Developing music interventions around a central theme each week has several advantages. Each individual who participates in music therapy each week has, of course, different interests, strengths, and deficit areas, and each has different goals in both therapy and music. The central theme is definitely not a formula that fits every situation, but I find it helps me organize the myriad of songs, resources, and ideas rolling around in my brain. And, as far as my MT clients are concerned, a  central theme provides variety, anticipation from week to week, and a point of focus in diverse MT groups. One of the most universally popular central themes in my music therapy work over the years has been dogs – a topic that captures attention and gets everyone talking about their own puppies. Here are just a few ideas – starting points for developing individualized music experiences and therapeutic interventions – based on our canine friends.

HOUND DOG. Because many of my MT friends have limited motor skills and cognition, the 12 bar blues format of this popular Elvis song provides an opportunity to participate in a rock’n’roll band. If we play in the key of A, the electric bass can be played on open strings. Some individuals can form chords or partial chords for rhythm guitar, but others play guitars open tuned to an A chord. Although some MT musicians can learn simple drum patterns, most do better with word cues. So, for example, we might play three quarter notes on the phrases “Hound Dog _” and “..time _ _” then improvise on the final “oh, yeah” at the end. Even individuals who are functionally non-verbal can often “sing” at least an approximation of the word “dog” and the phrase “oh, yeah” into the microphone.

THIS OLD MAN. I’ve shared this intriguing version of “This Old Man” – illustrated by paper engineer extraordinaire Paul O. Zelinsky – for years, and it has fascinated people of all ages with all levels of disability and ability. Some sing along, some are more interested in the movement on each page, some sit in eager anticipation of what surprises wait on the next page, and some share childhood memories of the song. Some of my MT friends are extraordinarily attentive to detail, and love scouting out the clever clues and intricate details Zelinsky includes on every page. Nearly everyone enjoys tapping their foot or playing drums along with the band on the last page of the book. The book is “Knick-Knack Paddy Whack” copyright 2002 by Paul O. Zelinsky. Published by Dutton Children’s Books, NY, NY.

There are, of course, many familiar songs and books about dogs. These two examples are simply idea sparks to get your creative juices flowing. We welcome your ideas about books, stories, songs, and other activities based on the theme of dogs. Just zip an email to