Back to School: A Music Therapy Student Series: Pediatric Music Resources

There are 4 key points that I frequently teach music therapy interns during the first half of their internship. These are points that can be embraced by interns in any type of internship setting, but may directly apply more to those working with children.

Back to School

#1: Pediatric Music Resources

Often when students arrive to internship, the biggest challenge they face is in transferring their thinking from preparing themselves for a one hour a week practicum to multiple sessions a day. The change from spending more time preparing yourself for a session towards being in sessions all day can be a tough adjustment. A normal frustration of new interns is in feeling like they do not have enough preferred music to draw from in sessions. For my students, I send a recommended repertoire list ahead of their internship start date with songs that are commonly requested by patients and families and are solid music therapy songs. Since my list is specific to pediatrics, it includes a lot of current pop music, Disney songs, Contemporary Christian music, gospel, current country, and more.

Another challenge to this recommended repertoire list is the change in expectations of professional mastery of the music. Perhaps what was passable in practicum no longer is appropriate for the internship and future professional setting. There is simply not enough time in degree programs to dedicate to clinical musicianship. Once at internship, interns are often given guidance on new practice habits, stylistic singing, advice on authentic guitar playing, and more. Suddenly, learning a Disney song within these new parameters is not as easy as it was original thought in undergrad. [Pro tip: Disney songs are very complicated and much more difficult than meets the eye]! All of these added challenges and expectations often build upon themselves in the first couple of months of internship and interns can often feel like they have nothing to offer in sessions. 

Yes, being prepared with professional-caliber, preferred music for patients is ideal, but it’s not the only option as you are building your skills. I often encourage students to think outside of the box. If you do not have “Let It Go” fully mastered, what else can you offer to meet your goals and objectives in this moment? Yes, improvisation and original interventions are great ideas to implement here but are they the only answer?

No! Let’s stop trying to re-create the wheel and look to music history for our answer!

In these moments, I challenge interns to consider their knowledge of children’s music. How would they categorize the typical children’s songs they know? Children’s music, as a genre, was created for specific reasons and being familiar with these reasons can help guide you in choosing familiar songs to help meet a specific objective or over-arching goal. Children’s music can be divided by these different categories that also meet therapeutic objectives:

  1. Lullabies
  2. Nursery Rhymes
  3. Educational and Learning Songs
  4. Movement and Action Songs
  5. Silly Songs (Imaginative Play)
  6. Call and Response Songs

Perhaps it is difficult to remember all of these categories – so I’ve broken them into a visual to help. In order to remember each category, think of the purposes of these songs and at what developmental ages children may engage the most in these songs. This order is not exclusive, but rather a tool to help you remember the categories and the variety of songs that could be divided into them.

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If you consider and memorize these categories, suddenly, you have a wealth of music at your fingertips already pre-disposed to assist with a specific music therapy objective. Are you working with a kiddo who needs musical prompts to assist with gross motor movement? Perhaps a bit of “Looby Loo” will do! Does a child need assistance reaching their developmental milestone of animal knowledge? “Down on Grandpa’s Farm” is wildly better than “Old McDonald” as it sings about the animal, animal sounds, animal size, animal color, and where they live (at least if you change “farm” to pond, jungle, safari, etc.)!

These songs are often children’s folk songs from around the world. They are not necessarily songs that modern children are super familiar with but they are easily teachable. As a genre, children’s songs are created to support repetitive, predictable and singable features to encourage active participation. Additionally, the better you learn and know these songs the easier it becomes to be familiar with the musical structure and theory behind the music, ultimately leading you to create better and more effective, original children’s songs.

Perhaps you are now feeling like you aren’t sure where to find such songs? Again, remember that these songs are historical folk and popular songs. Certainly any children’s sheet music book will have a wealth of knowledge for you. But, to help get you started, here are some of my favorite resources to rely on:

There will always be music that you will continue to learn throughout your career. Do not be discouraged by not having “enough” music in your repertoire, but instead, challenge yourself to think outside of the box and “music therapy norm.” There is an abundance of music out there to choose from – what matters is how you use it.  


5 responses to “Back to School: A Music Therapy Student Series: Pediatric Music Resources”

  1. Erin, being a lyric writer and having studied Writing for Children, I really enjoyed reading this article Back to School Student Series about Music Therapy. Nice Category List of 6 for people to consider as well. If a person takes a moment to think about a childhood song they liked I am sure it would fall into one of these categories and they can see the therapeutic nature of it at that time. Appreciate your effort and insight for children~ Rita


  2. […] aspect of internship that has been a common challenge for students, including building repertoire: Back to School: A Music Therapy Student Series: Pediatric Music Resources. Another aspect of internship that is crucial to consider immediately from the start includes […]


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