By: Nick Paredes, MT Intern
Music is an intrinsic part of being a teenager. From discovering new music to singing along to familiar songs, listening to, singing, and playing music can help someone open up and express themselves. Especially when words might not be enough, music can help relate and connect.
Music therapy with teenagers can look like all sorts of things; it all depends on the goals and interests of whoever is present, whether in a group or individually. Below are some examples of music therapy experiences a teen might participate in.
With songwriting, a person can have control over the words and sounds of a song while expressing their feelings or processing life experiences. They might choose to rewrite part or all of a song they already know, or start from scratch. The music therapist might help formulate the lyrics, give examples of melodies and harmonies, and be a sounding board for ideas.
Music listening can allow the opportunity to dive deeper into a song’s meaning and its relatability. When words are too difficult or feelings can’t be verbalized, a song can communicate what a person might be experiencing. Music listening could also include relaxation to music, such as progressive muscle relaxation or imagery-based relaxation experiences to help with anxiety and other stressors.
Improvisation in music therapy is when the teenager(s) and the therapist create music together in the moment to express and explore feelings musically; this could also look like one teen taking a turn expressing how they feel on one instrument, while the rest of the group listens and supports them with other instruments. Though the improvisation might be discussed afterwards, improvisation allows for a musical “conversation” to take place, and challenges everyone present to find different ways to communicate and connect. Improvisation could be instrumental (piano, drums, xylophone, body percussion etc.) or vocal, and often is a mix; it all depends on the teens’ preferences and the predetermined goal of the improvisation.
Music making encompasses the rest of what might occur within a music therapy session with teens: singing, playing instruments, and even performing for an audience. This might be playing a song together in a group or singing a favorite song along to a recording. Learning to play new instruments within a therapeutic setting could also give a teen new ways to express themselves and connect with others. Singing itself requires deep breathing, and has been shown to help improve mental health and decrease chronic pain (Bradt et al., 2016).
Creating music in the moment with a teenager is the purest way of working towards understanding, acceptance, and development.
Katrin McFerran, 2010
The flexibility that music allows gives the opportunity to a music therapist and teenager to explore whatever they might be needing in the moment. The music therapist, teenager, and the music itself can foster understanding, acceptance, and development at a time when music is already so intuitively a core part of self-understanding.
Bradt, J., Norris, M., Shim., M., Gracely, E. J., & Gerrity, P. (2016). Vocal music therapy for chronic pain management in inner-city African Americans: A mixed methods feasibility study. Journal of Music Therapy, 53(2), 178-206. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/thw004
McFerran, Katrina. (2010). Adolescents, music and music therapy. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Source linked here
Providing music therapy services for early childhood to older adults, music instruction and enrichment plus continuing music therapy education in Greater Charlotte Area of the Carolinas.