When people participate in a 45-minute music therapy group, the goal is not for them to become professional musicians within the time allotted. The goals in music therapy are non-musical (e.g., increasing relaxation, etc…), and the music is used as a tool to achieve the non-musical goal. Remember, music is the pathway to the goal, not the goal itself. However, in order for music to be used this way, it must be accessible (i.e., easy to learn and be successful at within a short amount of time).

But how do we make music accessible while still maintaining its integrity? I mean, sure, playing random keys on the piano is easy and takes very little time to learn, but it probably won’t sound very pretty.

Here are 3 steps to make music accessible while still maintaining musical integrity for a successful, quick, and efficient group music-making experience:

1) Test Prerequisites

2) Use Open-Tuning

3) Modify

The first step is testing prerequisites. When we test prerequisites we can observe quickly which group members have the ability and aptitude for certain instruments. For example, I model how to play a certain instrument and ask everyone to imitate my motions using their “air” instruments. I notice who is modeling the motion correctly and I give those people that type of instrument. I do that for each class of instruments (i.e., harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic instruments) until everyone has one.

For the people who correctly modeled the strumming movements for either the banjo, ukulele, or guitar, I do not need to spend time teaching chords. All they have to do is strum because I used open-tuning to the key of G. The banjo is naturally tuned to open G, meaning that without pressing any notes down, the chord is G simply by strumming the strings. The guitar and ukulele must be tuned to open G which involves tuning either up or down each string to the notes G, B, or D which make up the G chord. This strategy takes all the stress and time off of teaching chords, makes the person strumming feel immediately successful, and sounds beautiful with all of your key of G songs!

The last step is to modify. If I modeled a certain instrument and no one performed the motion well, this means that I need to change to make the experience more successful. I am responsible for making the music accessible- even if it involves changing a part of my plan for the benefit of the group. So what if they have difficulty matching the syncopated rhythm? Change it. At the end of the day, you are tracking relaxation, not percussion skills.


-Music has many benefits, especially when it sounds pleasing. Don’t be afraid to make the music reach this success. The people you work with will trust you when you say, “you sound great!” when they actually do.

-These are just 3 simple (often under-utilized) tips for group-music making- much more exist. I will save that for a later post. Or if you want to share some of you tips now, please feel free to do so!

-Any questions? Comment, message, or email- I try to be accessible to you too!