Music therapist has to be creative to teach
I had the opportunity to interview music therapist named Jenny (Ryan) Yoston.
Jenny’s passion for music therapy is evident. She wanted a career in music; it has always been a part of her life. But Jenny didn’t want to limit herself to being just a performer.
She did a high school co-op placement with an elementary school music teacher but when she started helping people with special needs, her path became clear.
Jenny completed her Bachelor of Music Therapy at Acadia University. She says that music therapy students have an entrance music audition and, upon graduation, music therapists must be proficient in voice, guitar and piano.
Following graduation, she completed a 1,000-hour internship and submitted paperwork in order to become an “accredited” music therapist.
During music therapy the therapist uses music and music activities to achieve non-musical goals. Music therapy may be one-on-one or in a group. Jenny works with children, adults and seniors. Music sessions with Jenny are typically one of three types: a music lesson, an adapted music lesson or music therapy.
Jenny’s students don’t perform in recitals but Jenny creates yearly videos of her students and some of her students have performed publicly with her support at school. Jenny relays that the videos she creates are appreciated by her students and their families as they can see and hear progress and a love of music.
A music lesson with Jenny is a traditional music lesson. The goal is to learn to read and play a musical instrument using the fundamentals and rudiments so that they may someday become performers. Jenny says that the piano is often the best instrument to start with as there is an immediate rewarding sound for touching it. String and wind instruments require technique to produce an enjoyable sound and are difficult for young children.
She suggests that it is best for piano students to start after the age of 5. And for stringed instruments, Jenny typically recommends students be 8 or 9 years old. Then they have the requisite motor skills and emotional ability to cope with the learning process.
An adapted music lesson is different. The goal of an adapted music lesson is for the student to learn to play a musical instrument. However, it requires creativity and insight on the part of the music therapist. Reading traditional music notation may not be part of the music learning experience.
Jenny’s adaptations may be to provide music books with larger notation or to teach by letter or number rather than note. Jenny also makes physical adaptations such as tuning a guitar to play chords or playing a guitar horizontally on the lap.
Jenny gave a great example. When a student struggled with learning to read music and was unable to memorize the piece by ear, she taught the student a few bars, which they called “A” and then another few bars of “B” and a final set of bars called “C.”And when combined to ABABC, the student was able to learn and play the whole piece of music to everyone’s delight.
A music therapy session with Jenny is for a student who enjoys and wants to make music but cognitively or physically may not be able to – or a student requiring the use of music as a medium to assist with other non-musical goals. While music is the medium, goals may be social, cognitive, and emotional, about language development or as a tool for physical development. A music therapy session may involve playing an instrument, listening to an instrument or singing along. A music therapy session is not about the product, it is about the process.
Jenny says she loves to share the enjoyment of music. While not everybody learns music in the same way, she is committed to ensuring everyone can enjoy music. Jenny offers music therapy in New Brunswick, Canada at Music Therapy Today.