Aging Well Conference - A Quick Summary

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Recently I had the opportunity to present on music therapy and aging at the Aging Well Conference in Multnomah County. Rather than focusing on slides or bullet points, I decided to approach the subject through experiential learning. We walked through a few different domains of aging, and made music in a way that addressed each one. Here's a little summary the things we did!

Icebreaker - Setting the Expectation

Addresses social domain

Every presentation needs an icebreaker! Start by patting your lap and clapping your hands in time. Once you feel comfortable there, introduce the next layer - singing You Are My Sunshine, while keeping the beat! Sounds easy, until you try it. In the presentation We managed to stay together but, as they say, mistakes were made. You might have made a few mistakes too. And you know what? That’s fine. Clapping when you should have patted, botching lyrics, whatever it is, we all make mistakes sometimes. In western culture, we tend to place a lot of value on the product of music making—how does it sound, how do I look, how many hours of practicing do I need in order to be flawless. In music therapy, I like to focus on the process instead. A lot of my clients tell me that they “can’t sing.” My response to that is, do you like singing? Well then, you can sing!

Breathing Exercise

Addresses physical domain

The first building block of this experience is simply singing the alphabet. All you need to do is notice when you took a breath.

Got it? Good.

Now take a moment, put both feet flat on the floor, sit up straight, and try it again. Notice if you felt different. Did you hold phrases longer? Maybe you sang with a little more gusto. That’s because by sitting up straight and correcting your posture, your airways have a clear path. That leads to better breath support.

Finally, phase 3 is to keep that same posture, and take a deep breath from your belly. This is easier to demonstrate in person, but if you imagine your stomach expanding like a balloon you will likely take a deeper, more sustaining breath. Sing the alphabet one more time, and notice the difference.

Singing a Round

Addresses cognitive domain

Next, we sang a round. This one works best with a buddy, or if you’re tech savvy you can use a device and record yourself. We used “Row Row Row Your Boat” because it’s deeply embedded in the collective music knowledge data base in America, but you can use any round you like. The point is, when you sing a round you engage your whole brain. It requires focus on yourself, but also it demands an awareness of your environment and how what you’re doing fits in with the rest of the crowd.


Addresses emotional domain

This is another that works best as a collaborative exercise, but if you’re musically inclined you can use this method on your own! Pick a topic and begin by taking some time to brainstorm and jot down any words or phrases that come to mind. Once you’ve got a good list going, try grouping them into 3. Congratulations, you have a verse! Then, find a single word that encompasses your topic. Repeat that word a few times and you now have a chorus.

Being able to present and give back was really rewarding. I especially was moved at how quickly and joyfully people participated. It was a great reminder of how powerful music can be when it comes to forging real connections with people, and it made me appreciate the importance of community. Alone, it would have been a lot harder for me to have a meaningful experience - but together, we created a fun, empowering song. Truly, we are stronger together!

Until next time,


Music Therapy - and Why Training Matters

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Why hire a music therapist when it's cheaper to hire a music entertainer? Don't music therapists just play music anyway?

We music therapists get asked this question often, and answering it can be tricky. For me, the best way to address this is by telling you about my own experience.

When I was in my early 20's, I volunteered to lead music groups at my local adult day program. I worked with the activities director closely, and I made sure I did everything to the best of my ability. All in all, the groups were successful and many the participants had a great time. I listened to their stories, played songs they knew, and genuinely formed a rapport with many of them. But as soon as things didn't go well- when a participant became agitated or disoriented, started exit-seeking, or withdrew- I was a deer in headlights. It didn't take long for me to understand that if I wanted to serve vulnerable populations, and serve them well, I needed training. 

So, I hit the internet in search of how I could get that training. Imagine the lightbulb that went off when I found out that music therapy not only existed, but that there was a wealth of evidence-based, peer reviewed research to back it up!

The rest, as they say, is history. My degree and training has taught me how to truly provide care for my clients. How to recognize and mitigate risks, how to simultaneously assess and adapt to their needs in the moments (while playing guitar and singing at the same time!), how to phrase a question to put someone at ease, even how to write a treatment plan and document that progress.

When you work with a music therapist, you're not just working with a musician who cares. You're working with someone with a specialized skill set, who has spent years learning to hone the powerful tool that is music and tailor it exactly to your needs.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Music Therapy Internship

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Music Therapy Internship

A music therapy internship is different than what our culture typically thinks of when they think of internship. For one, internships are usually an introduction to a field. Music therapists don't go into their internship until they've completed all the coursework for a Bachelor's degree. As you can imagine, by the time I got to my internship I was chomping at the bit to start facilitating sessions on my own. But, I still had a thing or two to learn…