We have all heard the phrase, "Words mean things!" This leads me to emphasize the importance of music as a carrier of information. One of the most powerful tools we have as therapists, teachers and parents, is using lyrics to provide directions and knowledge to our target audience. Advertisers have taken advantage of this phenomenon by using jingles to help people remember important information such as phone numbers and company mottoes.
I like to use songs to deliver one and two step directions such as passing objects, raising your hand or to indicate gross motor movements. Another useful way of using lyrics to convey ideas is with social stories. Social stories put to song can greatly augment its effectiveness by increasing a client's attention and promoting memory and portability of the intended instructions.
One example of this is how I used a song to help a student put on his shoes and sit up straight. I used a familiar melody from the song, Skip to My Lou, and imposed new lyrics, "Put on your shoes and sit up straight, time to get ready for music." The use of a "piggyback" song was intended to help teachers use the song when I was not there. I often stop singing the lyrics and allow my student to sing to himself as I provide accompaniment on the guitar, but because of the familiar tune, his teachers have also been able to start singing the song and then the student finishes it himself.
Here are some key ideas about using lyrics:
1. Provide multiple opportunities for the listener to comply with sung directions. In other words, use a song with a repeating lyric line and sing the song several times in order to provide enough time for the listener to process the information and respond.
2. Don't re-invent the wheel! If you can fit some lyrics to a familiar tune or song, then it will be easier to remember. This is what we call "piggybacking" new words on an old melody. One example is how the ABC song is traditionally sung to the melody for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
3. Keep it simple and direct. Try keeping the lyric instructions limited to one or two-step directions.
4. Be consistent. Many of the children that I work with respond well to structure and routine. One advantage to using music to convey instructions is that you do not always need accompaniment from a guitar or piano. If you have used the lyrics with a piggyback song, then the tune should be easy to remember. Sing the song with your student whenever the need arises. Music can be a great tool if you have gone off and forgotten the picture cards that go along with the needed social stories!
5. Follow through! In my example above about singing for my client to, "sit up straight and put on his shoes," I did not begin the music therapy session until he had complied with the instructions in the song. I sang the song together with him many times and kept singing it as he started to put on his shoes. One word of caution, however, since I know this client very well and realize the power music has with him. Just because you sing a song with instructions does not mean your listener will follow through, but it is important to make sure that they understand that the words mean something. In my example, perhaps the student reaches for his shoes and that is as far as he gets. Take that progress and build on it next time so that on the next occasion that it is necessary to sing the song, try to hold out for a higher level of compliance to the lyric directions.
Altogether now - "Put on your shoes and sit up straight, time to get ready for music!"