A peek inside a music therapist's cart: What do you do with all that stuff?

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This music therapy cart contains instruments, not ice cream.

Photo: Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota,

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By Erinn Frees and Kim Arter

Some people have a bag of tricks, but the music therapists at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota are lucky enough to have a whole cart. Since music therapists use music to accomplish nonmusical goals, having the right instruments available to accomplish these goals is important. If you have been to the hospital, you’ve probably seen us pushing around big, white carts or smaller, black boxes full of instruments. Here’s a peek at how we might use all those instruments:

Guitar

This probably is the most-versatile tool we have, and it’s rare for any of us to do a session without one. We use the guitar to accompany much of the music we produce during sessions, and it can provide rhythmic energy, motivation to move or quietly relaxing chords.

 

Whether we are playing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to help slow down a baby’s heart rate or “Call Me Maybe” to promote self-expression in a preteen, the guitar is a must.

Drums 

 

We typically carry around quite a few kinds of drums. Imagine one patient using a drum to work on reaching his arms over his head, while another patient uses a hand drum to express her frustration and anger about not being able to go home this weekend. The music therapist even can facilitate drum circles with groups of patients, which can release stress and anxiety while providing a sense of group cohesion.

Harmonicas

 

These also have a variety of purposes. They can increase breath support for a patient with decreased lung function or calm nerves as a patient is forced to breathe in and out evenly in order to produce a good sound on the instrument. It can provide a way to improvise for someone who never has played an instrument, which can help a patient express him or herself through music.

Wind chimes

 

This is a great instrument for a child who has a limited range of motion or a severe developmental delay. This instrument can be placed near any part of a child’s body of which he or she can control movement (fingers, knees, feet, elbows), providing a motivating ring with even the smallest movement.

Xylophones

 

These again are extremely versatile instruments. A young child may use a xylophone with different-colored bars to learn colors, while another child may need practice holding onto the small mallet in order increase fine motor control. Another child may find the metallic shimmer of the xylophone’s sound helps him relax. 

Shakers

We have a large variety of shakers, including maracas, egg shakers, mini-maracas and fruit/vegetable shakers. Shakers are great movement motivators in which a patient can work on grasping or passing the instrument back and forth from one hand to the other. A music therapist might model specific movements for the patient to follow. This requires focus and attention to task.

These are just a few examples of why we might choose a particular instrument to use during a session. We have many more instruments inside our cart, and other reasons for using each of them. We’d love for you to ask us to take a look sometime. We’re sorry; our carts do not contain ice cream (we get asked this question often) — but we think there is something much better inside!

 

Erinn Frees and Kim Arter are music therapists at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

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