I hadnâ€™t written a single song in my life when I decided to
become a music therapist, nor did I have plans to do so. But plans change, especially when I
started working with children who were diagnosed with autism.
I learned very quickly that one song does NOT fit all when
it comes to meeting the needs of my students, which is why I started composing
simple, goal-based songs to use in music therapy sessions.
Before I knew it, I had amassed an entire collection of
songs (which I eventually named Listen & Learn Music) covering just about
every topic imaginable -- including learning colors, making eye contact, self-care
skills, and language. I was
anything BUT a songwriting expert; however, if you do something enough, youâ€™re
bound to find an approach that works.
My songs all have one thing in common: theyâ€™re based on an
actual goal or objective. Whether
it is an individual goal from a studentâ€™s IEP or a classroom objective set by a
teacher, each song is written with a specific outcome in mind.
Then the fun begins. I always start with the lyrics so that Iâ€™m sure to include
all the necessary information for addressing the goal or objective. I use clear, basic language and LOTS of
repetition. My students thrive on
repetition; it makes the song (and therefore, the information) easier to learn
Thereâ€™s no real science for coming up with a melody to fit
the song. Usually it comes to me
as I write the lyrics, and I simply use a voice recorder to capture it. And just like the words, I try to keep
my melodies simple, memorable, and repetitive.
The most rewarding part of songwriting is watching as a
child with autism hears the song for the first time, eventually begins to join
in singing, and then gradually learns the skill or information for which it was
Songwriting can be as simple as changing the words to â€śTwinkle
Twinkle, Little Star,â€ť as I often tell my studentsâ€™ parents and teachers, and
those simple songs are often the most effective.
Songwriting isnâ€™t about fancy techniques or expensive equipment;
itâ€™s about reaching your audience. Music reaches children with special needs in a way that other
means of communication canâ€™t, which is the basis of what I do as a music
Photo by Ernst Vikne