Processing – The Space Between the Notes

Unfortunately, without machines there is no scientific way of measuring processing, at least not that I  know of. We have to use our own human observance skills and become familiar with the signs. It is most definitely the space between the notes; unseen, unheard movement forward. It is a little bit like when you know someone well enough and you can see by their facial expression, their posture, their eyes, and their movements that something is wrong, even though they do not say so. I have become fairly well-adept at being able to identify when processing is occurring in most of my clients. It is almost always a period of very little demonstrated progress. It is usually a quieter time. However, by knowing my clients and watching their facial expressions, movements, and eyes, I can usually identify what’s going on. The confirmation comes out at the end when something new evolves.

In fact, with my youngest clients, who have a few objectives that they are working on simultaneously, some months they will demonstrate progress or attention to one or possibly two areas first, and then switch to another area of need. Processing occurs, followed by the finale of a new overall developmental skill. We then begin the process all over again at a new level.

In our society today, we put very little emphasis on processing and almost view it as wasted time. This appears to be because nothing apparent seems to be happening. No demonstration of development, no producing. However, without processing, we only produce confused chaos. Without the space between the notes, movement is stagnant, confused, and undeveloped. All we have without the space is one large cluster of notes. The space between the notes is visible on paper and heard with slightly more acuity. Processing is much less obvious and much harder to measure, yet processing can end up producing the best results afterward.

My example happened very recently. It was my very last session, in fact, before writing this. This time, however, my processing visibility was very low. I was working with a little 6-year-old girl with Duplication Three Q Syndrome (a rare genetic condition caused by having an extra part of one of the body’s 46 chromosomes). The syndrome leaves globally severe developmental delay. Along with her delays, she has metopic hypostasis, ventricular septal defect, and suspected bilateral hearing loss. The little girl is now sitting up on her own and is beginning to walk with supported assistance. At this last session, it started as usual with her usual exuberance at playing the chimes. This exuberance remained a while, and then began to slowly fade. Next, I put her under the piano where she usually rejuvenates again as she attends to and absorbs the vibrations. However, this day I was seeing little change in her energy level. I tried changing up the music and attempted to send it in different directions of development. She began to clap in order to direct the timing of the chord changes in the music (previously an objective, bringing her hands to midline). This time I set out three drums around her. She took the clapping to the drums for the first time. However, the energy level was still declining downward.

Although it has been reported to me that she often babbles and vocalizes at home, she does so rarely in Music Therapy. On the rare occasion when she does, we play a game where she vocalizes a short “a” and I reflectively sing and play the pitch back to her. Usually she is too busy listening to the music to vocalize. You may ask, “How is a girl with severe hearing loss ‘listening’ ?” Well, if listening is our brains’ organizing and making sense of sound vibrations, then she is listening. This is demonstrated as she sits under the piano and visually tracks the up and down movement of the tune. It is also apparent in her responsive actions to the music. However, this day, as I began to see sleepy eyes, I thought it was time to play “Goodbye”. Now, I have seen this little girl get tired before, and she usually tries to fight it. But today it was different. I thought I was not reaching her like usual. As I began to play “Goodbye”, she began her vocal game, having me match pitch. Pretty soon, “aa” turned into “by, by.” I didn’t know if this was accidental. Her hands were down by her sides and I could not see them, but her grandmother could. She told me that her fingers are wiggling; she was waving goodbye.

Antoinette Morrison MT-BC


Marilyn S

Wow! what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing this. I too believe in the power of music to get stuck brains unstuck for language processing and production.


There is so much rich information for us as MTs to observe, build on and process during a session that I’m sure you appreciated grandmother’s extra eyes to see all that was happening. Great inspiration and ideas.
Thank you for sharing.


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