All Children Love Music!

James E. Riley, MM, MT-BC

“Hello, hello! I see you there in the green shirt, the green shirt, won’t you please tell us your name?” A child looks down to check before opening her eyes wide and pointing to her own shirt. The Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC) responds, “That’s you! Welcome! Everyone say hi to Sarah!” Several shy children whisper their greetings and make brief eye contact. A father helps his toddler wave. An older child turns to shake Sarah’s hand and pronounces, “Hello!!! I’m Gaawry!!!” The MT-BC smiles, then challenges everyone to repeat the shirt’s color “green” before giving each child their own turn.

Next, the group sings, “Music sweet music, all children love music! We work real hard and have great fun, we know it’s therapeutic!” Every Tuesday morning and afternoon on the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s outpatient Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) floor, children with speech and communication delays achieve non-musical benefits through music therapy groups. These fun and innovative clinical services are funded by donations to Music Sweet Music, Inc. “Great singing! Let’s practice that big word, ‘therapeutic.’ Stick your tongue out a little and try it again. Yes! Timmy, that was great a “th” sound when you sang the word ‘therapeutic’!”

Before singing our ABCs or drumming today’s activities, before sharing instruments or labeling our emotions, we’ve already shown off our social skills, articulated several target sounds, demonstrated new confidence, and engaged successfully in a clinical environment. We have connected on an individual basis through music; the children are motivated to engage in SLP interventions without realizing how hard they’re working.

Whereas the children love the music, their families value the therapy. Music therapy is the clinical application of music, evidence-based interventions, and a unique therapeutic relationship in order to accomplish non-musical objectives.

Gary’s SLP goals include improved articulation and fluency, but we’re also working on executive functioning. His attention span is limited so it’s important to use patient preferred music, engaging activities, visual aides, transition songs, and verbal reminders. We adapt many familiar songs so that we practice key words, such as, “The ants go marching three by three, hurrah! Good three! Hurrah!” Gary’s academic focus is piqued by melody, and his need for social attention provided when he adheres to the expectations of this carefully constructed therapeutic environment. Gary is one of few children who joins group without family usually present, but once when his grandfather observed, Gary memorized all the words for a new song, waiting patiently while raising his hand before speaking out of turn, and proudly modeled how to pronounce therapeutic, fifth, and thank you. Grandfather’s smile was wide, and his love for his grandchild was bright.

Sarah seems to understand more than she can communicate. She was able to express herself through music instruments, and responded well to upbeat songs with characters and repetitive melodies. After several weeks of engaging in music play, onomatopoeia of percussive strikes, and listening to objects being labelled, Sarah saw a drum and pointed, “Boom!” Her vocabulary is now expanding to include, “Boom drum!”, Cookie Monster’s “Om nom nom nom!” to indicate something she likes, “up” and “down” for a favorite movement song, and “love-ou!” when she gives Mom a warm hug.

Timmy speaks English as a second language, but he’s also socially inhibited. When he first joined music therapy, his face was tucked tightly into his father’s chest. Age appropriate songs were fun enough to catch a brief moment of eye contact, but they also served to calm the other group members down. Then, it was the drums that achieved first eye contact. Timmy had a glimmer in his eyes, then turned away when he saw others looking. I met his height and offered him choice of percussion, and he selected the biggest djembe. Soon, he was playing alongside his peers, and next, he was even listening to directions about how to play the music. Before long, he was given the opportunity to lead the group, and he audibly verbalized, “Go!!!!”     Stop!  Go!!!!  Loud!!!!” Through a therapeutic relationship that allows children to feel secure, respected, and confident, we can now sing silly songs, make animal noises, drum our emotions, share something about ourselves, and more. Timmy’s answers are usually single word responses, but he is engaging, communicating, and growing.

Gary, Sarah, Timmy, and their expanding community of music group friends know the hello routine, they know how to follow directions with each week’s new interventions, they are comforted by transition songs, they actually look forward to the clean-up song, and after the hour quickly flies by they sing: “Goodbye friends, goodbye friends! Goodbye friends, I’ll see you another time!” Even the youngest, most inhibited child often shares a warm “Bye!” after spending time in Music Sweet Music’s SLP groups at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

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Must See Documentary – Alive Inside

ALIVE INSIDE is a joyous cinematic exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music. His camera reveals the uniquely human connection we find in music and how its healing power can triumph where prescription medication falls short.

This stirring documentary follows social worker Dan Cohen, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Dan Cohen is founder and executive director of Music & Memory, which promotes the use of digital music players with individualized playlists to improve the quality of life for elders, regardless of their cognitive or physical status. He received his MSW from Adelphi University. Dan has spent most of his career helping individuals and organizations better leverage technology. Music & Memory operates in hundreds of long-term care homes across the U.S. and abroad.

Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”).

An uplifting cinematic exploration of music and the mind, ALIVE INSIDE’s inspirational and emotional story left audiences humming, clapping and cheering at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.

The documentary is available on Netflix and other media providers and can also be purchased. Visit the website and view the trailer at

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Tis the Season…

During this holiday season, as we approach the end of yet another year, we pause to reflect on what you have accomplished through Music Sweet Music (MSM) in 2014.

You, through your generosity and thoughtfulness, have touched the lives of 1,500 plus children in the Greater Tampa Bay region. The physiological and psychological stress that patients undergo during hospitalization can severely affect both emotional and physical well-being. Music therapy using patient-preferred music is beneficial in improving quality of life indicators such as anxiety, perception of the hospitalization or procedure, relaxation and stress in patients.

MSM has expanded its programs to include music therapy sessions for wounded veterans, seniors afflicted with memory loss, and the installation of our own “music as medicine” music therapy studio.  Additionally, we have continued and/or expanded music therapy sessions at PARC, Mannisota BUDS, All Children’s Hospital, St, Joseph’s Hospital for Children, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, and other venues.

Although many of the hospitalized children we serve have received treatment this year for life-threatening illness and disease, we constantly marvel at their resilient and indomitable spirit, their ability to smile and laugh when least expected or anticipated, and their willingness to provide for others even though they are suffering. Regardless of their condition, they truly embody the spirit of the holidays.

Your continued support allows us to continue our mission of providing music therapy sessions and the instruments used in music therapy to those in need. Partnering with you, we will continue our efforts to provide music therapy sessions and educate our community to the many benefits of music therapy.

Happy Holidays from our MSM “family” to yours!

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Music Therapist Julie Martin: Endurance Race to Benefit St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Mease-Countryside

Our music therapist, Julie Martin, is giving her all to Music Sweet Music by starting a new fundraising page to support music therapy at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Mease-Countryside.

She calls it 26 4 26. That means that she is running a 26.2 mile marathon in January and dedicating it to support 26 weeks of music therapy for hospitalized children.

Donating is easy, just click on the link. All funds go to Music Sweet Music for music therapy sessions in 2015. Thank you on behalf of the children, families and staff of SJCH at Mease-Countryside!

Julie Martin on CrowdRise

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Music Therapy Improves Behavior in Children with Autism

Weekly music therapy sessions can have a positive effect on behavior in children with autism, reports a paper in Pertanika Journal. In a study of 41 children, improvements were seen particularly in inattentive behaviors over a ten month period. The researchers hope that their research will help children and young adults with autism to modify behaviour.

US Centers for Disease Control statistics state that one in every 150 children in United States is diagnosed with autism — that is one new diagnosis in every 20 minutes. And the number is on the increase. Music and movement therapy has been used to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation.

C M See of the Universiti Sains Malaysia divided the group into two age categories — two to ten and eleven to twenty two — and rated their behavior on a target behavior checklist developed specifically for the research. Over a ten month period they alternated two different hour-long sessions of music therapy and measured the children on the target behavior checklist on a monthly basis. For behaviors such as restlessness, aggression toward other children, noisiness and tantrums more than half of each group improved by one or two points on the scale.

Some children showed no changes and a couple regressed. Overall the research suggests that the therapy has positive effects on the children’s behaviours, but particularly with inattentive behaviour.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. 



Journal Reference:

  1. See, C. M. The Use of Music and Movement Therapy to Modify Behaviour of Children with Autism. Pertanika J. Soc. Sci. & Hum., 20 (4): 1103 – 1116 (2012)


Cite This Page:

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). “Music therapy improves behavior in children with autism, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2013.
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