• Alyssa Wilkins, MT-BC

Let's Get Motor/Physical


Welcome back to part three of the musical theater inspired series! If you missed parts one and two, make sure to check them out before or after you read this post. This week might just be my favorite set of interventions, because it involves lots of dancing! Though I am a music therapist, I am also a dancer who trained rigorously for 14 years. I love dancing, and I incorporate movement into every one of my sessions. I do this for 2 specific reasons:

  1. Outside of the western world, music and movement go hand-in-hand. Most cultures incorporate movement into every one of their songs and chants. It is a natural physical response to move with the groove!

  2. Music aids in rhythmic entertainment and helps individuals with fine and gross motor deficits to better initiate and sustain movement. Many of my clients experience delays in motor development, and movement interventions are a great way to work on critical fine and gross motor skills.

Now that you know why we move, let’s explore some interventions you can use in your practice, in school, or at home with your clients and kiddos!

Intervention #1:

Born to Hand Jive – Grease


Most clients that I’ve worked with have either seen, listened to, or heard of the musical, Grease. It is a classic that transcends time and works for many populations and ages. If you haven’t seen the musical or movie, the hand jive is a specific set of upper body movements performed in time to music. The words I use to cue and describe the movements are “pat, pat, clap, clap, shake it, shake it, fist bump, fist bump, throw it away, throw it away.”

First, teach the movements to the hand jive. I use the cue words above and write them on the board in the order they are going to be performed. You can also make visual PEC (Picture Exchange Communication) icons and place them in the order of the movements.

Second, pump the jams! Practice the movements together with the music, trying to stay on the beat. You can slow down the tempo of the song using different music software (I use audacity). Choose whatever tempo is best for your client and you can work on accelerating the pace session by session.

Once the movements are learned, you can add a challenge to this intervention by having the client choose different movements to perform to the beat of the music. Maybe you just change the first movement, then the second, and so on. You can create a choice board of several different movements and have the client choose 5, then put them in the order they want. This is a great way to get the client engaged in the intervention, especially if they are not a fan of movement.

Specific Objectives:

  1. Gross motor skills - Depending on the movements you use, the client could be working on increasing or improving range of motion in both the upper and lower extremities.

  2. Bilateral Coordination - Movements in the dance such as “shake it” develops coordination on both sides of the body, which improves communication between both sides of the brain. Bilateral coordination is critical for both gross and fine motor development, as well as activities of daily living and visual motor tasks.

  3. Fine motor skills - The “throw it away” motion (a moving thumbs up) isolates a single digit. Movements like this, and possibly others chosen by the client, help develop movement and manipulation of the hands and fingers. This is useful for daily living skills such as shoe tying, dressing, and many others.

Intervention #2:

Step in Time – Mary Poppins


Another Disney musical, you knew it was coming! Mary Poppins has so many fantastic songs to use in sessions that I had a difficult time choosing just one. Step in Time has an incredible dance number, so I thought I’d go with that one for a movement focused post.

For this intervention I play a modified version of “Step in Time” on guitar. I use the guitar and my voice instead of a recording because I can adjust the pace, strum pattern, and volume as needed for my client. This aids in proper execution of the motor skill as the musical elements support the specific movement presented.

The lyrics of the song are as follows:

Step in time, step in time Step in time, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Step in time, we step in time

Kick your knees up Kick your knees up, step in time Kick your knees up, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Kick your knees up, step in time

Round the chimney Round the chimney, step in time Round the chimney, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Round the chimney, step in time

Flap like a birdie Flap like a birdie, step in time Flap like a birdie, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Flap like a birdie, in time

Up on the railing Up on the railing, step in time Up on the railing, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Up on the railing step in time

Over the rooftops Over the rooftops, step in time Over the rooftops, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Step in time

Link your elbows Link your elbows, step in time Link your elbows, step in time Link your elbows, link your elbows, link your elbows

Step in time, step in time Step in time, step in time Never need a reason, never need a rhyme Step in time, you step in time

I’m not sure what kind of space you are operating in, but I certainly do not have rooftops for my clients to jump over in my center. For those verses of the song, I choose a movement such as “spin in a circle” or “jump up and down” as a replacement. With this substitution, the verse would go something like:

Spin in a circle, spin in time

Spin in a circle, spin in time

Never need a reason, never need a rhyme

Spin in a circle, spin in time

You can choose the movements your client most needs to work on, and sing that substitution instead of any of the original lyrics. You can also have the client choose movements they want to perform and put them in the song. You might be surprised at the goofy movements they come up with. My clients always stun me with the complex movements they can perform when it comes from their own imagination!

Specific objectives:

  1. Lower extremity motor development – Many of my clients struggle with gross motor skills such as marching, hopping, galloping, etc. With the support of the musical accompaniment, they can better execute these lower extremity movements, and improve coordination, at a pace that is appropriate to their current level of ability.

  2. Lower extremity strengthening – Some clients need to strengthen their muscles in the lower extremities to support gait and other critical motor skills. You can choose a movement most effective to develop a specific muscle group for your client and sing it in the song.

Both of these interventions are completely adaptable to your clients’ needs and current skill level. I love using interventions such as these in sessions because the client can take it in so many different directions. It often seems that these are the interventions my clients most request during sessions. The beauty of creative arts therapies is that they allow the client to be exactly that, creative. Though these are very structured interventions, the client has a lot of control, and the ability to use creative and abstract thought in many different ways.

I hope you have fun using these ideas in session, at home, or even in the classroom. I can’t wait to hear how it goes! Be on the lookout for next weeks’ post all about social and emotional skills inspired by musical theater classics.

#musictherapy #musicals #broadway #children #autism #movement #dance #motorskills #physical

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