Tag Archives: Instrument Playing

Music Therapy Olympics: Instrument Relay (with 4+ adaptations!)

18 Feb

As the 2014 Olympics come to a close, I want to share another activity that has been highly successful in my music therapy groups: an instrument relay! I have implemented this activity in a variety of ways to work on goal areas like social skills (sharing, turn taking, positive peer interactions) and following multi-step directions (shake and pass, etc). Regardless of the adaptation that I select, I always preface this activity with a discussion about teamwork and working together to reach a common goal. If I have access to a SMART board or iPad, I will show a brief video of a relay (speed skating, track and field, etc) and draw attention to how the athletes are taking turns, sharing and supporting each other.

Below are 4+ instrument relay race ideas to get your wheels turning, instrument batons passing and speed skates…skating!! Too much nerdiness in that sentence? …NO WAY.

1. Instrument Relay: When first introducing the concept of a relay race, I like to start out with a small, easy-to-play instrument, like a shaker. So my hands are free, I create a simple instrumental loop on a keyboard or music program that provides a steady beat without being overly distracting. I encourage each student to shake the shaker, then pass it to the person sitting next to them by improvising rhythmic or melodic prompts (ex. “Shake and shake and shake and shake and PASS IT TO YOUR TEAMMATE”) over the loop. See how fast you can get that shaker going around the circle!

Listen and download this FREE groovy instrumental I made on Mixcraft that’s guaranteed to make you strike a disco pose:

Alternate idea: Pair the concept of a relay race with Tuned Into Learning’s “Pass it Along” from Volume 1: Social Skills & Pragmatics. Let me tell you—this song is fantastic! Directions are embedded in the song lyrics (ex. “I play my instrument and pass it along”) and the music provides extra support for clients who need it, especially during that difficult transition that happens when you have to pass that shaker along. It’s hard to stop playing a fun instrument!

2. Speed Skating Relay: See the instrument relay above…but before clients can pass their instrument to the next person, they must stand up and “speed skate” a lap around the circle! This provides an opportunity to work on motor skills and following three-step directions.

Visual: Show this brief speed skating video. Bonus points if you have access to a SMART board and can play it WHILE the speed skating activity is happening. It’s fun to watch clients skate along with some Olympians.

3. Drum Rhythm Relay: Initiate a simple rhythm and pass it around the circle, telephone-style. Is the rhythm still correct when it makes its way back to you? How fast can it go around the circle without any errors? Have clients take turns being the drum rhythm leader. In a lesson or music education setting, write rhythmic lines on index cards and tape them to a handheld drum. Pass the drum around the circle and have each client drum the rhythm.

Make it harder: Split clients into small teams to create and write down their own rhythms for the group to try.

photo(4)4. Word Rhythm Relay: Instead of rhythmic notation, try writing thematic words like “Winter Olympics” and “Gold Medal” on index cards (with a visual, if needed) to promote speech skills, articulation and literacy. You can also pair the words with the rhythmic notation if working on music reading skills. Demonstrate speaking and playing the word rhythms simultaneously on a drum to start off the relay!

 Free sample word rhythm printable HERE!

[Print, cut, glue to thick paper (if needed) and drum away.]

Additional Resource: Check out a recent post from Wade Richards of Time for Music, where he shares a list of Olympic sentences to try in his post “Drumming to Foster Fluency in Speech.”

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Activity Inspiration: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

2 Dec

I’m sure every therapist, teacher and parent has experienced the craziness that can ensue on the first day back after Thanksgiving break. It can be difficult to reign in all that excited energy as everyone (staff included!) transitions back into their daily routines while still counting down the days until winter break. This week, I want to share an activity that I’m currently implementing to help my students refocus in the midst of all this holiday season hubbub.

Though I’m actually a classically trained opera singer, lately I’ve been trading out Handel for Hap Palmer and Donizetti for drum circles. I love to use classical music in my sessions whenever I can because it refreshes me while also introducing my clients to a diverse range of musical styles! Music from The Nutcracker is recognizable, easy to listen to and seasonal, making it the perfect choice for a music listening activity for clients who may be new to classical music.

For this activity, all you’ll need is:

  • A recording of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” (or your favorite winter-themed classical music piece)
  • Scarves
  • Desired instruments
  • Visual: Because many of my students have ASD and struggle with abstract thinking, I also like to provide a concrete visual during any type of relaxation or self-regulation activity. This can help set the mood while also giving extra life to the music! I used google’s handy dandy image search and found a snowy picture to project on our SMART board like the one below:

Depending on the needs of your students, distribute scarves and encourage them to move their scarves along with the music while remaining seated. Model some movements for the group, or give different students the opportunity to come up and be the movement leader for the group. If scarves are too overstimulating, walk around the circle with one instrument (or pass it around if able). I love pairing chimes with “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” but jingle bells or a xylophone would also fit really well with the music. Have one student play the instrument at a time and encourage them to play quietly along with the music.

For my groups that really need to get up and move around, I make a line with colored place markers that leads straight to the chimes. I encourage students to come up one at a time and tiptoe or hop from one circle to the next. When they reach the last circle, they get to play the chimes! If your students don’t require a lot of physical support, you can stand on the last circle and hold the chimes while encouraging them to make their way toward you.


Other adaptations may include:

  • Instrument play-along
  • Extending this activity into a discussion about the song or season (What story is it telling? How does it sound like winter?)
  • Art and music: have client draw or paint a picture inspired by the music

Check out this awesome recording of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” below to get yourself in the Christmas spirit! Do you use classical music in your sessions? Share your favorite piece to use in a comment and I’ll add it to my blog post.

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Activity Inspiration: Instrument Corn Maze

8 Oct

Another fall-themed activity I’ve found highly motivating for many of my clients is my instrument corn maze! This activity involves the creation of instrument stations that clients will visit and play as they make their way through the “corn maze” path. Reinforcing a seasonal concept such as a corn maze can be helpful for clients because it provides exposure to a common fall activity that they may experience in the community.  I also like utilizing a range of musical instruments in one activity because it allows clients to experiment with a variety of sounds.


  • Corn images
  • Assorted instruments (4-6)
  • Appropriate musical recording
  • Mallets (1-2)

I printed a large corn image on four different colored pieces of construction paper for each instrument station. The amount of corn maze stations you create is dependent on your therapy space, goals and client needs.

I selected four different instruments (tubano, xylophone, tambourine, djembe) and attached a corn image to each. When I decided on a path for the maze, I made a “corn maze map” to project on a SMART board for students to follow as they make their way through the maze. The colored corn images on the map correspond with the images on each instrument in the order that they are placed in the room. For smaller groups, you could distribute a map to each client.


During this activity, I play upbeat recordings such as “Ease On Down the Road” from The Wiz. Because my clients range greatly in age, I find that popular recorded music is almost always age appropriate while allowing me the freedom to assist each client as they take a turn navigating through the maze. At each instrument station, clients are to strike the instrument at least once with a mallet. When they cross the “finish line” after the last station, the facilitator should lead the group in cheering for the client.

Additional adaptations of this activity may include:

  • Clients work together to create the corn maze and map
    • Separate groups into two or more teams
    • Each team must design a maze and map for the other team to follow
  • Facilitator creates an original “corn maze” song to accompany the activity with embedded directions

Below is my sample corn maze map and a great recording of “Ease On Down the Road.” I’d love to hear about how my instrument corn maze works for you and your clients!

Sample Corn Maze Map