Music Therapy in the Special Ed Classroom: A Guide for Teachers

Music Therapy in the Classroom

Music therapy is the use of music in a way that will be beneficial to the child. It is the art of using music to achieve the goals that have

Music Therapy in the Classroom

already been set for the child with special needs. It can be used to achieve a wide variety of goals including social, language, physical, cognitive and emotional. This article helps us to understand more about music therapy and special needs children. It describes a few ideas for using music therapy to teach and help a child develop.

Just playing some music is not music therapy. We need to first know what the child’s goals are in the area that you plan to work. Next we decide on one goal that we are going to achieve through music therapy. Then we choose a song/CD/ collection of music that we can use to teach that goal. We may also need additional learning materials that we will use to teach. Here are some specific ideas to get you started.

Movement and Music

Movement and music is the most commonly used type of music therapy. Use music to help the children learn and practice different movements. You can use action songs in which the child does different actions. Or you could just play some music and encourage the children to be free and dance. Encourage children to move and dance even if they can’t stand on their feet. You can also use music to teach children to listen and follow commands. One such game is when you get the children to march with the beat. Pick a variety of music and keep changing it. Another game is where you tell the children that they should run fast in their place when the music is loud and slowly when the music is soft. Keep changing the volume and watch the kids have fun.

Music for Learning and Teaching

Music can also be used for teaching various concepts. All children and especially children with special needs learn better when we use multi sensory techniques. Using music can help children with learning needs be more interested, as well as understand and remember better. Here are some music therapy activities:

Teach Left and Right: Make the child hold two different sounding rattles in the left and right hand. When you say left, help the child shake the left hand and when you say right, help the child shake their right hand.

Up and Down: Make up a simple song that goes “let’s go up, up, up, up, up.. Let’s go down, down, down”. Help the child hold a long stick with both the hands. Help the child lift the stick up as you sing up, and bring it down as you sing down.

Teach Shapes: Here’s a game to help children learn shapes through music. Draw different shapes on the ground. Get the children to run around and dance when the music is playing. When the music stops, call out the name of a shape. All the children must go and stand on that shape.

These are just some ideas to get you started. In this manner, use music in a variety of ways to teach skills.

Music to Teach Social Skills and Language:

Here are some music therapy activities that will help a child develop social skills and language.

Teach children to take turns: Give each child a different music instrument. Ask the children to play one at a time. This helps children understand that each of them needs to wait for their turn.

Together and alone: Give each child a different musical instrument. Give instructions like “ Sandra, play alone” and “ Let’s all play together” . This will help the children to understand the concept of a group, as well as the part of each person in the group.

New songs: Introduce your children to new songs with new words in them, this helps to improve vocabulary, and thus language.

Songs with sounds: Teach children with language delay simple songs which have sounds like bow bow, ha ha ha etc. They will learn to say these sounds before they learn to speak words.

Sometimes, children with physical disabilities have difficulty in using musical instruments. Adapting musical instruments will help them participate and learn.

Music for Healing and Restoration

Music therapy and special needs children are a perfect fit. Music can be used to calm a child who is upset or sad. It can be used for a child who needs to be in bed for a long time. It can be used for a child who is lonely. Physical therapy can be so much more bearable when there’s music playing. Each child may have special songs or a type of music which helps them calm and relax. Try to use the music that the child loves to hear. It might also be worth asking the parents if there’s a particular CD, or song that helps the child calm down and relax at home. Request one copy to keep and use at school.


This was just an introduction to music therapy and special needs children. There are courses which focus more on this, and will help you to use music more effectively. If this is your passion, you can also become a music therapist. But for the others, here are some music resources to help you use music therapy in your classroom.

Songs for has a big collection of music that can be used with children in the classroom.

Children's is a good resource that will give you ideas for songs and music that you can use with children


  • All Join In, by Adam Ockelford. Royal National Institute for the Blind