Memorable Music Therapy Moments

This is the place where we share wonderful, true, beautiful music therapy stories.  Each of these events happened during our sessions.  These stories come directly from the OMT staff.  Enjoy!

(Our client's names have been changed or have been omitted altogether to protect their privacy)

The Daddies say "I love you"

Alex was in a special education preschool class that I worked with in 2005.  He was the most beautiful child I had ever seen, with gorgeous brown hair, big blue eyes and porcelain skin.  He entered the class, and I was told that he would not participate with me, because music and loud noises scared him.  However, he was made to sit near the group.  The first session, he sat and did not do anything else, but he did not seem particularly afraid.  After two months, he was independently playing the guitar at the end of the session (when all participants were given an opportunity to do so).  Towards the end of the year, he still had not said more than a word or two to me.  I knew he could speak, but did not choose to do so very often. 


Near the end of the year, one of the other kids requested “Wheels on the Bus.”  I usually did not allow requests because I kept a structure and came with a prepared session.  However, on this day, I decided to be flexible.  Thank God, I did so.  As I was nearing the end of all the verses I could think of and some that I had made up on the spot, I asked the class if I had remembered them all.  Alex immediately said, “You forgot the Daddies.”  “What do the Daddies do?” I asked, surprised that he’d spoken up.  With his huge blue eyes open wide he said, “The Daddies say, ‘I love you.’” 


With tears in my eyes, as well as the teacher’s, I sang the final verse of the song as he had given it to me.  What a beautiful moment and one I’ve cherished since that day. 

Ring of Fire

I met this lovely lady at the end of life.  She had Alzheimer's and was on hospice.  She no longer verbalized and kept her eyes closed most of the time.  She had several children and her two sons often visited during my sessions.  One day, her son mentioned that she loved Johnny Cash.  I began to play "Ring of Fire" and she opened her eyes and looked at me.  When the song ended, she sat up in bed and said "I love Johnny Cash!  I saw him and Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis in concert when I was 14.  I sat in the front row."  Then she laid back down and closed her eyes.  

Her son and I looked to each other in disbelief.  I played another song by Cash.  Again, she sat up and shared a story with us.  With these familiar songs, she was herself again for a few seconds to a minute each time.  It was an honor to help this family see their loved one again, as they remembered her.  It is one of my favorite stories from my time in hospice care. 

The Story of R.

I worked with a gentleman for over five years. His wife came to me about a year after his stroke. He had been unable to say more than a word or two at a time and usually the wrong one. However, one day, the nursing home called her and told her to come immediately. He was singing “Moon River” with the karaoke machine and getting 90% of the words correct. She was floored. She immediately called me to begin work with him. More than with any other therapy, Music therapy brought speech out of him. He was able to sing a song and then say the words of the song. Within a few months, his wife began to notice a change in his confidence level. He was attempting to speak in conversations where he wouldn’t have felt able to just a few months prior. He was also beginning to use the correct words when trying to express himself. By the end of the five years, he would correctly say, “I love you” to his wife, or “thank you” when given something, or “hello, how are you?” when someone entered his room. These are just a few examples of the successes that I saw with him. He also began saying his wife’s name—something he hadn’t done since before his stroke.


When she entered the music therapy room, her eyes lit up.  She was stimming and wandering around in awe.  She wanted to explore every instrument.  This mostly non-verbal, Austistic 10 year old, had never played musical instruments before.  Then she picked up the drumsticks and began to play the snare.  Magic.  Her fingers and hands made rhythms that most musicians only dream of making.  She played the snare and sang her favorite Disney songs.  Her mom looked at me and was floored.  She did not know her child could do that!  She had never seen that smile.  It was a new world opening up.  

He loved folk music

I normally visited him in his care home.  He had Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.  He loved folk music.  

One day, the RN was visiting as well and she was completing her exam.  When I asked if I could begin before she left, she stated that she was okay with that as long as he was.  He immediately laid down on his back, placed his hands over his chest and said, "go ahead".  This was my signal to play all his favorites.  I began to do so.  For the next 45-60 minutes, he was relaxed, eyes closed, at ease.  When I left, he was sleeping peacefully.

I ran into the RN as she was charting and she said "did you see that?"  I asked what she had seen and she stated, "His tremors almost completely ceased while the music was present.  I know of no medication that works that quickly.  That was phenomenal."

Bringing Family Together

I had been working with this family for about 18 months.  The patriarch had Alzheimer's and was slowly declining during that time.  He had spent his life making music in one form or another.  Our sessions would always include a lot of singing, storytelling, instrument play, laughter, and smiles.  As the disease progressed, he stopped making music with me but still engaged in other ways, his body relaxing or tapping to the beat or dancing in his chair.  In his last days, I had the privilege of making music at his bedside with his family.  We sang familiar songs, sharing new ones, talking, crying, and laughing.   Even after he stopped opening his eyes, he would move his mouth to the familiar lyrics.  It was an honor to know him and his family and I will forever hold the memory of the music washing over him and connecting his family to him in those final hours.  

Music: Giving the Power to Speak 

I was evaluating a patient who was receiving hospice care. The patient’s chart said she was non-verbal and enjoyed country western music. She did not speak to me when I entered her room but when I began playing Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line”, she immediately appeared to light up and clap her hands along to the music. After a few songs, the patient was able to tell me if she wanted a certain song, whether or not she enjoyed a specific song and if she remembered the music. The session had gone beautifully and I was nervous I had assessed the wrong patient as she was very much verbal and invested in the music. It WAS the right patient and the music had given her the space and support to express herself. 

Music: Comforting when Medicine Cannot 

I was seeing a hospice patient who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and when I arrived, she was crying, moaning, wincing and exhibiting agitated movements due to being in an extreme amount of pain. I began playing her music and immediately she appeared to relax slightly. I continued the music and after a few songs, she began to wince again, appearing uncomfortable. I put the guitar down to hold her hand as she was reaching out towards me. We sang together, just our voices, singing “Love Me Tender”. By the end of the visit, the patient said she was feeling, “pretty good” and confirmed to be feeling relaxed. No more crying, wincing, agitation or apparent discomfort. Just peace. 

Music: Giving us a Voice 

I was seeing a hospice patient who was exhibiting confused and unintelligible speech. When I began playing, “Home on the Range”, my patient smiled, clapped, and sang along. She was singing the correct lyrics of this familiar tune and expressing herself in a clear and intentional way. This was a perfect example of, “where words fail, music speaks”. 


In an elementary school, one of the 4th graders arrived quite dysregulated for his group music therapy session; he was crying, moving erratically, and reaching for his paraprofessional.  Knowing that he enjoys singing, I chose to strum the guitar and sing softly "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."  He quieted immediately and sang the whole song with me through his diminishing tears.  Afterwards, he was calm and the session could continue.


My young adult client who is nonverbal and blind, and who sits quietly in a wheelchair most of the day, nevertheless had a remarkable response to a song from one of her favorite musicals, Les Mis.  As I sang "When the beating of your heart" (from "Do you hear the people sing?"), she immediately sat up straight and brought her right hand over her heart.  Later in the song, I assisted her in a marching motion to sustain her engagement through movement.

Feeling Better

I provided guitar lessons for several years to a 16-year-old student with autism and anxiety.  As we settled into our seats for one particular session, she exclaimed, "Can we hurry up and start playing so I can feel better?"  I knew that her guitar-playing was important to her but I hadn't been aware of how much it helped her to regulate her emotions until she told me so with that request.