Let It Go: Using Preferred Music in Therapy (Even If You're Sick of It)

"Let it go, let it go. Can’t hold it back any more!"

That is what I envision is going through the mind of a nonverbal client when they utter their first word. It’s magical and heart warming. As a therapist, it is a moment of pride for my client (any success makes me feel proud).

Music therapists constantly harp on why “preferred music” is so important. Trust me, it is important. But, why do we use it? Why is it so important?

Preferred music is enjoyable

Who isn’t more motivated to work harder when you are listening to your favorite song? Consider exercise. Most of us work out with a trusty play list of music that gets us going. It motivates us to push through the work out just like it motivates our clients to push through and succeed as they work in their sessions.

Preferred music is intrinsically motivating

Preferred music assists in tricking the brain into working. “Hey I like this song and I want to sing a long.” Now, the patient may not be able to sing every word to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off” but we may start to hear vowel sounds imitating a melody line. Long term, we hope to take the vowel sounds and connect to consonant sounds and form singular words, short phrases, and then full sentences.

Preferred music is builds pride

I consider myself a champ at rapping the words to “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio. It’s a ridiculous song, but I am so proud that I know all the words and can sing them fluidly with the recording. As our patients begin learning how to vocalize and turn sounds in to words and eventually words in to phrases; singing along to their favorite song is a moment of pride for them.

Preferred music provides increased social opportunities

Music is the ultimate social connection. We connect with others based on our music preferences all the time! Using preferred music gives our clients the opportunity to express themselves in the same way. They can explore ways to share their likes and dislikes.

Preferred music creates independence

So many of our clients participate in several other therapies. A lot of these therapies require a set way that things are to be accomplished. Using preferred music gives them an independent approach on their therapeutic process. They can choose a song that they want to dance to, which motivates them to sequence steps or imitate specific motor movements.

Enter Elsa

Over the past year, the Frozen phenomenon swept the nation. Kids and adults alike were singing along to their favorite Frozen tunes. It wasn’t long after the obsession began, that I saw the value in this movie’s soundtrack.

The following video shows a client I worked with for around 3 months. When she first began music therapy, she could speak, at most, five words. We worked on singing in all of our sessions, but there was something missing. Even though she was participating and increasing her language and vocal skills, I knew she could do more. I then discovered that she loved “Let it Go” from Frozen. As soon as I implemented this song, amazing things began to happen…


And we sang it again and again and again.
By the end of our time together, this patient was consistently using 3-4 word sentences when making requests or self-expressing. Not only did she increase her language skills, but self-expression and attention as well. Preferred music can assist any person in reaching any goal whether it is speech, language, attention, motor skills, social skills, etc.

Parents and caregivers can be confident in their music therapists; we spend a lot of time searching for that perfect song for your loved one. Keep us up to date on what they are listening to on a daily basis. This will help us better serve your loved one and keep you involved in the treatment process.