Part 3: Music, the Organizing Tool

The last two weeks I have talked about music therapy and attentiveness to our clients. Today I want to expand and talk about the results of these combined subjects, mainly the organization they help our clients to develop. As we promote music therapy as a nonthreatening medium, we often talk about how the qualities of music help to:

  • captivate and maintain attention
  • stimulate many parts of the brain
  • provide immediate nonverbal feedback
  • easily adapt and reflect an individual’s abilities
  • tap the emotions in memory
  • structure time in a way we understand
  • support and encourage movement
  • provide safety and meaning in an enjoyably repetitive context
  • set up safety through structure
  • effectively aid memory
  • orientate success


When we really attend to a client, noticing the most minute change or the most sublime form of participation, we can help our clients organize themselves tremendously. As we combine this reflective attending, the client begins to be able to build a rapport with the therapist through the emphatic dignity this encompasses. In combination with using the most basic formative element of music – rhythm- we not only provide more predictable safety for an individual who lives in an unpredictable world, but we also ultimately set up a sequential task in rhythm that occurs over time. Simultaneously, as this predictable sequencing is occurring, music provides our clients with a variety of sensory experiences, including vestibular, tactile, and kinesthetic. Many of my autistic clients, and some clients with emotional disturbances, relate to the world in more of a sensory way. As the client is drawn by a sensory experience that is not only predictable, but also reflective of his or her own experiences, the client learns to control and predict timing of sounds that will improve the child’s ability to integrate sequences of sound. As the client is drawn to something so predictable and familiar, then begins to move in response (even if the movement is as subtle as breathing), his or her movement to the music also aids in the integration of tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory perception,  and the differentiation of what is “self”, and what is not.  I always have mirrors in my music therapy room. Parents have often told me as they observe their child look and play into the mirror that they do not even notice the mirrors at home.

Here is one example – As my nonverbal autistic client “Frank” entered the room, I was determined not to lead this boy at this time. We had been in a stage of wandering and I decided I needed to watch and reflect. “Frank” was quite aware and wants more, but at this point was frustrated with his inability to organize himself enough in order to respond in the way I was expecting. The response I was asking for was based on his understanding, which was farther ahead than his organizational ability which would allow him to respond in a way that he determined. I followed “Frank” musically  the first couple times as he spun around in the spinning chair, not only was his vestibular sensory need met, but he was also given a predictable repetitive sequence of tones and words. “Frank” then began to relax and gently respond (although not yet frequently) vocally in a gentle song-like manner. “Frank” began to feel happy and laugh. This was a first for me to hear. I continued to follow his lead. I sang about the Q he purposely pulled from my chart, and he smiled again. By the third session of this, as “Frank” spun, he began to tap the drum at the end of each phrase, maintaining eye contact with me. I continued singing “round and round” as he spun. “Frank” then held up his arms and began to rotate each forearm around the other. No pop-out words or miracles that day. Yet a step-by-step integration began to evolve. “Frank” was gently vocalizing to the music in a relaxed, undemanding manner. He was playing sequentially with me on the drum while moving in a way his body was propelled to do. He was demonstrating to me that he understood the words I sang while he watched me and began to rotate his arms as he spun his body in the chair.

Music is a wonderful, associative, organizing tool. In combination with dignified reflective attending on the part of the therapist, music helps a disorganized body or brain regain enough control to make sense of the world. Our actions and thoughts have the most impact and give us all a great sense of satisfaction when they are carried out in a way that we can control. When we can organize ourselves wholly – mind, body, and spirit at once – we can accomplish what we want, giving us satisfaction and a sense of self.


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