By LOU WILIN
Work that might otherwise become drudgery for kids — practicing communication and social skills, and even reading and math facts — gets transformed into fun by music therapist Amy Foley.
She uses piano, drums, guitar, voice and other instruments to charm special needs students into not noticing how much effort they are expending to expand their horizons.
She addresses other needs as well: brain trauma patients wanting to improve motor skills, including mobility and range of motion; and cancer patients and families coping with a painful diagnosis. She also can work with Alzheimer’s patients and others.
Foley works with individuals and small groups at her Findlay practice, Heartstring Melodies, 219 Liberty St.
“Music is a universal language and I think it’s a very motivating medium for us all to work in,” she said. “Oftentimes, the clients that I see don’t realize that they are doing ‘work’ as opposed to just having fun.”
Any type of music can be used. What matters is that the music motivates the client. Then, Foley goes to work, fashioning the music into a subtle instrument of learning.
For example, children with special needs tend to respond to sudden starts and stops in the music, she said. Foley uses that to good effect.
“If I’m playing a song along with them and I suddenly stop, it gets their attention and alerts them in a way that I don’t have to be (saying), ‘Come back over here,'” Foley said. “The music is being the motivator and captivating them to keep engaging with what we are doing.”
She uses music to reinforce desired behaviors, like making eye contact.
“If we are playing instruments, and I have an ocean drum up here … It’s a very stimulating instrument and the child was wanting to look at it, so I might raise it up to my face, to encourage the eye contact. When they do, I might start the music again to re-enforce the ‘Hey, we’ve just made eye contact,'” Foley said.
In playing a tune on the piano with children, she lays the groundwork for them to learn to read.
She has kids match a color on a card with that same color on a piano key while playing a tune.
When that has been mastered, she has them match letters.
As the children get better at matching, Foley adds more letters.
“We are actually using the music with the letters written out and matching it to the keyboard and we’re actually able to play a song, and the song is something they know,” she said. “We can sing it while we’re playing it.”
While all of this fun is going on, the kids are learning to not only recognize letters but to move their eyes from left to right, a foundation of reading across a page.
Foley grew up in Findlay, loving music. She sang in church and kids’ choirs. She played flute throughout middle school and high school. She played in Pantasia steel drum band.
“I just knew when it was time to go to college I just couldn’t give up my passion for music,” she said.
She researched her career options, and found music therapy. There was no turning back. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music therapy from Eastern Michigan University, and Georgia College and State University, respectively. She also learned how to play guitar and piano fluently and other instruments.
But sometimes the music therapy is not so much about Foley as it is about clients making music.
A drum ensemble or drum circle involving a group provides support, an emotional outlet or even coping skills for cancer patients and their families. It gives one a sense of belonging without having to talk, Foley said.
“That’s a really good warmup to kind of bring a sense of cohesion to the group,” she said.
From there, Foley may encourage people to add lyrical movement with a partner to express what is going on with their bodies. Participants may analyze song lyrics or write their own songs and share them with the group, with Foley accompanying on piano or guitar.
A man who suffered traumatic brain injury is improving his motor skills and range of motion in his arm by playing an instrument. The guiro is a percussion instrument played with a scraping motion.
“He enjoys it so much and he will hold the mallet and scrape along the side of it,” Foley said. “Suddenly he’s working on that range of motion from the left to right without thinking about, ‘Reach over here. Reach over there’ like they might work on in another therapy.”
“So even though we’re getting that same motion down, he’s doing something with it that produces music and he’s enjoying it,” she said. “He’s motivated.”
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