Introducing our Summer Music Fundamentals Group

We are getting ready for summer, and I’m so excited to tell you about our Music Fundamentals group today! This class is open for children 4-5 years old (give or take–if your child is just outside the range we can definitely accommodate you). We’ll be learning some of the basics of music to get your child ready for private lessons on their preferred instrument in the future.

As Brooke mentioned in a previous blog post, there are so many advantages to virtual groups. We’re able to welcome students from all over, and get some really valuable face-time without the restrictions that come with in-person meetings. Our groups are 30 minutes, so that we don’t add too much screen time to your child’s day, and so that we can maximize attention and engagement.

So, what is this virtual class about?

Music Fundamentals covers just that–I’ll be taking students through the foundational concepts of music in a fun and age-appropriate setting. We’ll cover beginner music theory, including recognizing notes and symbols on the staff, and learn how to read simple sheet music. This will give your children a jumpstart on what they’ll likely learn if they sign up for private lessons in the future, or even what they’ll see in their school music classes.

In addition to theory, we will also dive into some ear training. Ear training involves connecting theory concepts with what we hear, such as matching pitch vocally or identifying the distance between two notes. I like to approach ear training through accessible games that simultaneously encourage kids to work on turn-taking, waiting, attention, and other important developmental skills. 

What will my child come out of the class knowing?

Participants will leave the class knowing how to:

  • Recognize notes on the treble staff
  • Identify note values and read simple rhythms
  • Sing back simple phrases
  • Hear and identify basic intervals

Most importantly, the curriculum will be tailored to the needs of the children who enroll in the group. Depending on each student’s unique interests and abilities, I may modify the activities that I bring in. My biggest goal is to get everyone excited about learning music and set your child up for success in whatever type of instruction they choose to pursue in the future. 

Have any questions? Reach out anytime. I can’t wait to meet you and get your children started with music!

A Sneak Peek at our Summer Parent-and-Me Group

I am so excited to tell you about our Summer Parent-and-Me Group happening Saturdays on Zoom, starting July 2021! It’s open to children 6 months to 3 years, but we will always leave some wiggle room if your child is just outside that range. I am looking forward to leading you and your baby through fun music activities that involve movement, games, and more!

What’s great about a virtual group, in addition to the absolute social distancing, is that you can Zoom in from anywhere. So even though we are based in Brooklyn, we already have some kids joining us from out of town. If you have instruments at home, or anything that makes a satisfying noise, I will help you find a way to incorporate it. We keep the group to 30 minutes to make sure your baby or toddler won’t get overloaded with screen time, but Zoom happens to be an ideal platform for toddlers to study each others’ faces, which kids love to do! This is a nice change from in-person groups where masks are required and serious face-time isn’t possible.

So what’s going to happen in this virtual group?

First and foremost, we’re going to make music together, and make sure that we’re having a lot of fun doing it. Secretly, I’ll be focusing on early childhood development skills, like…

  • counting
  • ABC’s
  • turn-taking
  • and emotion identification…

but you and your child will be focused on singing, laughing, and making new virtual friends.

Egg shakers are cheap at your local music store, and also easy to make on your own!

What else can you expect?

With children of all ages (babies, too!) I love to incorporate sign language and other visuals. There have been lots of studies that show combining ASL with speech and singing can really kick-start language development. And that includes spoken language! I’ve worked with some parents who fear that leaning into sign might hinder language acquisition, but the data shows the opposite. Surprisingly young kids are able to approximate the signs, and quickly too!

The group will include multi-sensory music activities that encourage kids to…

  • practice paying attention
  • listen actively
  • take turns
  • and communicate effectively.

I will combine old favorites (like the ABCs and popular counting games) with NeuroMotif originals aimed at specific things like naming colors and identifying emotions.

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Above all, we want this group to be meaningful for you, and each participant’s individual needs will help shape exactly how the group will unfold. I can’t wait to meet you and lead you and your child in song!

Why I love telehealth

In March of 2020, when everything suddenly pivoted online, I was immensely concerned about what that meant for my work. I couldn’t picture how my music therapy clients and music students could be nearly as successful remotely as in person. I had no idea how I was going to be able to translate things to function virtually.

One year later, my outlook has completely shifted. 

Throughout this whole experience, one of my biggest takeaways has been that remote music therapy and music lessons can and do work. I can truthfully say that some of my clients have even done significantly better in the remote setting than in person. After over a year of working remotely, I am excited and passionate about telehealth. Below are the biggest reasons I think virtual services are amazing:

Clients and families can choose the environment they participate from.

Clients can choose to attend sessions from the most comfortable place in their home, which often increases engagement and communication. With in-person services, many of my new clients have taken a few weeks to adjust to the environment and get comfortable enough with me to start really working towards their goals. Through remote sessions, we get to begin from a more comfortable baseline. I’ve also had clients call into sessions on the go–while on vacation with family, while at their homeschool pod location, or even from the car! The flexibility of remote sessions allows for clients to join from wherever they are rather than having to cancel or reschedule when they have somewhere to be.

Many individuals actually find social interaction via screen more comfortable than in-person interaction.

Some of my clients on the spectrum have really blossomed through teletherapy because they prefer interacting with me on screen. Many have shown increased focus and attention as well, as they have found it easier to sustain engagement in the remote setting. Some individuals may be easily overstimulated, so the reduced amount of stimuli as compared to in-person sessions can be very beneficial.

Parents can gain insight into what happens in the therapy or lesson room.

With most in-person music therapy sessions or music lessons, parents will wait outside the room for their children. One of the most rewarding things about remote sessions is that parents can actually be in the room and see what goes on in the session. Remote music therapy can address familial relationships and provide tools for parents to use outside of sessions as well.

During a time when in-person interactions have to be restricted for safety, online sessions allow for a greater degree of “closeness”.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that even as things begin to reopen, in-person services are far from their pre-pandemic norm. In the music setting, necessary precautions include social distancing, mask-wearing, limited singing, and restricted physical touch, among others. These restrictions can impede the therapeutic or educational process, and can actually limit our ability to do many of the activities that are easily facilitated online. In music therapy the limitations on singing can be especially difficult to work with, and can get in the way of progress towards speech and communication goals. I really feel that I have the most therapeutic tools at my disposal in the virtual setting at this point in the pandemic.

Consistency, consistency, consistency.

Many services that are open in person are operating on some type of hybrid model, where clients receive a combination of remote and in-person services. Alternating between service modalities can increase feelings of insecurity and decrease the consistency of services provided. Through remote sessions, we can promise that services will not be interrupted by rising infection rates, confirmed exposures to the virus, or waiting on the results of a COVID-19 test.

It bears mentioning that telehealth is not a perfect, one-size-fits-all solution. However, neither are in-person services! It’s always the reality that each individual will have different needs and considerations. At NeuroMotif, we are committed to making things work for all of our clients, and we feel that remote services are the best possible services we can offer at this time. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your child’s needs in detail or try out our virtual services!

Music for Processing Grief

Last week, I attended a mental health awareness event called #BeWell at Samsung 837 in Chelsea, NYC. I RSVP-ed knowing little about the event and its presenters – just that Dr. Jess, the main speaker, is a young, Black, female psychiatrist, and that I get excited about representation of all of those traits in the medical field. I couldn’t wait to learn more about her. I hoped to come back to the blog with more insight about the importance of clicking with your therapist, and the related challenges you face when you come from one or more marginalized groups. Because so many mental health professionals are older white males, it can be hard for people of other social groups to find a professional with whom they feel totally comfortable.

Dr. Jess did touch on this a little bit – how in the Black community, there is such a stigma about seeing a therapist or giving attention to your mental wellbeing. Dr. Jess, more formally Dr. Jessica Clemons, is currently completing her psychiatry residency at NYU, and because she is making such a push to put mental wellness in the spotlight for young people (especially people of color), she is already making an impact in important ways. I was thrilled to see so many young Black women in the audience, chatting excitedly about their career dreams in counseling and therapy, noting Dr. Jess as an inspiration. The way I see it, more varied cultural backgrounds amongst medical professionals means more people feeling comfortable reaching out and getting attention for their mental health.

What I did not expect was that I would hear Dr. Jess and her guest, rapper/musician/designer A$AP Ferg, talk at length about the power of using music for coping and mental health. As I am a music therapist, this was, of course, right up my alley! I was so impressed to hear an accomplished medical professional and pro musician speak about music’s healing potential, beyond relaxation and distraction.

Photo by Myesha Evon

When Dr. Jess first sat down with A$AP Ferg, she asked the audience members to respect a short list of agreements about the experience. Among these was this: although we may get something therapeutic out of this, it is not therapy. The conversation she had with Ferg might have been similar to how she would have conducted a therapy session with him, but some important points disqualified it as actual therapy – a huge one, the fact that the conversation was happening in front of dozens of people. I was so happy to hear her make a big deal of making the distinction. I think she is setting a great example for the rest of us mental health professionals by not being afraid to correct misconceptions like this.

Dr. Jess asked Ferg to talk at length about the deaths of loved ones, including those of his girlfriend and father. He talked a lot about ways of grieving, and this is when music came up.

Photo by Steve Crookson

Ferg noted that he felt as though his coping still isn’t done. “I took so long to grieve,” he said. “I wasn’t connected.” When he didn’t cry at his girlfriend’s funeral, he said he “knew something wasn’t right … I had to put myself in a position to grieve again.”

He partially connected his emotional block to the fact that he “wasn’t listening to music” for almost a year, subconsciously trying to shield himself from feeling.

Dr. Jess agreed that music is important and powerful in this way, noting that you can turn on certain music to “feel sadness if you can’t access it” and that this can be so helpful in working through pain.

Dr. Jess praised Ferg for having the strength to notice he needed to grieve, and asked if he had always been the type of person who was curious and mature about emotional expression. He responded,

“That’s why I’m successful in music, because I kind of know what people want to hear. Sonically, but I know what conversations people want to hear too.”

It was so refreshing to hear them connect mental health to music in this way. When I bring up music therapy, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, people often respond with something like, “Oh yes, music is so relaxing” or “makes you feel good,” which can feel dismissive. This doesn’t even begin to cover it. Dr. Jess and Ferg both have huge and growing platforms, and hearing them both give a different perspective about music’s power was inspiring for me. I feel as though this means we are heading in the right direction. They are advocates of the field music therapy, even if they don’t quite know it yet!

Dr. Jess closed the talk by noting several resources for finding mental health help, including ThriveNYC where you can learn about mental health first aid, and NYC Well where you can get connected with crisis counseling 24/7.

“Whatever happens to you, you are not your pain,” she told us all, before sending us back into the real world. “You are love.”

To learn more about Dr. Jess and her work in mental health advocacy, visit her website, and follow her on Instagram.

For more information about how music is related to emotional processing and access, check out this scholarly article about the brain as it processes music.

Music Therapy, Explained

I’m a music therapist. And announcing my occupation, most of the time, requires an explanation. The thing is, there is really no short explanation, which is pretty much the only thing that frustrates me about what I do.

I was at a friend’s birthday party recently, and as always, the dreaded question came up from new acquaintances.

“What do you do?”

Usually I make something up, or I just say “musician” or “therapist” or “barista.” It’s just not the setting where I want to be addressing ALLLLL of the inevitable follow-up questions, comments, and unsolicited explanations of my own job. Here are some actual responses I’ve gotten from people.

  • Music therapist?? Is that real?
  • Does music therapy really work?
  • Oh my gosh, your mood is all about [frequencies/wavelengths/harmonics]!
  • Oh, so you like, help injured musicians get better? (Spoiler alert – NO.)
  • My [mom teaches piano lessons/friend writes songs/sister teaches yoga] – she’s totally kind of a music therapist too. (Spoiler alert – also no.)
  • What exactly does your day to day look like?
  • Oh. Well, I’m an astronaut.

Listen, come to my office tomorrow and I’ll address all these when I’m on the clock and not trying to socialize and turn my mind off for a bit.

(Hello to all the people who said one of these things to me at a party and got the link to this post from me in response!)

I love what I do, because yes, it works. 

And it really changes people beyond helping them feel relaxed. 

And the science and rationale behind it is fascinating.

Like I said, music therapy has no simple or single explanation. It’s multifaceted and complicated and if it took me 8 years of training to fully understand it, then it’s going to take more than one blog post for me to be able to explain it adequately. I can’t wait to get to all the current research and uses and applications, but I’m going to start with two of my favorite basic research points that I feel set the foundation really well for understanding why music therapy exists and works.

Music therapy is an entire field based on the changes we see in the brain when we are processing music. People found these few phenomenons and decided to test them and apply them to helping people through real life situations. The first point is this:

Music facilitates neurogenesis.

Fukui, H., & Toyoshima, K. (2008). Music facilitates the neurogenesis, regeneration and repair of neurons. Medical hypotheses71(5), 765-769.

This means engagement with music literally makes new pathways in your brain.

The article quoted is theoretical, but it cites real findings that scientists found in the brains of rats and birds. (Makes sense, right? Birds are always singing, and they’re super smart.) This is my favorite article to cite to people who are newly curious about music therapy. Our brains control everything we do, so if something makes our brain function better, it’s a good indicator that it can help us improve just a ton of things.

The second point is this:

Musician brains are different than non-musician brains.

Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. Journal of Neuroscience23(27), 9240-9245.

A few of my favorite differences to note – musicians have an enlarged corpus callosum – a structure in between the two hemispheres credited with connectivity and communication within the brain. Basically, helping everything up there work well together. Also, the hippocampus, a little oblong structure near the center of the brain that is regarded as a long-term memory converter, has increased plasticity in musicians. This means it has an easier time adapting and changing.

These two things may seem strange and abstract, but for scientists, it’s very exciting, because a lot of things that make life hard for humans have to do with brain changes or abnormalities. The fact that something as noninvasive as singing or music training could address that is a little bit mind blowing.

There is still a lot of work for music therapists and researchers to do to find out exactly what is happening here. As far as the amazing things we have found already regarding music, rehabilitation, and healing – I’ll be sharing some of those here on the blog! I can’t wait to introduce you to it all.

Remember to send me questions about music therapy, brain science, and allied health! Tell me what you want to know about music therapy, and I’ll see you in the next installment.

Here are some more citations for the research mentioned here:

Schlaug, G., Jäncke, L., Huang, Y., Staiger, J. F., & Steinmetz, H. (1995). Increased corpus callosum size in musicians. Neuropsychologia33(8), 1047-1055.

Herdener, M., Esposito, F., di Salle, F., Boller, C., Hilti, C. C., Habermeyer, B., … & Cattapan-Ludewig, K. (2010). Musical training induces functional plasticity in human hippocampus. Journal of Neuroscience30(4), 1377-1384.