Music TherapyMusic Therapy is a nationally and internationally certified profession that utilizes music as a therapeutic medium for people of all ages who have various physical, psychological and emotional needs. Music therapists are highly trained professionals and are licensed creative arts therapists in New York State. The way a music therapist works depends on the needs of a particular client or group and the objectives of treatment. If you’d like to learn more about the field of music therapy, go to The American Music Therapy Association website. You may also find some of the links on the “Links” page helpful. If you’d like to know more about how Toby Williams works, read on.
Music Therapy with ChildrenToby founded the music therapy program at Reach for the Stars Learning Center in Brooklyn, New York, a school for children with diagnoses across the autistic spectrum. She also provides home-based music therapy services for young children with developmental delays and physical disabilities. Her method of music therapy allows for multiple goals (such as speech development, motor coordination and emotional connection) to be addressed simultaneously.
Toby uses vocalization and song singing to help speech-delayed children work on language development and communication. Early speech development begins with vocalization and babbling sounds prior to the formation of words and phrases. Music is inherently motivating to most children and is a useful way to help them move through the stages of speech development, while also providing early music learning. Toby collaborates with the speech-language pathologists at Reach for the Stars and often with those that work with her private clients to coordinate speech goals.
Toby uses guitar, percussion instruments, voice and keyboard with her clients. Playing instruments provides many opportunities for children to work on motor planning, coordination and execution. The sound stimulus provides immediate feedback. Music activities are either structured or improvisatory depending on the specific needs of the child. One example of a structured activity is the use of an octave xylophone with a different color for each note while singing a song called "Let's Play the Color (Number or Letter)." This song activity can help a child to visually attend while learning the numbers 1-8 and the letters of the octave, as well as identifying colors. Improvisation is often indicated to help a child to explore creatively and to foster a therapeutic relationship through a musical connection. Therapist and child may improvise together on the same instrument or on separate instruments. Improvisation provides the child with a way to express emotionally and creatively while working on connection through rhythmic, dynamic and tonal coordination. In addition, motor skills such as finger isolation, gripping and crossing the midline are explored during instrument play.
Music can be stimulating or calming, loud or soft, fast or slow or anything in between. By using music to work on therapeutic goals, children find a wide range of expression and a fun, motivating way to work. Speech, motor and emotional goals can all be worked on through music with a trained music therapist. Physically disabled children often find new ways to express themselves through music that are unavailable to them in other therapeutic mediums.
Vocal Music Therapy"When I was three, my mom and grandma tell me that I woke from a nap, marched into the kitchen and announced, 'I was born to sing.' Until I found music therapy as a profession, I thought that must mean that I would sing as a performer. Now I understand that I can do so much more with singing than I ever could have imagined."
Singing is healing. The voice is the body's instrument and primary form of communication. The voice is the person as an instrument, which is why movement warm-ups and exercises are such an integral part of the vocal music therapy process. The voice and body cannot be separated as the condition of the body, the voice's "home," directly impacts the state of the voice. Conversely, the sound expression of the voice affects the state of the body: posture, range of motion, vibrational movement and manifestation of anxiety. Voice and movement improvisations release the playful, spontaneous parts of us and at the same time reverberate within, creating internal, healing sensations. Therefore, sounding the body is simultaneously internally healing and externally connecting.
Vocal expression is wide and flexible and includes breathing; noisemaking; instrument and animal imitation; body sounds; laughter; vocalizing; movement; improvised singing with or without lyrics (a capella or with accompaniment); and singing pre-composed songs. Think of all the sounds we make in daily life; the sighs, grunts, groans, belches, hisses, smirks, sputters, guffaws and indefinable utterances that come out when words fail. Most of the time, the sounds we express are spontaneous and unconscious and they provide needed release.
Toby has worked with people recovering from cancer treatment and heart surgery, adults with spinal cord injuries, psychiatric consumers and people who are drawn to alternate forms of opening the body and healing. She teaches depth breathing techniques, toning for stress relief and relaxation, vocal sounding, improvisation, and group vocal games. Through Columbia's Integrative Medicine Program, patients recovering from cardiac surgery, along with family members and staff, come together to learn deep breathing techniques and toning. The design of this program is both to teach skills for relaxation and anxiety relief as well as to help patients learn to breathe from lower in the body in a way that will not compromise their surgical scar. Toning stimulates vibrations in the body that can create a meditative feeling, open emotions and often bring up phlegm for patients who need to clear their chests post-surgery. Toby works primarily with guitarist Keith Ganz at these workshops. Keith's warm presence and versatile musicianship provide a secure environment for workshop participants to improvise vocally over his accompaniment. Keith and Toby sometimes play music for participants if requested, but usually everyone sings together. The hospital is a noisy, stressful environment and most of the participants are in a difficult place, either as patient or caretaker. Singing songs can facilitate emotional expression and release. Singing together provides a supportive environment for participants to do so safely.
There are many ways to use the voice in music therapy. Vocal music psychotherapy is a technique developed by Dr. Diane Austin. Toby is in her third and last year of training with Dr. Austin in this method. If you would like to know more, please visit Dr. Austin's website.
If you would like to know more about Toby's vocal workshops, go here.