1. Mindfulness of Urges Activity by Christina L. Grandoni MT-BC

Bring the ocean drum to the group and explain that it will be passed around. While waiting their turn, encourage each client to notice any off-track urges they may have. (urges to grab the drum, or urges to tell the person playing how they should play, or an urge not related to the activity) When they have the drum, tell them this is the time to let the urges go, to imagine them washing away with the waves like a picture drawn in the sand. The MT can sing this song while the drum goes around

Ocean Drum, oh Ocean Drum

Goes round, and round

Ocean drum oh ocean drum,

Washing away urges with the sound

Feel them, wash away

Urges, wash away

Let them, wash away

And pass the drum…

This should be a slow song and feel free to draw it out if a client needs more time with the drum.


2. Observe and Describe Emotions by Courtney Elder MT-BC and Deborah Spiegel MT-BC


To reinforce and teach awareness of emotions, use a glockenspiel.

Label the lowest note with the number 0 and continue to label each consecutive note with numbers moving higher with each note.  (i.e. draw on a piece of tape and affix it to the bars on the instrument.)

The lowest note 0 will represent  feeling calm, while  the highest note will represent uncontrollable feelings or agitation.

Invite participants to notice their emotions.  Become mindful of your emotions.

Show the visual representation of each emotion and ask the client to choose one that fits his current emotion and to put that look on their face and in their body language.  Have the client play their rating of the emotion they feel on the instrument.  Combining the visual representation with the awareness in the body and the rating on the instrument can help with understanding emotions and accepting them, and to help clients feel validated.




Relationship Effectiveness Begins with Ourselves!

submitted by Rene Dundas MT-BC

To build  relationships with others we must start with having a good relationship with ourselves

We all have relationships with ourselves as well as with other people! Its important that we become aware of how we feel about ourselves, what we say about ourselves, knowing and understanding what goes on inside of us.

We need to value ourselves, believe in and trust ourselves. Do you ever say something bad about yourself if you make a mistake? Many people think of themselves as being “wrong” or “bad” when we are told we did something wrong. All it means is that we made a mistake, not that we are wrong all the time!

Just as we develop relationships with other people, we do the same with ourselves. We need to accept ourselves, forgive, value and trust ourselves. Accept responsibility, apologize if we have hurt someone, accept, value and trust that we are not bad people, we only made a mistake.  Because you value and trust yourself, you will remember next time to do your best to do it differently and learn from the mistake.

Notice how you talk to yourself about yourself. Focus on the positive and practice being non-judgmental.

Inspired by Julie Brown’s book The Skills System Instructor’s Guide these are things to keep in mind:

• Get to know yourself

• What you can do really well (your strengths) and what you need help with (needs).

• Accept others and yourself as being the best you can be in that given moment.

• Understand that all of us are human and simply doing the best we can with the information we have.

• Treat yourself with value. You are worth something, you have things to give and can help make others feel better.

• Treat yourself gently like you would if you were holding a little kitten that is so sweet and innocent.

• Nurture yourself; say nice things about yourself, respect, accept, value and trust yourself.

  • Give yourself good food, exercise, lots of sleep and water.
  • Contributing to others can also nurture yourself . When we serve others and think of them we are being kind and helping both of us feel better!

• Say positive things about yourself and others

• Trust yourself that you will always do the best you can at the moment

• Treat others, as you would like them to treat you!


Piano Activity:

1. Teacher demonstrates mindfulness:

She sits in on piano bench with good posture and takes a deep breath. She then becomes aware of her body by stretching her arms up, then circles then own a few times – up and down. She becomes aware of her body and her surroundings and puts her left hand on her right knee and twists – she takes a deep breath in as she sits up straight then breaths out as she twists her torso to the right. As she does this, she looks around and notices what is going on in the room – the sunlight coming in through the window, where children are standing, etc. She does this again 2 more times on each side, 3X all together.

She starts playing a glissando all the way up and down the 88 keys to indicate her exploration of her surroundings by exploring the piano. She even uses her fingers to feel the piano itself, the piano bench, etc. She checks her thinking – “am I right here in the moment or am I thinking about something that happened yesterday or that may happen tomorrow. I bring myself back to now by sitting in the middle of the keyboard, at middle C and play that note several times to keep me on-track.

Noticing her thoughts and urges, she states that she wants to pound on the piano keys with her elbows, then remembers that thoughts come and go and she does not have to act-out urges – that could hurt the piano and it may also sounds horrible to others and herself.

Back on-track, she plays a major scale in treble clef, then in bass. She plays it evenly, with a steady beat. She then plays a scale or two, or maybe a simple tune with one note harmony and begins to smile. She is now on-track and ready to interact with the piano or she can invite someone to join her, which

2. The class discusses what they noticed about her actions

3. Teacher uses the instrument to portray self relationship behaviors

She watches very carefully how she is sitting at the piano, how her hand posture is, watching each finger press each one at a time (self awareness). She makes a mistake (on purpose), takes one hand and gently places it on her other arm for a soft stroke (self acceptance). She plays the tune correctly, smiles, nods her head and closes her eyes that she knows she can play well (self value) and trusts herself to play with her eyes closed!

4. Now she demonstrates relating with another person

Teacher then asked her Assistance (or music therapy intern, or field work student, etc.) to join her at the piano. They play out the on-track behaviors playing a duet. They take turns; listen to each other, play the same rhythm and with similar tone. As she TA sits, the teacher acknowledges her with a major chord and is asked by nod of head to play same chord to indicating acceptance of her being there. The TA plays the same chord indicating that she is listening and responding with respect.

The teacher plays a short, simple tune, which the TA is invited to copy, which she does (give and take, sharing). The one playing treble plays the simple tune again and the bass clef player gets a nod in asking to play a simple harmony (creating a relationship based on give and take and two-way street.

5. Demonstrates unwise behavior and how it effects the realtionship

Now the treble player starts to play loudly and irrationally. She reaches over and uses bass keys, interrupting the TA playing (she has changed from middle ground to all about me – no give, only take). The TA tries to balance and repair the relationship by attempting to play in agreement, or in some way accompany this type of playing but could not find a place to play due to the other player moving her hands up and down the keyboard, leaving nowhere for her to play. The TA (bass player) stops playing ( to get to wise mind to see what her next step should be and try to balance the relationship).

Yet, the teacher thinks the TA is not participating and she and starts pounding on the piano with dissonance, expressing herself in an unwise emotion mind manner – playing loudly and disturbingly to express her anger.

The piano playing stops and  the teacher explains what’s happening.

6.The students are then asked if anyone knows how this relationships can be balanced, how they can find middle ground.

The students discuss how or if the relationship can be repaired and put back on-track. The teacher created a relationship problem by playing all the piano keys, up and down from bass to treble and back again, playing very loudly, off key, dissonantly. She was all take, no give. When the TA tried to play with her anyway to find some middle ground, she found she could not and stopped playing in hopes of changing the relationship. She felt the teacher may have come to an impasse and was now unable to come to a middle ground and they may have to end the relationship.

So, the teacher had a misperception of the TA when she stopped playing and made an irrational assumption. TA stopped playing not because she was unwilling to but she was simply stopping because the teacher herself had begun the off-track behavior.

The teacher interjects here that we always have to check with the other person if our perceptions are correct. We all have different perspectives of things .

It is a good relationship  skill to always check in with your partner about what is happening with them and tell them what is happening with you.

The concession the students came up with was first, both pianists needed to do get mindful, observe and describe and participate by talking about what happened. They needed to choose sides of the piano and work it out. The teacher, the one who started the unwise behavior needed to take responsibility and apologize. The TA needed to accept and value the teacher and see that she is human, and we all make mistakes. The TA did not put the teacher down or say she was a bad person. The TA decided to move on, let it all go so they could work it out.

The teacher and TA played-out all the steps the students suggested to work out  They found middle ground and continued playing a beautiful duet, which was the main goal in the beginning. They both like to play piano, especially when playing a duet with someone. So they both got what they wanted by being mindful, making wise choices with their behavior, communicating skillfully (DEARMAN) , and kept their relationship in tact.

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com


Mindfulness and Awareness of Emotions and Urges through Music Therapy

contributed by christina grandoni

Notice Breathing

–    Begin with the ocean drum. Present the instrument to the client and encourage them to focus on the instrument, the sound it makes, and their own breathing. Allow them to explore this while you support he/she musically. Next, encourage them to breathe WITH the drum (if able)

–    The Ocean Drum is a multi-sensory instrument that provides various stimuli including; visual (as the beads inside the drum move) tactile/vestibular (as the weight of the drum shifts with the moving beads) and auditory, as the sound of the drum grows louder and softer. As a result, this instrument is a good choice for helping a client focus inward. For some, the stimulation that the drum provides could cause them to ‘zone out’ so this should be monitored during this activity. This activity should also not exceed 10 minutes in length.

Notice Surroundings

–    The next activity involves noticing sounds within the music therapy room itself. In some settings the room may be very quiet, in this case, the MT may want to create an ambient soundtrack to be played during this activity. Another option could be to have the client close his/her eyes and to respond to the sounds of various instruments that the MT may play.

–    Encourage the client to respond on a chosen instrument (not the ocean drum) to each sound they hear. First they can verbally identify the sound if able, or state that they hear something, next they can play either loudly or softly depending on how the sound was perceived to them. (‘If you hear a LOUD truck going by, play the drum very LOUD! If you hear the clock ticking softly, play the drum very softly etc.) This activity should involve only minimal back and forth conversation regarding the sounds that are heard in the environment.

Body Check

–    The next activity involves the song ‘Shakable you’ by the Imagination Movers. Encourage the client to get up, stretch out and get ready to move! The song will take the client and therapist through a series of body part ‘shaking’ that will allow for awareness of various bodily sensations. The client should be observed during this time so that any perceived areas of discomfort within the body can be addressed/discussed after the activity is complete. Since this is a short song, it may be played twice, or another ‘movement song’ may be included, as long as it is one that includes a sequence of movements that are the same for each body part (i.e. shaking, tapping, wiggling etc.)

Labeling/Rating Emotions

–    This song involves the client choosing one or two instruments and responding to the MT based on the level to which they feel each emotion that is addressed. For example, as the MT plays a simple chord progression (loop) she will sing the name of an emotion (Sad) She may use inflection or a particular musical cue to help the client recall this emotion and what it means (if it has been explored previously). Following this cue, the client will respond by playing either loudly (if they are feeling very sad, higher than a 3) medium volume if they are feeling sad between a 1 and 3 or softly if they are not feeling sad at all. This can be repeated for additional emotions as well, and discussion may follow.

Recognizing Thoughts/Recognizing Urges

This activity will involve following directions and attending to the MT. The client will be across from the MT and he or she will mirror the MT as they play chosen instruments. The MT may lead initially and then allow the client to lead. At some point, the instruction to ‘stop’ and then to ‘go’ should be included. This will allow the client to recognize the urges that may be present within him or her self in the moment if these urges include to stop playing, to continue playing or to play a certain way. Understanding these desires within in MT setting can help the client learn to pay attention to his/her thoughts and to know when to respond to them and when to hold back. This activity can also help with impulse control.

-To take this activity a step further, the song could be pre-planned and the MT and client must stick to the plan that was made ahead of time. This can also help with impulse control, particularly if a client struggles to stay on task or to follow through due to impulsivity and urges. Encouraging the client to recognize when they feel like changing the song (while playing) but to stick to the plan, can help them work on coping with urges that are not productive.

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com

3 ways of listening mindfully

this post is based on a submission by Kirsten Sorensen MT-BC

Mindfulness Exercise:

Today we are going to listen to music from the perspective of the 3 different states of mind.

  1. Play a short segment of a recorded music piece, or of a live instrumental performance.  Listen using reasonable mind.  Be analytical- (not judgmental)  just the facts.  Listen to the music logically.  Notice such things as what instruments are playing, or listen for a particular phrase, or whatever facts you can notice.  Share.
  2.  Play it again and this time listen from the perspective of emotion mind.  Maybe the music makes you feel soothed, or peaceful, or sad.
  3.  Play it again and this time listen from the perspective of wise mind/ integrated mind.  Share and discuss.

How apply this in life? 

When in distress emotionally, listen in this way. Observe and describe from the perspective of each state of mind.  Observing and describing is a mindfulness skill which allows us to step back from the throws of emotion mind and be an observer; more likely to make wise decisions, choose wise actions and participate mindfully.

We all know people who appear like they are always in their emotional mind.  So have them listen for a particular phrase or instrument from the perspective of reasonable mind,  consciously listening for from that perspective rather than just feeling emotion from listening to music.  As they notice, observe, and describe it can shift them out of emotion mind and into a wise observer place.

Another life application for this is if someone says something that offends you, listen to whatever they said from all 3 perspectives (reasonable mind, emotion mind, and wise mind) and THEN come to a conclusion about the situation.

Thank you Kirsten!

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com

Happy! A song to create opposite emotion when feeling bad. (A distress tolerance skill)


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Take a moment to tune in.  Observe and describe your current emotion.  How do you feel  in your body?  What are your thoughts? Self talk?  Urges?

Now listen to/watch this video.  Notice how you feel during and after.  There is no right answer.  Just notice what is true for you…

I would use this song for teaching and experiencing the DBT distress tolerance skill for Distraction: Wise Mind ACCEPTS ( Especially for Opposite Emotion, since many people find this song uplifting).

Performing it would cover even more of the pieces of ACCEPTS than just watching it:

A- You’d be involved in it with full attention so it would be distracting through activities

C- If your group performs for someone you’d be contributing

C- You’d be learning a new song and would get better at knowing the lyrics and movements and might feel happier as you practiced -using comparison

E- Just listening and watching this video could create opposite emotion

P- Being involved in the activity and creation of a performance you’d be putting the distress on a shelf for awhile-push away

T- Your focus on the lyrics- thoughts

S-Moving and singing- sensations.


Please post comments.  How would you use this with clients in therapy?

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com

Copyright 2010-present, DBT Music Therapy LLC, All Rights Reserved

Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness through Music


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Guest post by Katherine Noël, MA, MT-BC


Drumming Intervention

In a group, form a circle, giving each person a drum. Facilitate a steady rhythm
for the group to play together. While continuing to play the rhythm, go around the circle and have each person describe how a part of their body is feeling, starting with the head and ending at toes. Ex., “My head feels focused on keeping the rhythm and talking at the same time.” “My neck feels tense.” Instruct participants not to attempt to change anything, just observe and state the way their bodies feel. Afterward, process with the group.


Composition intervention

Have patients choose either the DEARMAN acronym or the GIVE acronym to
compose a rap with. The group can compose the rap together or each member can compose their own rap. Work the meanings of each word in the acronym into the rap. Choose a beat on a drum or a preprogrammed keyboard rhythm to accompany the rap.

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com

Slow Down, Be Present, and Connect. Mindfulness Reminder Online


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I was just reading posts on my Facebook news feed, reading really fast, just to skim and get through some of it.  Then I came upon this post from Arjuna Ardagh:

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and whatever your story and beliefs, we are intimately connected right now by these few words.
You and me.
I am writing, you are reading, then you can comment and I can read, and like. In this moment it is just you and me, in a one-on-one conversation
… The depth we create right now is up to you and me to decide together. Now.
This is our invitation: to make every moment and every connection matter so much that it is the ONE.
We are not statistics on Facebook, you and me.We’ve got it going on. What do you say?

It stopped me in my tracks.  My rapid skimming frenzy energy ceased.  I was right there focused and present with his post.  It served as a powerful reminder to me.  I noticed how often I’m racing through things to get them done, locked up in my own head and thoughts.  Made me ask myself how can I be more present and mindful ?  It had me really connecting with the moment, my body, my thoughts, my emotions, and other people.  I like his concept of being able to really connect even through social media and online.  Take it deeper.  Mindfully.  How mindful are you being right now?  Use those Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills in your life?

Music Therapy Intervention for Mindfulness

Have your group members pair up.  One person is partner A and the other is partner B.   They face one another.  As you play music in the background,  instruct partner A to move and partner B to mirror the movements of Partner A.  Then switch.

I like to use native American flute and drums, but you can play whatever live music you’d like or even use recorded music.
What do you do for mindfulness? Leave a comment.  (I believe the comment button is at the top of the page.)

Until next time… Deborah Spiegel MT-BC

Leave a comment .  (I believe the comment button is at the top of the page.)

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com

Copyright 2010-present, DBT Music Therapy LLC, All Rights Reserved

Mindfulness- Welcome !


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I teach CMTE workshops on using music therapy, art therapy, recreation therapy, dance therapy, occupational therapy and other adjunct therapies to teach and reinforce Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills.    I will be sharing here my own as well as other interventions and resources that I feel inspired by.


I want to share a book by Julie Brown that I love and recommend for working with lower functioning clients and in fact use as a book study for a CMTE class.  The book is called the Skill System Instructors Guide and she breaks down skills into very small pieces that are easy to understand.  For mindfulness (clear picture) she uses these sub-categories:

* Breathe: awareness of the current moment
* Notice Surroundings: awareness of whats going on around them in the moment
* Body Check: awareness of what is going on in their body in the moment.
* Label and Rate Emotions: awareness of (observing and describing) emotions and rating them using the feelings rating scale. Awareness of the fact that emotions rise and fall, come and go.
* Notice Thoughts: awareness of thoughts as they pass through the mind right now. Awareness that it is possible not to react to thoughts.
* Notice Urges: awareness of action urges


Here is a mindfulness exercise I like to use.  Stand in a circle.  One person turns to the next and makes eye contact.  Clap together.  That person turns around and faces the person on the other side of them, makes eye contact and they clap together.  Etc.  Pass the clap around the circle.  At some point you can change directions by sending the clap back to the person who sent it to you.  And when your group is really good at sending the clap around the circle, you can pass it anywhere.  This means, catch the eye of someone in the circle, doesn’t have to be next to you, and clap together.  They choose someone by making eye contact, and they clap together.  It takes focus to know who is “it” and look at them.  Mindfulness of surroundings.

As I read the list of categories from Julie Brown above, I have the idea that  instructions could be given to “notice your emotions and share one after you clap as we go around the circle this time” (or thoughts, or urges…and so forth.)  Just focusing on one thing in the moment, but shifting focus from whats outside to whats inside.  Wonder how that would work?  We could all try it and report back.

Someone who wishes to remain anonymous added this to the idea: “Instead of clapping we use hand percussion! I start off with one hit and after a few times around the circle, I will either change directions or add another drum hit (2). After doing this a few times I will once again either change directions or add another hit to the drum (3). Continuing this exercise….a little change I will do is – instead of going around the circle, I will instruct the group that now we are going in all directions and then demonstrate: I hit a short rhythm on the drum and look at the person who I want to “pass” the beat to. They are instructed to repeat my rhythm, I will validate with a nod/smile/”good job! Now your turn!” That participant will then create their own new short rhythm, then look at another person in the circle who they would like to pass the beat to. This game continues. These are just a couple of drumming/mindfulness/social skills exercises I do.”

What do you do for mindfulness?  Leave a comment .  (I believe the comment button is at the top of the page.)

Until next time… Deborah Spiegel MT-BC

For more about DBT informed Music Therapy visit dbtmusic.com

Copyright 2010-present, DBT Music Therapy LLC, All Rights Reserved