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Last Minute Halloween! Music Therapy Activity Ideas

Rhythm & Reason Blog, Post By: James E. Riley, MM, MT-BC – (727) 350-7897,

Ahh!!! Halloween is this week? The spookiest things should be creepy songs and the thought of eating too much candy corn (from experience, aaAEEEUUCCCHHhhhhh…), not planning Halloween themed activities for your various Music Therapy sessions. Over the last few weeks I have developed a few free and really simple ideas. This blog post will share some activity ideas that Music Therapists-Board Certified (MT-BCs) can quickly and easily adapt to address the non-musical objectives and musical preferences of many different clinical settings. Plus, they’re free! And this page is chock(olate)-full of links to other online resources.

Hound Dog? Well this week only, now you ain’t nothing but a werewolf, howlin’ all the time. AhhhwooooooooOOooo!!!

Always A Smash. If you can play G, em, C, and D while making funny faces, you can totally rock this Halloween classic. Kids and adults both love the Monster Mash. Use this song to increase vocalizations with kazoo (back-up vocals sing “ahwoooooo!!!”). Lead ability- and age-appropriate dances to address motor objectives. Talk about the different characters in the song, and let children share their own costumes. Improv new verses about your little superheroes, zombies, and minions.

Ooh eee, ooh ahh ahh. The Witch Doctor is a catchy, upbeat song that I first used with my pediatric SLP groups to practice vowels and consonants, using different mouth shapes and tongue movements, with rhythm and increasingly quick tempo. Then I found my clients with stroke and aphasia benefiting form the same song. As a therapist in educational settings, the chorus serves as vocables to play on drums and practice the Kodaly rhythms we’ve been working on, while also challenging groups to make eye contact, practice attention and executive functioning, etc. by watching my conducting. We have so much fun speeding up, slowing down, playing erratic dynamics, surprise fermatas, etc. This last week of October my adolescent groups will scat new silly sounds and collectively piggyback the verses (first to make the song more Halloween themed and build rapport, then towards more individualized discussion topics). Maybe we’ll add a GarageBand backbeat. Ting tang walla walla bing BANG!

“Shake Your Spookies Out!” Margie La Bella rewrote Raffi’s “Shake Your Sillies Out” into a spectacular new spooky song. It’s so easy to learn! Shake you spookies out, clap your creepies out, bounce your beasties out, and wiggle your wackies out. What else can you come up? Check it out here, along with a great echo song requiring child vocalizations and another called “Yuck!” that is so much fun to perform.  Check out all of Margie’s other brilliant activities! Next, jump over to find Rachel Rambach‘s awesome compilation of original and adapted Halloween songs.

“Brown Eyed Ghoul.” Take your own shot at piggyback songwriting. For example, I took the Van Morrison tune and substituted blank lines for select words or phrases. Set your stories in a hollow, an old mine, and “the misty __________ fog with our hearts a thumpin’ and you (…will be singing), my Brown Eyed Ghoul!”

Music Games and Trivia. Cue the music and let the creepy crawly games begin! There are a million ways to play games and trivia, including Musical Bridges Music Therapy‘s Halloween Fill-In-The-Blank or preparing a game of Halloween Music Bingo (page includes free bingo template for super easy customization, especially if you search for Halloween playlists on Google.).

Frankensong. Okay, this idea doesn’t actually involve Mary Shelly’s famous character, but instead Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Take all of your standard repertoire and ideas… and switch back and forth between “Dr. Jekyll singing” and “Mr Hyde singing.” Ridiculous monster sounds and eerie voices can work wonders. It sounds silly, but try it. Perhaps let clients control when you switch, or instead give each client a character. Lead into therapeutic role play of Halloween situations with real world transfers, to be found during processing.

Dancing Ghosts! If you have scarves, then you also have puppet ghosts! Because I marked these ideas as “free” then I suppose you could use anything around your house such as tissue paper, felt, tissues, etc. Adults will at least laugh, and children will sometimes increase speech and overall engagement.

Among many Halloween children’s books (Check out Coast Music Therapy’s Halloween Song Story Books for Special Needs!), The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything is a popular tale that combines elements of music with a spooky story, perfect for many pediatric applications. An SLP blogs about using this story in therapy, and I highly recommend you check out her post:

Finally, have you searched Pinterest for “Halloween music therapy”, “Halloween therapy songs”, or anything else you’re looking? These keywords work wonders on Google, too. Here some some more amazing resources you may enjoy:

Musical Bridges Music Therapy’s Halloween blog posts

Listen & Learn Music’s Halloween blog posts

Rachel See’s Halloween music therapy intervention ideas

Tuned in to Learning’s Freebie Friday! Five Music Therapy Halloween Activities

Wholesome Harmonies, LLC’s It’s Fall Y’all: Halloween Theme

I know there are a ton more online. PLEASE SHARE hyperlinks to your own Halloween pages or write new ideas in the comments below! I also encourage you to publish them on’s “Halloween” page!

Vocal Health for Music Therapists: Adapting Plans

Rhythm & Reason Blog, Post By: James E. Riley, MM, MT-BC – (727) 350-7897,

Why should Music Therapists be mindful of vocal health, and what can we do to protect our speaking and singing voices? If we need partial or complete vocal rest, what are some suggestions for adapting Music Therapy sessions?

This Is Demanding Work!

I have lost my voice while teaching long classes, leading huge groups in a loud psych hospital, cheering on our local football team with friends in our favorite – but smoky – bar, and drinking a lot of coffee. Teachers are 32 times more likely to have voice disorders than colleagues in other professions (Voice Academy, 2003a).1  Music Therapists – Board Certified (MT-BCs) put tremendous strain on our vocal folds with many hours of teaching, counseling, advocating, performing, singing, masking loud medical equipment, and compromising posture, breath support, and good singing technique towards a great variety of (prioritized) clinical reasons.

Preventing Damage. (Drink Water).

Drink a lot of plain water on a regular basis.2 Drinking a ton of water once you feel dry is showing up late for a very important date. Better late than never, but you missed the downbeat. You should drink water much sooner, and enjoy sips all throughout the day. Water slides down your esophagus and into your stomach – the very act of swallowing closes a flap above the vocal folds to prevent anything from entering your lungs. Your larynx only receives that necessary moisture from water absorbed later through digestion.

Overall health really is important. You should aim for plenty of rest and an appropriate amount of exercise, while tempering use of alcohol and smoke. I hate to admit it, but you should even limit your caffeine intake. These substances may dry and irritate your throat. Instead, enjoy a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, and… a compensatory amount of coffee on the weekends! Wait, no, that part’s not mentioned in the research…

I love to stretch and take a few deep breathes when warming-up. While driving in the car, especially driving to the morning’s first session, I might sing a few long tones, hum several scales, and gently rehearse musical material I will soon be using, in a comfortable range.

Be mindful of the clinical environment’s temperature, humidity, acoustics, and noise level. Screaming or “belting” is unnecessary, and should be especially avoided in dry climates. Even just rapidly moving between various climates can hurt your voice. Be mindful of your own internal environment, too. Regulate your intake and activities in order to be kind to yourself. Love your instrument.

Need motivation? Boyle and Engen (2008)3 described research which found that 80% of voice disorders may be avoidable yet may cause long-term consequences (Brodnitz, 1971),4 that up to 55% of professionals relying on their voices experience gastric reflux as opposed to only 0.5% in the general public (Koufman, 1999),5 and that two-thirds of people with voice disorders also report symptoms of depression (Voice Academy, 2003b).6 So… drink some water. Read some research. Make a few small changes.

If you should ever feel hoarse, overuse, inflammation, reflux, illness, etc., then I encourage you to consider partial or complete vocal rest, while reflecting on your intake, activity, and environment. Serious cases should seek medical guidance.

Adapting Interventions.

MT-BCs depend on our voice, but as creative professionals with research and clinical expertise, we are always ready to adapt. In my experience, our ability to therapeutically apply empathy and compassion exceeds any need to speak or sing.

Transpose songs to best fit your vocal range. Avoid songs which put undue strain on your voice. Shift your focus towards more instrumental selections or musical improvisation. Lead a drum circle exclusively using facial affect and body movements. Conduct a color-coded boomwhacker choir. Prepare posters (or use a projector!) with simplified music diagrams and demonstrate the egg shakers, the bongo, the open-tuned ukulele, etc. Use recorded music or music videos for lyric analysis, guided relaxation, movement to music, improvisation structure, choral accompaniment, music listening, and more. Can you lead music lessons, iPad apps, rhythm competitions, name that tune, music bingo, and other fun activities without speaking? Bring a notepad or a communication board. Print your session plans, adapted to provide clear directions for clients to read aloud. Find new ways to co-treat with another music, speech, physical, or occupational therapist.

Be social! What else can Music Therapists do to accommodate partial or complete vocal rest?

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Voice Academy. (2003a). Voice Academy website helps teachers address vocal problems. Retrieved by original authors September 28, 2005, from
  2.  Woodhull, M. (n.d.). Vocal Health Tips. Retrieved October 8th, 2015, from
  3. Boyle, S.H. & Engen, R.L. (2008). Are music therapists at risk for voice problems? Raising awareness of vocal health issues in music therapy. Music Therapy Perspectives, 26(1), 46-50.
  4. Brodnitz, F. S. (I 971, Feb.). Hormones and the human voice. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 47(2), 183-191.
  5. Koufman, J. (1999). What are voice disorders and who gets them?? Retrieved by original authors May 26, 2006 but may no longer be available, from
  6. Voice Academy. (2003b). Voice Academy text. Retrieved by original authors May 26, 2006, from