Making Music, Music Therapy

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I have the honor of guiding some wonderful women singers in a performance the end of this month. I am sharing with them a favorite music meditation of mine in the morning. It is written by Sarah Dan Jones. You may be familiar with it. Surprisingly I could not find a YouTube recording. Maybe that will be my next post. Regardless, the words are inspiring spoken in quiet meditation or sung. They are,

Breath in, breathe out.
When I breathe in I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out I breathe out love.

Here’s a beautiful video by Greenpeace that I found goes along with this well.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year.


Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Violence and Stigma in Mental Health

Please follow this link to read this article about autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the mistake we make when we over generalize. This New York Times writer has done a great job in clarifying the difference between mental health disabilities, and violence in Our Sons Are Not Future Killers.

Our hearts must find ways to mend, again, and again, in this very unfinished incomplete world.

I believe a way is through exploring the arts – music, theater, visual art, poetry, dance and even yoga. Find what you love and do it often. It brings peace to you, your family, and then to your town, your region, your world. The concept of thinking globally, acting locally can be for more than conservation – I think we can also act in PEACE, and see a much wider impact on the world around us.

May peace find rest in our hearts, and through our creativity.

Music Therapy

Getting un-stuck through music

Upon presenting at the Illinois Psychological Association, a colleague asked me what I thought about hard rock, death metal, and other forms of aggressive music often listened to by the teens in his psychotherapy practice.

This form of expression is just that – self expression. Think about what you want to hear when you are feeling sad or upset. I bet it isn’t the light smooth sounds of the Jackson 5 – or maybe it is. Most people need some time to stay in an emotional state and process it. Maybe take some time to cool down or self soothe.

I recommend my clients use music that matches their mood when feeling moments of unease. It is my sense that this is what is happening with listening to aggressive music. Some will argue they “just like it”, but why? Aren’t our choices in art reflective of something we either need or understand deeply? Are we not relating to another when we consume their art? We are less alone when someone speaks their truth to us through art.

The trick is this. Choose another set of tunes to listen to. Don’t wallow in music of misery and pain and anger. Use it, relate to it, consume it, and then move to the next level of emotional strength. Maybe it’s still aggressive music, but this time in a major key. Ever heard Messiaen’s pipe organ music? It is wild and intense. How about moving from Screamo to Heavy Metal to Ornette Coleman, to ballads from intense bands, for example. Explore the qualities of the music you love, and move the dial from anger to energy, from sadness to calm, from breakups to survival.

What is on your playlist of healthy mood music? Seriously – I’d love to know.

Keep humming.

– Victoria


Music Therapy

The power to persevere

LOVE this post from a fellow blogger and music therapist. Rock On!!!!!

Hidden Rhythms

I feel jet lagged and exhausted.

I feel pressures emotionally, financially, educationally, personally, spiritually…

I want to crawl into bed and sleep away the agonizing exhaustion and maybe all the stress will seem less when I awake…


I have work to do.

Not out of commitment to contract or sense of obligation to those who are depending on me.

I have work to do, because there are some things about my current situation that are unacceptable.

I can no longer abide by feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. I will show gratitude to the Universe/Great Spirit/Creator/God/Goddess/All One for this beautiful life with all of the challenges that make me stronger and wiser.

I will not diminish the wonderful gifts I have been given to share with this world by harming myself with self doubt, poor food choices, unhealthy habits, depression and damaging patterns of behavior .

I will do what…

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Music Therapy

FAQs about my music therapy sessions

Recently one of my contract sites (where I work exclusively with children) asked me to provide them with some information in consideration of a story in their magazine.  I always love the opportunity to talk about the work I do, and I thought I would share some of my responses here with you as well.


1.      What is the role/purpose of the music therapy program –how do you adapt that role to the different age groups of patients? And to their different conditions?

Music is an incredibly flexible tool that in the hands (or voice) of a music therapist can be melded into exactly what a patient needs in that moment.  The needs of the patient may be for soothing and pain abatement – I can play a quiet simple chord progression and sing a simple melody that can lull a child in distress into a state of calm, even sleep.  I have used repetitive drumming patterns to create a state of predictability upon which a teenager can express feelings of loneliness, fear, gratitude, or resiliency.  I have worked with patients to play through their favorite songs, or create an original musical composition.  When possible and appropriate, I like to record these into an audio file that the patient can then keep.  Sometimes my goal for a child is to simply explore musical play – to be silly within the music and have a good time.  This is a way to elevate their mood and improve their perception of their current situation.  It also reminds the kids, especially those who are not musicians, that there are ways of having fun in life that they may not have discovered yet.  This is essential for kids with new injuries or new limitations.

Patients of all ages and ability levels can benefit from music therapy interventions.  Adaptations based on a patient’s interests and their physical, cognitive, or musical abilities are made in the moment.  I assess the level of functioning and the need for change through consultation with the staff and family members, as well as with the patient when that patient has a particular desire in mind.  Being with a patient in the music together creates magical moments of connection and understanding, through which patients can meet and sometimes exceed their goals.

My goals fall into the realm of psychosocial or developmental growth, pain reduction, or improvement of their physical or speech functioning.  I use the motivating factors in music which are psychologically and neurologically hard wired, to achieve change in functioning.  There in lies the difference between music therapy, and entertainment or eduction.

 2.      Give me an idea of the range – kinds of instruments, types of music?

The types of music depend on the style that the patient prefers.  Research (and common sense) shows that when a patient is introduced to their favorite type or style of music, they will be more engaged in the process.  This requires a high level of versatility on the part any music therapist.  The instruments we use are a combination of acoustic guitar, piano, electric keyboard, djembe, bells, and other hand-held percussion instruments.  We can also use recorded music and all the tools accessible via the music applications on the web.  Some favorites are musical instrument games and recording apps.

3.      Is there a particular patient who especially benefited from music therapy that you remember? Tell me a little about that encounter?

I remember one young woman in particular who was a poet.  She was a quadriplegic aided by her sip/puff chair.  We listened to music together over the course of a few weeks, talked about the lyrics, talked about her life and her goals.  She played her favorite songs for me and I was able to emulate a similar sound on the guitar.  She wrote a series of poems, and I helped her to form those lines into melodic phrases, a lot like her musical genre of choice.  By the end of a few sessions together we recorded her song with her singing along.  She thanked me many times for offering her the opportunity to express herself with such authenticity.

Recently I met with a little girl who guided me at the piano through the scenes of her favorite movie.  This movie was full of danger and toil, to which we played our “dangerous sounds” as well as our “happy music” when the princess triumphed over her oppressors.  I asked her if she ever felt like that princess – she told me how she had fallen that day, but like the princess, she had to pick herself up and keep going.  We explored and celebrated that success at the piano so she was ready for another day of challenging therapy.

4.      What are the credentials for a music therapist?

As a board certified music therapist (MT-BC) I have both a bachelors and masters degree in music, majoring in music therapy.  To become board certified, a 6 month full time clinical music therapy internship and comprehensive exam must be completed after completion of an approved/accredited bachelors degree.  Continuing education must be fulfilled on a five-year cycle to maintain this certification.  More information can be obtained at or, the Certification Board for Music Therapists, and the American Music Therapy Association, respectively. A useful annotated bibliography can also be referenced at

Have a wonderful rest of November, continuing to be thankful and grateful for all that you have.  Keep singing.

– Victoria

Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Parenting Styles for Children with Disabilities

Check out this nice article in Disabilty Scoop addressing how parenting style has a big impact on children with disabilities.

The researchers found that even though it may seem natural to allow behaviors, or eradicate behaviors, finding the sweet spot somewhere in between is the key to teaching independence and skills for the future. It’s wonderful to see how this is so in line with parenting typically developing kids.

As a music therapist, I balance in this place as a clinician at the piano, guitar, djembe, or other music experience. It’s in that space of gently guiding my clients towards free self expression and also creating aesthetic beauty in sound. It’s in that space, in that relationship we develop together, that the learning and insight happens.

Keep singing!


Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Clinical Research on Depression and Anxiety

A few days ago I shared with you a video of pop star Katy Perry singing with and being accompanied by a young girl with autism.

Today I wanted to share something that appeals also to my analytical side. Don’t want to read the whole abstract? Here’s the upshot — Researchers in Finland found that with 79 participants after three months of treatment, their depressed and anxious patients improved in their symptom management through music therapy. More specifically, “Verbal reflection and improvising on emotions in MT may induce neural reorganization in fronto-temporal areas. Alpha and theta changes in fronto-temporal and temporoparietal areas indicate MT action and treatment effects on cortical activity in depression, suggesting an impact of MT on anxiety reduction.” Here’s a link to the whole she-bang if you are interested.

Here’s my take on this. The fronto-temporal regions are where our everyday thinking and reasoning skills come from; as well as some music and speech skills. Music also taps into a part of the brain that is “older” or develops in us earlier, and connects quickly to our emotion centers. So verbal therapy is great for these fronto-temporal decision making skills and areas of reason, for gaining insights — adding music making to the mix and getting to the deeper levels where emotion is accessed sometimes quickly, is a great pairing for verbal therapies.

I hope you enjoy the scholarly article. As Michelle Shocked said, keep on rockin’. Thanks for visiting.


Making Music, Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Improvising with Feeling

My PianoOne of my favorite clinical improvisation techniques in guiding my clients through music making by breaking down the elements of music, and making subtle changes to get to where we collectively want to go. Different combinations of tempo, dynamics, pitch, texture, melody and harmony create different moods or feelings. Communicating on this non-verbal level is a powerful experience for both my clients and for me as a musician, music therapist, and container for the experience. From this place, we can discuss and explore changes in feeling states.

Several weeks ago I heard a report on a study about how music communicates feeling in other cultures.  Essentially, music that we westerners typically describe as sad, is also perceived the same way in other cultures.  This is fascinating, and speaks to the universality of our experience as listeners. 

Check out this nice post called “Musical Minds” by Steven B. Jackson in Psychology Today for a little more information about culture and musical perception. 

When you or a loved one is struggling with shifting moods, remember that listening to music and actively playing music can be a catalyst for change.  Finding and listening to the music that feels great to you can be a really good place to start.      

Music Therapy

Beyond the concert hall – bringing music to healthcare settings.

I was delighted to be invited by Penny Brill, violist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, to present with her at the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) 50th Anniversary Conference held in Chicago last week.  Over the last 12 years Penny and her colleagues have built an extremely thoughtful system for utlizing the strenghts and talents of musicians in healthcare settings.  She has won numerous awards on behalf of her advocacy work, and continues to encourage musicians and singers to get involved in making music in healthcare settings in a most responsible way.    As is the trend in the arts these days, getting patrons to the concert hall is difficult for many organizations. Looking at new ways to bring music out and to the people benefits all who are lucky enough to be involved.

For years I have been a strong advocate for the arts in the healthcare setting.  Having been a member of the Society for Arts in Healthcare, the American Music Therapy Association, and having supported volunteer musicians and professionals in navigating the hospital setting in my workplaces, it was a natural fit for me to accept Penny’s invitation to co-present.  In so doing, I represented the field of music therapy, as well as the needs of the families and patients receiving the gift of the musicians efforts. 

At the end of the day, we musicians, music therapists, music educators, performers, music practitioners, and volunteer musicians all share the same goal of serving the patient, families, and staff.  It is very clear to me that these different players offer unique and varied perspectives and services to the consumers.  From a collaborative spirit and desire to improve the lives of those we serve, we can ALL find our appropriate place in our local hospitals and clinics.  It definitely demands sensitivity to the setting.  An understanding of what is indeed appropriate, keeps everyone feeling grounded and safe to share.  With OPEN lines of communication, we can provide a valuable service to each other and best serve our patients. 

For example, my training makes it possible for me to help a musician identify what kind of repertoire is appropriate for a particular setting.  I can act as an escort and trainer in helping performers get comfortable in the setting and know what to expect.  I can help to advocate for the needs of the staff and patients, while also advocating for the needs of visiting artists or artists-in-residence.  I can also identify a time when a family should not be disturbed, and left to their privacy.  I am not unique in this ability — it is within my training, as is the case for any music therapist with some hospital experience. 

So, it was a good week advocating for music and encouraging musicians to think beyond the concert hall.  I was excited by the questions and desire to explore this possibility by those attendees.  I share Penny Brill’s desire to make the arts accessible to people in all walks of life, including the sensitive hallways of hospitals.  Bringing beauty to the environment can be truly transformative, creating more opportunities for wellness.  The trick as a performer is in ALWAYS playing to the needs of the patients/visitors/staff as the first priority.  For the performer, this can be a dramatic shift away from the demands of the repertoire, and toward the unique needs and interests of the consumer. 

So, if you know any musicians who would like to share their gifts with someone in need, encourage them to contact their local music therapist, college of music therapy, hospital based expressive arts department, or even the american music therapy association in moving forward.  Partnering with a music therapist will help you avoid the “rookey mistakes” as Penny Brill put it, to make your visit a positive experience for all.

Until next time – keep humming a happy tune.