The Power of Music Therapy and Play

While we are all super excited for the big changes we have coming at the Museum, we also continue to experience smaller growth and development all the time! Right now we’re excited for the upcoming installation of the first outdoor musical instrument in our music garden. 

When the grassy area was added to our Mayo Clinic Health Systems Courtyard, we hoped to add elements to engage children in that new green space. Music was a component we did not have represented in the Museum campus yet, and we felt that would be a perfect space for it. The instrument we’re getting is a deep-tone tenor marimba. It will be accessible from the sidewalk and at a height for all ages and abilities to enjoy.  

Marimba outdoor musical instrument in the upcoming Music Garden at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota
An photo of the marimba that will be installed at CMSM in the coming weeks.

Kim Kleven, Vice President of Education and Learning Experience, consulted with the Children’s Museum of South Dakota regarding the outdoor musical instruments for their Music Meadow exhibit. Based on their experience with durability and performance, the Freenotes Harmony Park was suggested. We decided to purchase the marimba to start our collection. Some grant dollars from Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation were used to procure the delivery of this instrument, and we are hoping to add more in the future. 


Music can be an exciting and integral part of exploration and play. The whole body can be engaged both in the creation of and the reactions to music. Music can do everything from improving our mood to help us with our math skills! 

A lesser-known way music can benefit kids is Music Therapy. We sat down with Ericha Rupp, owner and a Board-Certified Music Therapist at Note-Able Music Therapy Services of MN to find out how music benefits play and social-emotional development in children. 

(This interview has been edited for space and clarity.) 

CMSM: Thank you so much for giving us your time today. What inspired you to seek this career path? 

Rupp: I love this question; everybody asks me this. During my student teaching experience, I had a wonderful opportunity to work with six beautiful young individuals with a variety of diagnoses. During this experience, something clicked and I was like, “There is more to this.” 

I wanted more, and I couldn’t discover it until I met this small group of kids I fell in love with. I noticed that the music was motivating them to get up off of their chairs. When they might have just sat there the whole time, music encouraged them to move their arms or increase their social skills. I was in awe, and I felt so bad for my supervisor at the time, because I was like this is it, this is what I want to do. Honestly right then and there, I used Google to figure out what this was called. “Is it music medicine? Is it sound therapy? What is it?” And then I fell upon music therapy. I searched what schools were available, and I applied to the University of Minnesota that night. I’m not exaggerating. The rest is history.

CMSM: Love it. So, excuse the simplicity of the question, but our readers need to know: What IS music therapy? What might a session look like? 

Rupp: Music therapy is a type of therapy that assists individuals, in my case neurodivergent, with their daily living skills. Every individual starts with an assessment that will give us direction as to their needs and wants. What are the strengths and needs?  Where the individual is in regards to all different types of daily living skills: motor skills–both the large and the small movements, oral movement–so being able to speak, touch, being able to eat and all that fun stuff. And basically all the senses–auditory input, visual input, tactile input–included. 

Beyond that is the sense of awareness of your body in space, what we call the vestibular movements: your ability to balance yourself in space, your ability to feel yourself in space with your joints. Essentially, walking and moving and jumping and lying down and all the movements that you do in order to live. 

We also work on emotional skills, like self-awareness of how we’re feeling, how we define our emotions, how we express our emotions, and also being aware of what others are feeling, what they are showing us, and how that impacts what we do and vice versa–how what we do, say or feel impacts them.

CMSM: So much going on here!

Rupp: Right?! In addition to that, we work on social skills. Being able to be in the room with the same person or situational awareness, being aware of other people in the room and being able to take turns or share space or have a conversation, which then also leads into communication. Both expressing themselves and receiving that information, “Am I hearing what my mom is actually saying? Do I understand what my mom is actually saying? She’s saying to close the refrigerator. When I’m looking at the refrigerator what does she mean by that?” Then following through with that, so the one-step directions to a set of directions. 

Finally, if an individual is interested in lessons of any sort, we will also assess their musicality. What music is motivating to them? What music is not motivating? We work on all of this to help an individual better their quality of life. The most rewarding part of what I get to do as a music therapist is observing an individual demonstrating to their parents and myself a skill they were once told they would never be able to do.

CMSM: Who benefits the most from music therapy? 

Rupp: Somebody who would benefit the most from music therapy is somebody who is motivated by music. As an example, if you are a parent that finds yourself singing instructions, and your kiddo responds to it more than you just saying it, then they’re motivated by it. 

CMSM: What kind of things can we do to motivate our kids at home with music? Music can make us feel lots of feelings; can we benefit from that? 

Rupp: First, I’m trying to remove the stigma around the idea that just listening to music is music therapy. It is not only listening, but much more than that. In music therapy, there are established long-term goals and short-term objectives that are customized to help an individual meet their needs while maintaining or increasing their strengths within a time period established in the treatment plan.  

CMSM: Yes, okay. That’s helpful. Thank you. 

Rupp: Some suggestions I have is to use music within the home that is motivating to the child. Maybe it’s a song from a recent movie, show, or YouTube video they watched. Or something they may have heard on the radio in the car. Use the song as a motivator or a distractor to do something for the duration of the song. Like cleaning up toys, eating dinner, maintaining focus, etc. Prep them by saying something like, “when the song starts we get to (insert task)”. We use this a lot as a home strategy–utilizing music outside of the therapy room. We would introduce an idea with music–which again is motivating–then graduate to some music, then eventually no music cues at all. A few exceptions include when an individual might use it for meditation, to increase mindfulness and awareness of their emotions or mental state, or help energize the body for working out or increased attention.

CMSM: What is something super simple we could try with our kids at home? 

Rupp: Take a familiar tune like “The Wheels on the Bus” and change the words to the song with steps to directions or transitions. What do your kids struggle with? 

Here, after we said going to bed, Rupp freestyled a song about getting ready for bed, which simply cannot be duplicated in text. 

CMSM: Did you really just come up with that on the spot? 

Rupp: [laughing] Yeah.

CMSM: Well, wow. You’re in the right career! Any other tips? 

Rupp: Sure, sometimes I sing a bedtime book to them. You can sing a whole book like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or a chapter from Harry Potter. And if you change your tone to a slower, longer melodic voice, and incorporate a few deep breaths, by the time you’re done reading the page, they’re nodding off. 

CMSM: Brilliant. 

Rupp: Those are some suggestions and honestly if it’s your goal to just change what you have already tried–kids know how to push the buttons and manipulate your current routines–then music is a great next step. 

CMSM: Thank you so much for doing us this favor. 

Rupp: I am humbled to be asked. I love an opportunity to be able to share and advocate. 

CMSM: Can our readers make an appointment? 

Rupp: Definitely start by checking out our website, setting up a consultation, and seeing if what we offer might meet your needs. There are several great music therapy practices in Southern Minnesota to check out, too. 

CMSM: Excellent advice. Thanks again. 

Musical Play at CMSM

Look for the new marimba to be installed in the coming weeks! The Museum plans to get it into place and ready to use just as soon as it arrives. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram for updates!

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