Vocables are sung syllables paired with rhythm. In Music Therapy, they will usually be rhythmically driven, lingual mnemonics that are meaningful to the client’s interests or clinical objectives. Vocables may be used as group warm-ups, or to assist with successful experiences for non-musical clients, a cappella music performances, teaching rhythms for music education, speech fluency, new memory formation, and counseling or discussion topics. To learn more and gain a few handy examples,

It’s easy to set up a group chant such as, “Today is Thursday, today is Thursday, today is Thursday!” or to begin drum circles with the phrase, “Boom sha-ka-la-ka, Boom sha-ka-la-ka!” Teach music ed rhythms, e.g. quarter, quarter, eighth eighth, eighth eighth using, “Yum, Yum, Tastes Like Chic-Ken,” or an African drumming pattern combining Part 1: “Choc-O-Late Puffs!” with Part II: “Cuckoo… for! Cocoa Puffs!” Some other vocables may include Boom, Sha-La-Ka-Boom-Boom,” “Limbo Limbo Lim-BO!,” “That’s  The way, Unh Huh, Unh Huh, I like  It, Unh Huh Unh Huh,” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee, Chim Chim Cher-ee!”

At a conference several years ago, I first heard my favorite vocable. This one immediately starts up an awesome beatboxing loop: “Boots n’ Cats n’ Boots n’ Cats n’ Boots n’ Cats n’ Boots n’ Cats…” LOVE it. Next, get your motor skills on and turn a childhood game into a fist-in-hand down beat, clapping back beat, and silent beat three to the pattern, “Rock Paper Scissors Paper, Rock Paper Scissors Paper!”

A current client of mine struggles with expressive communication due to a stroke. We work on speech fluency and word recall of high-frequency expressions using vocables, such as starting sessions with a Melodic Intonation Therapy inspired vocable, repeatedly singing, “Hello, my name is _______, hello, my name is _______…” while simultaneously tapping a djembe. Vocables can also exercise short-term memory, such as learning new names in group settings.

It is fun to develop simple songs from client contributions. Everyone can participate and be validated by the group response. Start simple with prompts such as, “Try saying your name!,” “What’s your favorite food!?,” or “Say a phrase and then play it on the drums!” Then move towards more meaningful ones like, “What are three words you hope others will use to describe you?,” “How about a phrase you want to remember?,” “How will you cope when you feel the cravings agains?,” or other more individualized prompts. Use vocables to establish some call and response, such as individuals saying, “My name is _____, and I feel _____,” and everyone replying, “Her name is _____, and she feels _____!” A final idea is to guide a group in developing an important, empowering message (such as chanting, “Together we are strong” or “Change what I can and accept what I can’t”) then encourage individuals to step up and express themselves, perhaps through self-affirmations.


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