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The following case studies give some idea of Nordoff-Robbins work in practice:

At his first session Peter, an autistic and hyperactive eight-year-old, fell on his knees and bounced. The therapist improvised music which stopped or started with the bouncing. The boy scrambled onto a chair next to the therapist and if the therapist took her hands away from the keyboard he put them back. Something of a relationship developed and Peter became more relaxed because of that. The session ended quietly with the therapist singing a simple .Goodbye Song . and then Peter was taken back to class. Subsequently improvements in his balance were noted by the physiotherapist and attributed to the music therapy he had experienced.

Mark, a senior boy of 15, had no speech, and did not seem to understand why. His teacher warned of his violent attitudes. Part of a class group however, Mark developed the habit of making sure that all members of the class were ready on time. The work with him went back to basics and included the emphasis on certain words being linked to specific musical instruments. .Yes . and .No . for instance were provided by drum and cymbal respectively. The day came when Mark greeted the therapist with a big hug. He was beginning to understand speech and he was trying to use it.

Arthur, also 15, attended a boarding school for maladjusted boys of exceptional ability. He was led to one of our two pianos, told that there were no wrong notes on them, and advised to let his hands fall where they would. Arthur duly obliged and the therapists joined in on piano and percussion. Arthur's innate musicality subsequently began to emerge. Later the headmaster informed us that Arthur had accompanied all the Christmas carols and improvised, very wittily, all the music for the school play. He was also reported to be more cooperative with members of staff and having a good influence on the younger boys.

One of the adults we treated - an older man - remarked: "After music therapy, I feel liberated." Sally, a gifted young lady with Down's syndrome enjoyed improvising, Musical Pictures, while Joe, 7, would run into the Music Van, make straight for the piano and play clusters of notes. On one occasion Raymond had pre-selected the bird eletronic song pattern, from the Sound Canvas, which had a Midi connection with our electronic piano. Joe then experimented with his playing, enthusiastically finding other responces he could do. His parents that he had come on by leaps and bounds since starting music therapy.

The practice of Music Therapy in the Nordoff-Robbins tradition does not preclude the use of already-composed music but it is preferable if the Music Therapist is not too preoccupied with a printed score. Relationships, understanding, acceptance and shared experiences should form the core of the work.


Some venues, such as schools and hospitals, may request group work. This work is more like teaching in that it is pre-planned but this should be decided in consultation with members of the staff involved. It can be a great asset if as many of these as possible can attend the sessions and contribute their ideas. Where, for example, children in a Special Care Unit are being treated, the care staff are the people best able to judge the most appropriate number of repetitions suitable for any activity being undertaken by a child in their care.

Sessions usually begin with a 'Greeting Song' and end with a 'Goodbye Song'. Drum songs are very popular. In one of these, the therapist sings: "What is the best thing to do with a drum?" In their answer, "The best thing to do is to beat it !" children who had a problem with their speech could join in with a final crash on their drum.

On one occasion the Head Teacher brought along Tony with his standing-frame. Tony tended to curl up on the floor and the frame was introduced to discourage this tendency. Turning to the music therapist the head teacher said: "Come on. Let's have a song. Look at Tony standing tall!" The therapist took up the theme, and a new song was added to our repertoire!

For a little girl trying to develop a sense of awareness, a question and answer song was devised between Louise and her classmates:-

"My name us Louise"
"Her name is Louise"
"You must call me Louise"
"We must call her Louise"
"I will sing my name today, Louise"
Class: "Louise"
Altogether: "Louise"


James, severly autistic shares in a musical joke.


The late Sally Johnson.
Sally a gifted artist enjoyed making "Musical Pictures" which she improvised.

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