Learning and Developing via Relational Musical-Play Experiences in Music Therapy

frank and cimdy4frank and cimdy4frank and cimdy4williampic-2Hi all,

This blog post includes some immediate and brief thoughts regarding the clinical rationale of back-and-forth relational music making between client and therapist. In addition, it touches on the importance of  contextualizing music therapy experiences within a relationship-based framework, as well as emphasizing  the significance of affective-based interactions.

Several moths ago I presented to a group of parents, therapists, and educators. During the talk I displayed a clinical video excerpt illustrating a continuous flow of co-active and related music making between the therapist and client. During the interaction, the client, an autistic 8 year-old boy who displays difficulty in sustaining self-regulation and with challenges in the area of sustained engagement and interaction, sits in his chair and musically participates with the therapist via social referencing and non-verbal, but tonal, vocalizations. The therapist, improvising a short melodic phrase  (playing guitar and voice) pauses the music following the 3rd beat of the phrase. The client, referencing the therapist via a glance and a bewildered look on his face, follows the musical pause by glancing in the direction of the therapist on the 4th beat of the phrase. The therapist interprets the glance as a musical response and “turns the phrase around,”pausing after the 3rd beat. The client again references the therapist with a glance, but this time offers a smile accompanied by a tonal vocalization. The therapist alters the musical phrase by increasing tempo and articulating the melody vocally in a staccato manner. The client […]

PART 2: Considering Musical Dimensions in Relationship-based Work: “The Musicality of the Infant-Parent Relationship and the Foundational Experiences Needed for Mental Health and Peaceful Societies.”

2011, CEHS, faculty, Gerard Costa, CostaG, autismHI all,

This blog post include’s another PowerPoint presentation from the Rebecca Center for Music therapy’s October 11th conference, Considering Musical Dimensions in Relationship-based Work. This particular PowerPoint is from the Key Note presentation given by my friend and colleague, Dr. Gerard Costa. The presentation was entitled, The Musicality of the Infant-Parent Relationship and the Foundational Experiences Needed for Mental Health and Peaceful Societies.”  

Dr. Costa’s talk focused on the topic of essential interactions for infants and how these interactions or lack of may determine how children reach developmental milestones. He brilliantly spoke within a musical context and incorporated a diverse group of developmental theorists while integrating the nueroscience behind afftective interactions.

In addition, he discussed the importance of balance, integration, movement, rhythm, synchrony , integration, orchestration, and symbolization; and how these terms reflect both important experiences in the development of infant and child mental health, as well as in the development of musical composition. He later went on to to describe the interpersonal processes that co-construct the infant brain, and the ways in which certain types of affect-rich experiences help determine or compromise the human capacity for regulation, symbolization and peace. Finally, he tied his talk into how these constructs link to the IMCAP-ND Rating Scales and went on to speak to the relevance of the IMCAP-ND within helping the therapist understand how client’s perceives and make music with the therapist (within the context of relationship!)

As a side note: Dr. Costa and I will be co-presenting a Plenary Lecture on this topic at the upcoming Annual International ICDL DIR/Floortime Conference on October 28th at Montclair State University. This lecture will also feature a discussant panel that  includes: Brian Abrams, Ph.D., MT-BC, LPC, LCAT […]


In the context of a music therapy process, the developing child begins to exhibit the ability to self-regulate, and  displays signs of musical awareness. This may lead the child to be interested in playing an instrument while the therapist attempts to faciliate music engagement and interaction through improvisation. The moment this happens, the child’s sensory motor system comes into play. This may be followed by the child’s ability to motor-plan as he/she executes an idea to play an instrument. In addition, there is an intent to do something (play instrument) based on his/her own wish or desire, which is then carried out by the “doing” of an idea to play. So, the next step is to try to determine the child’s motive to play an instrument. Is it based on his/her intent to engage and relate to therapist’s music, or is it based on the child’s desire to fulfill a sensory need which may have nothing at all to do with relating to another person. That being said, if we are working within a relationship-based framework, the motive or wish behind the intent of the child is what we want to understand- the general goal may be for the child to engage in music making for the purpose of relating and communicating, musically and interpersonally, while actively engaging with the therapist in the context of musical play.

If there is the intent to play in a related manner to the therapist’s music, emotionality may now be entering into the picture-  a combination of sensory-motor-affect is being displayed, as well as the integration of  various sensory stimuli necessary for co-active music making (auditory, visual, tactile, etc.). In short, once the activity becomes interactive, or related in some fashion, there is […]