I am fortunate that many behavior problems disappear during music therapy activities. The teachers I work with often joke that I remain around longer so that their students continue to pay attention and remain sitting appropriately. These students do not have bad teachers, but the power of the music activities is often strong enough to maintain order during the music therapy session without many of the behavioral interventions that are necessary during regular classroom activities.
William is a student in second grade who I have often observed demonstrating defiant and oppositional behavior in the classroom. William has a rare brain disorder that affects his gross motor skills, but he is fully capable of walking. His teacher reported, however, that William was having great difficulty walking to the bus. William frequently decided to practice the safety protocol for when you are on fire and, "stop, drop and roll," in the hallway on the way to the bus!
William did not respond to music activities immediately when school started in the Fall, but he seemed to be listening and demonstrating good eye gaze toward the music therapist and the activities. Approximately half way through the school-year, William suddenly began performing all the movement to music activities that were part of the general music therapy session routine. He did not require prompts and seemed excited to participate. In light of this behavior, I adapted the lyrics to the song by Frankie Valli, "Walk Like a Man," in an effort to teach him more appropriate behavior. The song went something like, "Walk like a man, fast as you can, walk like a man my friend... stand straight and tall, walk never fall, walk like a man, William!"
I began using this song as one of the movement to music activities during the weekly music therapy sessions. William was very excited to practice walking around the room and did not demonstrate any inappropriate behaviors. I recorded the song with guitar accompaniment onto a tape so that the teachers could use the recording for William after school. The tape worked beautifully and William seemed to forget that he had ever had any problem going to the bus. This strategy continued to be successful more often than not for the remainder of the school year.
One of the advantages of using music is that it is "moveable." In the case with William, the sound of the guitar and upbeat accompaniment was a key to the successful result. Sometimes, simply singing a song and clapping along is all that is necessary to use music successfully as a therapuetic strategy. Many children will respond in a unique and significant ways to music stimuli and familiar songs with corresponding actions can effectively be used across settings. Social stories are often used with children who have autism, for example, to help them practice appropriate social skills. Sometimes adding a melody to a social story can be even more effective. This social story can then be sung anywhere, at any time to help encourage desired behaviors.