Saturday, January 7, 2012

A salute to non-therapist advocates

for Music Therapistshave
collaborated on a State Recognition Operational Plan. The primary purpose
of this Plan is to get music therapy and our MT-BC credential recognized by
individual states so that citizens can more easily access our services. The AMTA
Government Relations staff and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff provide guidance
and technical support to state task forces throughout the country as they work
towards state recognition. To date, their work has resulted in 35 active state task
forces, 2 licensure bills passed in 2011, and an estimated 10 bills being filed
in 2012 that seek to create either a music therapy registry or license for music
therapy. This month, our focus is on YOU and on getting you excited about

“Oh wow, music therapy? I do that all the time! Like when I’ve had a bad day, I just sit in my room and turn up my music.”

I opened my mouth and inhaled, ready to go into my music therapy “elevator speech.” However, before I can utter a word, a voice next to me chimes in.

“Actually, it’s a bit more in depth than that. He uses music to work on other things for kids with special needs, like communication. You have to have a degree in music therapy and be board-certified to do it.”


I sat there grinning. I couldn’t have said it much better myself. Actually, I don’t think I could’ve said it any better myself. Spot on!

That voice was my girlfriend, Sherri. Sherri isn’t a music therapist. She isn’t a therapist of any kind. She doesn’t work with children with special needs, or older adults, or in a hospital. Sherri is an artist. She is an amazingly talented photographer. She’s also an amazing music therapy advocate.

When we as music therapists think of advocacy, the question we inevitably ask is “What can I do to advocate?” What can we do to raise awareness for our field? But by limiting this question to ourselves, we neglect those around us who have been our biggest cheerleaders our whole lives: mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, sisters and brothers, significant others, grandparents, and best friends. Those people who we make proud everyday, and who stick up for us on a regular basis.

In many ways, the very fact that Sherri isn’t a music therapist makes her a better advocate than me. Want to know how to explain music therapy to someone outside the field? Who better to ask than someone outside the field? Sherri is really good at making non-therapists understand what music therapy is because she is able to explain it in a way that makes sense to her (also a non-therapist). Additionally, she interacts with a far greater amount of people who are not involved in healthcare or therapy everyday than I do. As a non-therapist, she interacts everyday with non-therapists. That’s more than I can say.

On almost a weekly basis, she tells me about someone else she’s explained music therapy too. Does she give them a fascinating lecture on the iso-principal? An in depth explanation of melodic intonation therapy? Does she outline the research behind NICU music therapy? Of course not. But she plants seeds. Every time she explains to someone what I do, that’s one more person who knows what music therapy is. It’s one more person who the next time they see “music therapy” says “Oh, I know someone who does that!” It’s one more person who can say to their sister who just had their child diagnosed with autism “A friend of mine was telling me about music therapy, why don’t we try to find one?”

So this Music Therapy Advocacy Month, I raise a toast to you Sherri. And to all the parents, spouses, siblings, friends, and relatives of music therapists who do such an amazing job advocating for us. For every one of us, there are at least two loved ones who can and do advocate for music therapy. We are grateful for all your hard work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

4 months later...

After nearly 4 months, 2 cities, and a world of experience later, I make my triumphant return to blogging to talk about...

...nothing related to music therapy. Cue the sad trumpet "Womp womp."

That's not entirely true, because everything relates to everything, right?

Seriously though, I had planned this big return to blogging with a new name (as "MTI" nor "ATL no longer applies to me), new look, and new vision. But grad school has a way of sucking up all your free time, and worst of all...I couldn't think of a good name. Gotta think a lot of potentially great bands never got off the ground for the same reason.

But as I browsed through my Facebook news feed tonight, I got so riled up about a particular topic, that a simple tweet or status update would not satisfy me.

Being a music therapy major, I know a lot people who work in education and the public schools. And I constantly see them bemoaning the pains of standardized testing. As I read their dialogue, I can't help but think: "What the heck has happened to our schools?"

I'll do everyone a favor and leave politics out of this rant, but the whole thing is rather disappointing. I used to be proud of my public school education (and really, I still am). I wear it as a badge of honor. I pointed to it as proof that an expensive education, devoid of diversity, isn't necessary to be successful.

But still, I can admit there were many times when school just kind of...stunk. Boring. Stifling. Not fun. What made it this way? Looking back, I came to the conclusion that more often than not, I didn't see the applications of what I was learning. I was good at math, but I absolutely hated it. I had many long nights avoiding homework. I'd sit at the kitchen table simply staring at it, no motivation to continue. My wonderful dad (an electrical engineer, i.e. loves math) would go to great lengths to try and motivate me, but it was difficult. I don't have any kind of learning disability. I just plain didn't like it. It bored me to death.

When I got to college, all of that changed. In college, you have all this autonomy, and the things you learn have meaning. You get to choose what you learn, and the material has real world applications to you. Now I have a passion for learning. I absolutely love being in school. I often tell people that if I won the lottery, I think I'd just get degrees in anything I found interesting. Sure, writing papers isn't fun, but how great is it to be in a place with so many smart people in such a small place, all wanting to share their knowledge?

In college, you have an almost infinite amount of resources at your disposal to improve yourself. Opportunities to take in the arts, learn about the sciences, and shape yourself. More than anything, you learn how to think critically.

And that is what I feel is missing from our public schools. More and more, we teach our students to simply regurgitate facts for a test, so that we can judge their teachers off the scores and somehow filter the good ones from the bad ones. No critical thinking required, and they certainly don't have the time to teach students the applications of this knowledge. When you take that away, you're left with a class full of bored kids.

I don't have the facts to back this up but I think if you took a survey of the brightest kids in our schools, a large number of them are attracted to the arts; be it band, chorus, orchestra, theater, visual arts, dance, or something else. There's really no magic to that, it's practically the only opportunity for creative outlet left in our schools! Natural born learner's crave these opportunities, and there's no reason we can't incorporate creativity into our math and science curriculum. We should encourage it! The greatest scientific minds of all time didn't change the world by being really good at taking tests and spitting out facts. They thought up new ideas and made amazing discoveries. They dared to think outside the box. That is what we need to teach our children.

More and more politicians are pushing for more science education, which makes perfect sense: many of these jobs are driving forces in the economy. Getting more bright students into these kinds of fields will keep us competitive in the global economy, and that's a big deal. But how on Earth do we expect to inspire kids to join these fields when we do such a poor job of educating them?

It all makes me wonder why these politicians push for these creativity-stifling policies. I have to think that they've either a) forgotten what it's like to sit in a classroom bored, or b) never experienced the kind of testing they advocate, and don't realize what it does to a 10 year-old's mind (hint: shuts it off).

Like many people, I look back on my high school years and think: "If I only knew then what I know now." If only I had the kind of passion for learning that I now possess, I could have gained so much more from my education. I can only hope that my kids get educated in a school that teaches them the applications of the things they learn and inspires their creativity, creating a passion for learning early in their academic careers.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Change your strings!

I'm always surprised by the number of music therapists I meet who don't change their own guitar strings. I can never quite figure it out. Obviously, there is the financial argument against this in that paying someone else to do something which you can do yourself just doesn't make fiscal sense. But to me, it goes beyond that. To me, it comes down to taking pride in your instrument and musicianship. Changing your strings is part of basic maintenance of your guitar, and performing basic maintenance on your instrument is part of being a musician.

If you ask music therapists about their principal instruments, I'd be willing to bet a majority of them will tell you that they know how to, and preform, the basic maintenance that each one requires. Woodwind players know how to use a dollar bill to remedy sticky pads, brass players know how to clean and oil their valves, percussionists can change a drum head, and vocalists know how to take care of their voice before a performance. If you asked if they felt the need to have someone do it for them, I imagine you would get a resounding no.

Yet when it comes to the instrument most of us as music therapists use more than any other, many feel lost. Admittedly, it is a secondary instrument to many of us, but that mindset can hold us back. I talk to many music therapists (students, interns, and professionals alike) who are not confident in their guitar skills. This lack of confidence leads to a fear of trying new things (feeling bound to I, IV, V songs), and more importantly an inability to focus solely on the therapeutic process in a session.

So what is the remedy for this? Well, the obvious answer is PRACTICE! But there's more to it than that. One simple thing you can do to boost your confidence on an instrument is to take pride and ownership in it, and that means performing basic maintenance yourself.

Think about how good you feel after cleaning your house. You can hardly wait to have friends over to enjoy it. Or after you spend an afternoon cleaning your car, it just feels faster, newer, and more fun the next time you drive it.

The same is true with your guitar. When you do the work yourself, you FEEL more like a guitarist, and that will translate into your playing and therapeutic method. With all the resources we have at our finger tips these days, there are really no more excuses.

That being said, here are some great videos I dug up on youtube that give you detailed instructions on how to change your strings, for both nylon and steel stringed guitars. The first one is from the author of one of my favorite web resources, Justin Sandercoe of

Part I

Part II

Another good steel string example

Excellent nylon string example video in which the video maker shows you how on a large scale with rope (easier to see)

This video gives you some extra easy maintenance you can perform at the beginning. The string changing begins at around the 5:50 mark. Excellent, HD video.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cajon and Microphone

I've been in an instrument building frenzy this summer! After completing my guitar and kalimba, I tackled a cajon. This may be my favorite one so far. I'm very pleased with how it came out, it looks and sounds great (if I do say so myself!). Rather than do a video this time, I decided to have some fun and record a song using the cajon, plus it gave me a chance to show off my new Blue Snowball Microphone. You'll find that after the pictures:

Progress picture

Completed product

Back view with sound hole

View inside with guitar string snares. Started with just 2 strings, but it didn't quite have the sound I was looking for, so I weaved some extra strings in between the original 2, using tape to keep them in contact with the sound board.

Bottom with rubber feet.

This was a really fun project, and I've already used it several times with some of my clients. To get an idea of what it sounds like, take a listen to the song I recorded below. The song is a cover of the song "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" (Orginally "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás" by Cuban song writer Osvaldo Farres, how appropriate!). I gleaned most of my inspiration from Cake's version of the song. The only instruments used in this recording were the cajon, ukulele, saxophone, vocals, and egg shaker.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kalimba instructions

Got a lot of interest in the kalimba I made, so here's a video with some quick and dirty instructions on how to make your own!

Materials needed:
Cigar box (or similar sized wooden box of another type)
2 large nails, 1 dowel rod OR 3 dowel rods
Rake with metal teeth
2 machine screws
2 washers
2 nuts

Drill (with wood bits, wire brush, and hole bit)
Bench Grinder (optional)
Hacksaw (optional)

Instructions (details in video)
1) Cut nails/dowel rods to width of box
2) Cut teeth off rake
3) Drill 2 holes in 1 of your dowel rods, being extra cautious to make holes straight
4) Drill holes in lid of box, matching holes to dowel rod holes
5) Drill large sound hole in lid of box several inches below where the dowel rod will be placed.
6) Lay bottom nails/dowels on either side of screwed dowel
7) Lay trimmed metal tongs across bottom rods, under top rod
8) Tighten screws, leaving them loose enough to adjust tongs for tuning.
9) Once tuning is complete, tighten screws until tongs are firmly in place.
10) Use wire brush to clean any jagged edges on tongs
11) Play and enjoy!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Homemade guitar!

I've been working on a cigar box guitar this summer, here's a video with some information!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review of the Remo Aroma Drum

Here's my review of Remo's Aroma Drum, which I won as a door prize back at the SER-AMTA conference.