Tag Archives: Instrument Playing

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Song

14 Mar

St. Patrick’s Day can be a great way to expose your music therapy kiddos to music from around the world, and let’s face it: Irish music is totally awesome. It gets your feet tapping, lends itself nicely to improvisation and is steeped in some rich culture that can be fun to experience and share in your music therapy sessions this month.

  • Have an Irish Jig. Grab some instruments and jam along to traditional Irish music, or get up and move around the room. I love the Celtic Dance CD, and often use The Landlord’s Walk for a free-for-all jam and Dowd’s Favourite for circle dancing.

  • Learn and practice singing/saying traditional Gaelic phrases. It can be fun to improvise and incorporate these words into your music making, or drum the word rhythms as you practice. You could even look up the Gaelic pronunciations of your names and use them during hello/goodbye songs. Here’s a video with some basic greetings to get you started!

  • Put your music theory hat on and use your modes. Check out the four main modes used in Irish music. You could listen to some of the songs mentioned, then use them as a jumping off point for improvisation on the piano, xylo or drums. Dorian is one of my favorites.

  • Explore the Song of the Sea soundtrack. I’m obsessed with this adorable movie, and find that the soundtrack has some beautiful tracks that work great for relaxation experiences. I like to get out my giant blue canopy scarf and move it like ocean waves as we listen to songs like the main theme. If you listen in English, you can talk about the text, but it can also be fun to take some guesses if you listen to the version from the movie in Gaelic.

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#MusicTherapyBlogger Challenge: Grab a Guitten

11 May

This post is part of a 5 week #MusicTherapyBlogger challenge. Learn more and join the movement by visiting Serenade Designs!

Challenge #2: Write about something that works for you in your everyday life as an MT.

The guitten has been, by far, the best addition to my bag of tricks this year. If you HAVEN’T heard about the world of guittens (AKA guitar + mitten = my favorite thing ever), hop over to Jody Tucker’s website and feast your eyes on the cuteness. If you work with kiddos, you’ll love how functional, versatile and conversation-worthy it will be for all your music therapy friends.

  1. FUNCTIONAL: It protects my guitar from those little hands that love to turn, turn, turn those knobs. I mean, seriously—it’s like guitar tuning pegs radiate beautiful rainbow light and have a neon sign on them that says, “TURN ME, I’M AWESOME.”

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  1. VERSATILE: I constantly use my guitten as a puppet for songwriting and finger play (try “Little Bird” from 1plus1plus1equals1), which is especially perfect in the springtime. I’ve even put shakers and bells inside the guitten while working on spatial concepts. Some of my kiddos also practice social skills by saying hi and shaking his wing during our hello song. DO check out the full list of guitten characters, which include animals, flowers and bugs.

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  1. CONVERSATION STARTER: First of all…my guitten TOTALLY looks like an angry bird. I mean, how cool is that? My video game obsessed friends have played with the guitten while making angry bird sounds into the microphone, or have used it to play “real life” angry birds by tossing him into drums. Other groups have even worked together to name him and have dubbed him our group mascot.

Note: Some of my friends don’t like the guitten on the guitar, but it provides a perfect jumping off point for asking for help/self-expression. One little friend is even working on saying “Bird off!”paired with signs. If I’m working with teens/adults, I usually ask if they want me to keep it on. 9 times out of 10…the answer is “YES!”

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It’s Turkey Time: 7 Gobble-Worthy Activity Ideas

18 Nov

November = TURKEY TIME!!! I like using turkeys as a session theme because they’re cute, can be used in endless ways and are great for speech goals (can I get a gobble, gobble?). Below are some of my favorite turkey-themed activities to use this time of year.

1. Feather Decorating: This is a nice art and music activity I like for self-expression and tactile experiences. We listen to Copland’s “Hoedown” and decorate turkey feathers with different sensory materials like feathers and stickers.

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2. Turkey Drumming: This is a simple drum activity that I love for attention, impulse control, following directions, and speech goals. I sing it to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw”, but simplified the words so my kids could really focus on just saying “turkey” and “gobble”. I usually line up three tall drums and have kids strike each drum in order on the “1-2-3” beat that follows each line. With groups, I will give everyone their own drum and either choose a soloist to come play the big drums or ask for volunteers to sing the gobbles into the microphone.

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3. Pass the Turkey: My most heavily used visual during turkey season is my turkey beanie baby! He’s the perfect size for passing around a circle or even for perching on a drum or piano during sessions. The kids love him!

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4. Turkey Songwriting Cards: I made my own turkey flash cards this year to use for songwriting with bells, boomwhackers and xylophones. My piano students totally dig writing their own turkey song with the cards then performing it on the bells. I’ve also been using them for math goals as well as color identification and matching. Download them for FREE! All you have to do is color them in. 🙂

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5. Starvin’ Marvin: He’s basically a celebrity to my kiddos. Everyone wants to meet Marvin, is always very concerned about how hungry he is (When I pulled him out the other day, one kiddo said “Miss Kerry!!!!!! He’s REALLY hungry—he looks a little faint.”) and loves “feeding” him by tossing bean bags in his mouth.

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No time to learn the song? This also works great with “Let’s Turkey Trot” by Little Eva.

6. Rachel Rambach’s “Turkey Dinner Dance”: This one is always a hit and is a great way to work on gross motor movement. Plus, it’s pretty darn catchy!

7. Turkey Dance Party: Straw hats optional! Check out some of my favorite hoe-down dance songs below that will get your clients do-si-do-ing.

Hoedown Throwdown (Miley Cyrus):

Bonus points for learning/teaching the dance:

Cotton Eye Joe (Rexnex)

Turkey in the Straw (Tennessee Mafia Jug Band)

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5+ Faves: Pumpkin Ideas for Fall

20 Oct

What people might say: “Yay, it’s finally fall.”

What I actually hear: “Pumpkin coffee! Pumpkin muffins! Pumpkin picking! PUMPKIN EVERYTHING AHHHHHHHH.”

My profound love of all things pumpkin doesn’t just stop at food. My sessions this month have been filled to the brim with all things autumn, harvest and…pumpkins! This week, I’m sharing 5 of my favorite pumpkin-themed activities that will have your kiddos jamming, moving, grooving in no time.

1. “Pumpkin Pie” Play Along (California Honeydrops): This is a great warm-up activity. Pass out shakers, guiros, sticks—anything that makes a nice scrapey sound. If you have a washboard, clients can take turns being a soloist (and if you don’t have a washboard, GET ONE!!!! It’s always a hit); otherwise, do some guitar strumming instead.

2. “Gonna Pick a Pumpkin” Chant: Okay…so I totally made this chant up in the moment while I was drumming with a kiddo. But it was really simple and fun, and was a great way to encourage my client to vocalize and work on playing a steady beat.

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If your clients are older, work together to come up with a fancy beat to play while you chant (or split into two groups and perform your beat for each other). You could even leave out the “big and round” part and have clients fill in the blank.

3. Pumpkin Vine: Click the link for a free download of the visual and to see how I use it! This little song is so catchy, and I guarantee you’ll be singing it all day. I love using this activity for fine motor skills, impulse control and decision making .


4. Pumpkin Bowling: If you really want to get the party started…do this one. Seriously! It takes all of 5 minutes to make and is fabulous for working on motor skills, turn taking and just overall group engagement.

 5. 5 Little Pumpkins book: This is a classic song, but I am in love with having it in board book format. Singable books are a perfect cool down activity for little ones, and I like using this one for counting/basic math goals, visual attention and vocalizing (my favorite page has a big “OOOOOO!” that kids just eat up with a spoon). I also use shakers as pumpkins sometimes and take one away each time we turn the page.

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6. BONUS IDEA! PumpkinFace HD App (free!) is easy to navigate and comes complete with spooky Halloween music. I use it to work on emotions, and have my kiddos select eyes, mouths and hats–then we sing and talk about how our pumpkin might be feeling.

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3 Resources I’m Loving: For Piano Lessons

5 Sep

In my summer blog series, 3 Resources I’m Loving, I’m sharing my favorite 3 resources at the moment for different purposes! Check out my last post about Summer Visuals.

September means back to school, which also means that it’s finally PIANO LESSON TIME! I’ve been having a blast creating new visuals, songs and activities to support my adaptive piano lessons and have really found myself excited to teach piano–something I never thought I’d say. I spent most of my days as a student avoiding the piano like the plague (no, seriously–you wouldn’t believe the excuses I’ve given to avoid playing it in public!), but have really fallen in love with it over the past year. I use the piano daily in my music therapy sessions and have been feeling totally inspired for all the lessons I’ve been teaching. I thought I’d share 3 of my favorite things to use right now in my piano lessons.

photo (6)1. Hand/Desk Bell Set. GUYS. If you don’t have a handbell set or xylophone, go get one right now!!!!! These bells have been a huge source of motivation for my kiddos. Beginning students can use them to play their songs, learn solfege and practice note identification. It’s super easy to color-code visuals to match (I have little fish I like to use…this is also great for working on color matching, visual tracking, etc).

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset2. VISUALS! LOTS AND LOTS OF VISUALS! I can’t stress this enough–a good visual can totally make or break teaching a new concept. I have basic piano keys/staffs with velcro to work on note learning and identification, rhythm value cheat sheets, solfege visuals and more. For some quick downloads, see the post about my much-requested lesson game, Miss Kerry’s Musical Melee, and click on the links for the rhythm and note cards.

photo (6)3. FUN APPS! For new piano students, I highly recommend Tune Train. Your students will looooove composing their own song by extending the train track and hearing it played back to them paired with different musical styles (hip hip, pop, classical, etc). It’s a great way to introduce concepts like harmony and pitch while also working on fine motor skills (isolating one finger to draw the line) and decision-making. Other fan favorites are Flash Note Derby and NotateMe Now.

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3 Resources I’m Loving: Music & Relaxation

8 Jul

In my new summer blog series, 3 Resources I’m Loving, I’m going to be sharing my favorite 3 resources at the moment for different purposes! This week, let’s talk about some helpful resources for music & relaxation and self-regulation activities. I always end my sessions with a calming activity to help regulate and center my clients before they leave the therapy space. Below are three tools I’ve been using heavily this summer that I just can’t live without!

ryanjudd21. Ryan Judd’s Sleep Soundly CD

When Ryan told me about Sleep Soundly, his latest project, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the tracks! After my first listen, I was totally blown away by its beauty and adaptability. Each song is rhythmic, well-paced and contains really nice ambient sounds that lend beautifully to music and relaxation exercises appropriate for any age or population. I’ve been using them with ambient instruments like ocean drums, rain sticks and wind chimes, and have even encouraged some of my families to purchase the CD for use at home.

 2. Cabasa

All my clients know that the cabasa is my absolute favorite instrument and expect to see it offered as a choice at the end of our sessions. It’s fantastic for providing tactile stimulation, is easy to hold and manipulate and makes a high quality musical sound with even the lightest touch. Demonstrate rolling the cabasa slowly on your hands, arms, legs, etc and encourage your clients to do the same. Provide physical support if needed (and use recorded music—try one of Ryan’s tracks from above!) or fade back and provide relaxing guitar or piano accompaniment. I’ve been loving Kat Fulton’s Easy-to-Learn Relaxing Guitar Loop lately.


My go-to is this mini cabasa, which fits in my bag without weighing it down.

photo (1)3. Kite Visual with Scarf

I created this simple kite visual for one client in particular and have found myself using it with almost everyone! Try using it for music and movement with the song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” from Mary Poppins or for deep breathing/stretching. I will often encourage clients to stretch up to touch the kite wherever I am holding it, take a deep breath and blow out to try to move the scarf.

What’s your favorite resource for music & relaxation right now? Leave a comment below–I’d love to add more resources to my list!

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Activity Inspiration: Singin’ in the Rain

19 May

This time of year, I love to use weather-related songs and activities in my sessions! Springtime weather always inspires me to break out my ambient instruments (frog rasp, crow sounders, canary sticks, rain sticks, thunder tubes, etc) and use songs about sun, rain and flowers. One of my fan-favorites from this season has been a movement activity paired with “Singing in the Rain” that gets everyone moving and has lots of opportunities for some feel-good solos.

When I introduce the activity, I usually show clients pictures of Gene Kelly dancing (quite adorably) with the light-post or a brief video, if possible. I mean, how cute is he?! Clients are then invited to volunteer for a “tap dancing” solo in front of the group. I usually model some snazzy moves (turning in a circle, kicking my feet out, jazz hands) but you’ll also love seeing what your clients come up with on their own.

I made a few portable umbrellas (gotta love those multi-purpose rhythm sticks!) and dug out two very suave costume hats for clients to hold and wear.

photo-12For some groups, I attach jingle bells to self-adhering Velcro tape (my bells too small to fit around adult ankles) and invite clients to wear or hold them during their solo. Because some of my adult groups have high numbers of hearing and visual impairments, I’ve found that this is a great way to motivate clients to move and participate, even from their seats.



For your cool kids and teens, try this Glee mash-up of “Umbrella” and “Singing in the Rain.”

 For everyone else, I love Gene Kelly’s classic rendition!

 If you have lots of staff to help and don’t need your hands free, you can even play it live and vamp during each client’s solo. Have fun!

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5+ Cinco de Mayo Session Ideas

25 Apr

It’s almost the 5th of May, and you know what that means: time for a music therapy FIESTA! Check out some of my favorite Cinco de Mayo-inspired ideas to try with your clients or students next week. I also like to use this opportunity to discuss Mexican culture with my clients. Try showing a video of a mariachi band, coloring a picture of the flag or talking about your favorite foods. Olé!

  •  Instrument Jam Session to “Oye como va” (Santana). Nothing says cool like Santana! Jam along with the recording or play it live with instruments like maracas, guiros, shakers, rhythm sticks, cabasas and castanets.

  •  “La Cucaracha” Drumming: Print out a cute little cockroach cartoon (because let’s face it—a real picture of this particular creepy crawly friend is just TOO yucky) and tape it on a drum. Tell your clients that there is a bug on the loose and it’s their job to squash it! Sing or hum “La cucaracha” and have clients wait to “squash” the bug by hitting the drum after each line. This is a great way to work on impulse control, following directions and attention.

La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar. (SPLAT)

La cucaracha, la cucaracha, una pata de atras. (SPLAT)


  • Do the limbo. For your teens and cool kids, check out this pop-tastic Limbo song, courtesy of Daddy Yankee. “Limbo Rock” (Chubby Checker) and “The Limbo Song” (Frankie Anderson) are my go-to limbo classics.


  • Cinco de Mayo-themed dance party!

Conga (Miami Sound Machine)

Macarena (Los del Rio)

La Bamba (Ritchie Valens)

  •  “De Colores” (Joan Baez) with scarves. I like to play a simplified version of this song on the guitar to work on a variety of goal areas. Some possible lyric modifications to try:
  • Color Identification: “De colores, our scarves are so many colors, so many colors. De colores, if your scarf is YELLOW, wave your scarf way up high ”
  • Motor Skills: “Wave your scarves, wave your colorful scarves way up high, yes, wave them up high”; “Wave them to the side,” “wave them way down low”
  • Body Part Identification: “Wave your scarves, wave your colorful scarves on your FEET, wave them on your FEET,” (knees, shoulders, head)

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Super Supplemental: Song Choice Board

4 Apr

I recently created a song choice board for a client who loves children’s songs…and have found myself using it with almost all of my little ones these past few weeks! I love that it’s portable, promotes decision making and can be a great way to increase client flexibility and range of musical expression. When I use it, I encourage clients to select one song and one instrument to play and have them move the icons to strip with an “I want” icon. Then, I read the sentence out loud, (i.e., “I want to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ with the guitar”).

The great thing about making a visual like this is that you can really tailor it to your needs. You can make icons for client preferred instruments, different ways to sing a song (loud, soft, silly voice, etc), and for the range of songs that you frequently use in your therapy sessions. I constantly rotate icons in and out of the choice board (the pocket is great for hiding songs that clients may perseverate on, especially if you’re attempting to introduce a new song or activity!) and even have icons for some of my original songs. This would also work great for teachers who want to encourage choice-making in the classroom during circle time!

Warning: Laminating a file folder is like attempting to eat one cookie. Because why have one…when you can have EVERY FOLDER YOU OWN BE COVERED IN DELIGHTFULLY DURABLE LAMINATE?! Don’t say I didn’t warn you…:)


  • File folder
  • Construction paper
  • Boardmaker icons (or make your own!)
  • Laminator
  • Velcro

To learn how to laminate a file folder, check out this tutorial on the blog Sunny Days in Second Grade.

Create instrument and song icons as needed. Once your folder and icons are laminated, add some velcro strips to one half of the folder and staple or tape a pocket on the other end.


I also put an icon on the front of the folder so I can easily pick it out from my other visuals.


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Activity Inspiration: Silly Seuss Sounds

4 Mar

Oh, the places you’ll go…when you let Dr. Seuss inspire your music therapy activity planning! In honor of his birthday (March 2) and Read Across America day, my music therapy groups are having a jolly good time this week creating silly Seuss sounds to work on goals like positive peer interaction, decision making, following directions and self expression/creativity.

Seuss-sational Activity Ideas:

Download the Dr. Seuss Band App for $.99. If your clients are able to play, the game is a great way to practice color matching and fine motor skills! But something I love about this app is that you don’t HAVE to play the game as intended…simply select a song (each one is so delightfully goofy sounding) and have clients press the buttons to play the instrument.

For the suggestions below, I usually open the app, select a song and have clients layer silly sounds over the music.

photo-1 Use instruments to create silly sounds! Throw some unique instruments in a bin (or drum, etc) and have students choose one to play. Some ideas:

  • Vibraslap
  • Frog Rasp
  • Clatterpillar
  • Thunder Tube
  • Rainstick (bonus points if you have a colorful one!)
  • Wind Tube
  • Canary Whistles
  • Boomwhackers

photoRecord silly sound effects on communication devices.  Find some sound effects that strike your fancy (thank you, youtube!) and record them on a choice board on your iPad or on communication devices like big macs. I had access to a Cheap Talk 8 at school, but individual buttons would also work great.

Fun Sounds to Try:



 Tuba (hehehe)

Slap (Don’t have a vibraslap, so I improvised!)

Don’t miss this FREE DOWNLOAD(!!!!!!): a visual I made for use with those sound effects. Just cut out and attach to communication devices or use as a choice board.

Build your own silly Seuss instrument. Divide students into teams or work together as a group to make a unique instrument that can be played in many ways. Provide students with a box of items (instruments, tin cans, boxes…the possibilities are endless) and encourage them to assemble a never-before-seen instrument. Have students describe their instrument to the group and demonstrate how to play it. Don’t forget to name it when you’re finished!

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