• Alyssa Wilkins, MT-BC

The Brain, The Brain, The Center of the Chain


I hope you enjoyed the first blog post in our Broadway series! If you missed the interventions focused on speech and language skills, you can check them out here. I am thrilled to share part 2 of our series on one of the greatest days of my life. "Did you get engaged?" You might ask. "Did you win the lottery?" No, my dear readers, it is something even better. Yesterday, I was able to get tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago! The show that I have been obsessed with all year will be gracing my ear drums in 8 short months. I know that is a long ways away, so I will cure my Broadway musical urge by sharing some more interventions with you. This week's Broadway themed interventions focus on the cognitive domain. Specifically, I will be sharing interventions that work on attention skills and executive function skills such as decision-making, planning, and problem-solving.


Intervention #1:

"Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid

Disney movies turned into Broadway musicals are sometimes hit or miss, but The Little Mermaid's "Under the Sea" is a classic that all of my clients have seemed to love. There are many ways to use this song in a music therapy session, but today is focused on cognitive skills. Because the phrase "Under the Sea" happens often in the song, I decided to use it to work on selective attention skills. Selective attention can be developed when you give a client a specific word, phrase, or sound to listen for with a subsequent action to do when that word, phrase, or sound happens. They have to do this while tuning out other stimuli, which can often be challenging. In this example, clients will be listening for the key phrase, "Under the Sea" and tuning out the other instruments and sounds that are playing in the song.

For this intervention you will need a musical instrument of the client's choice and a fish shaped guiro with a striker, as well as a recording of "Under the Sea".

First, explain to the client that when they hear the phrase "Under the Sea" they have to play the fish guiro.

Second, give the client the option to choose a preferred instrument to play when they are not playing the guiro. You may choose to leave out this step if switching from one instrument to another is to challenging for your client at this time.

Third, turn on the song "Under the Sea" and have the client begin playing their preferred instrument (or dancing, clapping, swaying if not playing an instrument) along with the beat. When the phrase "Under the Sea" is sung, cue the client, as needed, to stop playing their instrument and to play the guiro.

Some clients may need physical prompting to play the guiro; others may need a simple non-verbal gesture. Continue playing the song as long as is appropriate for the client.

Specific objectives:

  1. Selective attention: the client has to focus on the stimuli "Under the Sea" and play their instrument when they hear the cue, without being distracted by the other stimuli. This skill can be useful for future academic, speech, and social skills.

  2. Alternating attention: in addition to selectively attending to the stimuli, the client has to alternate their attention between their preferred instrument and the fish guiro, if able. Alternating attention is an important skill for conversations and academic development.

  3. Impulse control: switching from a preferred object on a specific cue to a possibly non-preferred object requires strong impulse control. This intervention can help to develop this skill in clients who have difficulty stopping and switching activities.

  4. Following a one-step direction: maybe your goal is not to focus on blocking out unnecessary stimuli, but simply to follow the direction at hand. You can use this intervention to follow the given direction, play the guiro when you hear "Under the Sea". You can build this up to a multi-step direction as well if the client masters following one-step directions.

Intervention #2:


“My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music

Now this is a classic. I feel like music therapists use this song in so many different ways, so forgive me if you have heard this one before. I use this song to work on executive function skills such as decision-making, problem-solving, and planning through songwriting.

First, you can play the song “My Favorite Things” for the client if they have never heard it before.

Second, you are going to ask your client(s) to make a list of their favorite things. The client can write the list themselves or you can write it on a piece of paper or white board.

Third, ask the client to order the list from least to most favorite things. If you are leading this intervention with a group, ask the group to vote on their favorite things to narrow the list down a little.

Fourth, play the song for the client with their favorite things instead of the original!

Every time I have done this with my kiddos, they have wanted to join along in singing their own version at the end. Prepare for a lovely duet or small group performance!

Specific Objectives:

  1. Decision-making: the client has to come up with their own list of favorite things. This can require a lot of abstract thought and decision-making, which are critical executive function skills for future jobs and friendships.

  2. Problem-solving: the client has to then order the list from least to most favorite things, which can be challenging. Preferred problem-solving tends to be my favorite way of introducing this difficult executive function skill.

  3. Planning: the client has to choose only so many favorite things. Maybe you give them the requirement of 10 favorite things and they have to plan out what they are and where they go in the song.

Again, some of these interventions may be redundant for the music therapists out there, but I think these are two great strategies to use in session or at home to work on these critical skills. Attention and executive function skills are vital for academic and social development, leading to future skill growth and development. What better way to work on them through singing, playing, and having fun!

If you enjoyed this post, comment or email me your thoughts. I can’t wait to see how you use these fun ideas! Tune in next week for post 3 in our Broadway series, all focused on motor/physical skills!

#musictherapy #musicals #broadway #children #autism #attention #executivefunctionskills #cognition #Disney

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