find more holiday ideas and easy-to-learn piggybacked songs through Jessica Groom’s music therapy moments and

Andrew Littlefield published this St. Patrick’s post for the George Center in 2013. He includes videos to complement his MT activities, such as bodhrán drumming with high school students and Irish step dancing or singing Irish folk songs with older adults. Kat Fulton brought in the bodhrán drum, but also some more accessible instruments such as green shakers and penny whistles (She also reminds us that we can just turn on some beloved music and make up a jig)! In the same year, Margie published her own video for group dance movements to Irish music, check it out below:

Pinterest is chock-full of ideas. To start your search, start with this “St. Patricks Days Fun” board from Ryan Judd.

Finally, a very exciting resource is the Music Therapy Activities Wikia. This website has activities, clinical information, repertoire, iPad apps, and so much more. Check out their free St. Patrick’s songs and activities… then PLEASE add you own! This website depends on the contributions of our MT community in order to best serve our MT community, and the site is just beginning! Contributing is easy, but if you have any questions, e-mail