Early Childhood Music Therapy – Interview with Kerry Devlin, MT-BC

Hello readers, welcome to the month of October! This is an exciting time for me because I am spending the whole month in Ohio visiting various family and friends. I am seeing the beauty of a foresty fall for the first time in 3 years, and it is nourishing to my soul! I have been looking forward to this time to take a step back from my daily life and experience some new adventures with my little boys.

So, coming to you from Ohio, I have words of wisdom from an inspiring professional on the topic of Early Childhood Music Therapy. I chose this professional for our interview this month because I was so drawn into her passion for Music Therapy when taking her FREE CMTE course on Music Therapy Ed (the West Music Professional Success Course). I reached out to her 2 years when I had the idea for this blog, and she encouraged me so emphatically, I had the confidence to start what is now the Music Therapy Repertoire Challenge. I have been following her blog and Instagram for 2 years and I am always in awe of her creatively and meticulously designed session materials. So without further ado:

kerry-devlin-mt-bc-picKerry Devlin, MT-BC obtained her BA in Vocal Performance at Telson University in 2012. She completed the Music Therapy Masters equivalency program at Shenandoah University, interned in a school setting, then achieved MT-BC certification in Feb 2014. Kerry is the Director of Programming for Annapolis Music Therapy Services (a private practice owned by C.J. Shiloh), and is currently pursuing her MM in Music Therapy at Shenandoah.

Kerry met C.J. through her internship, and once completed, they decided to start a private practice together. In only 2 years, it has grown to include multiple music therapy employees, contractors, and Interns. They cover a diverse range of populations and facilities in Central Maryland, including public schools, community programs, memory care facilities, an Early Intervention Center, and their own private clinic.Serving such a diverse range of clients, I inquired if Kerry had a favorite population to work with.“The answer to that question keeps growing and changing for me. I love working in community based settings that are a collaborative environment; where I have the opportunity to go into their culture, working with people to figure out what their role is in their community.”

Early Childhood Music Therapy
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Early Childhood is defined as “the period from birth to eight years old. A time of remarkable brain growth, these years lay the foundation for subsequent learning and development” Music Therapists serve this population in daycare centers, Schools, Community settings, as well as Healthcare facilities, in the context of 1:1 as well as group sessions. Young children with developmental, mental, or physical challenges are often taken out of their social contexts to receive therapeutic services, however the overarching goal is to transition to inclusion settings long term. Kerry shared with me that “separated groups are not necessary, but it’s just the nature of the environments where we provide services. Our clinic’s summer programming often includes siblings, which is a great opportunity for them to learn to support each other and bond in an environment where the focus is not on their deficit but on creating something together.”

Common Goal Areas include social, emotional, and pre-academic skills. Everything you need in order to be successful in a school environment. This includes: turn taking, impulse control, interacting appropriately with peers and teachers, and follow directions. These fundamental skills are naturally embedded in the context of a music experience. Therefore, it is essential to use what we know about music as tools for our clients’ success. “My most used strategy is to use music to my advantage as a regulator. Young kids may have difficulty regulating their bodies, making it difficult to take in new academic information. Maintaining a steady beat helps them to focus and gets their bodies ready for more challenging tasks.”

I asked Kerry if she has developed a consistent pattern of interventions to use when working with this population. “The order of interventions depend on each person’s need. I like to be really flexible, which stresses my interns out. I do a lot of planning, but I try to be open and be in the moment and use my tools as a clinician to decide where to go next. A certain pacing and arc in a session can be helpful: bookend with Hello/Goodbye songs, slowly work up to high level tasks, have the most challenging intervention in the middle, then come down from that. And in all of that embedding things like playing steady beat, syncing up to music that is pace matched to where the group is, or that’s targeting where the group might need to be. If everyone is going crazy, use that iso principle to bring the energy level down.”

This is Kerry’s personality as a therapist. The setting for her internship was very structured, but she highly values being totally present in the session for her clients. “We as therapists have very big tool kits available to us. We know a lot of music and there is a lot of value in being able to make a clinical decision in the moment based on all of that knowledge and then see where the session goes.”

It is important to find your personality as a therapist and work within that to create appropriate interventions for your clients.

“A well crafted intervention considers the person you are working with, what supports they might need, and utilizes components of music that help you reach their goals. For example, young children need predictable music, involving  simple language to promote participation. But those same elements will need to change if you are working with an 18 year old. It comes down to who you are working with and what is most meaningful to that person. Then use your skills as therapist and what we know about music and how to structure music to achieve a specific goal or purpose, use all that information to create interventions; whether that is before, or while the session is unfolding.”

Literacy interventions
Combining literature and music is useful when addressing pre academic skills and basic literacy skills such as turning pages, keeping fingers on the page, and developing listening comprehension.

Kerry’s current favorite fall book is called Tap the Magic Tree  , which can be sung to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb. It is an interactive book, also containing a sensory component and addresses many seasonal concepts. Literacy interventions are also a great opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration with Speech Pathologists “It’s hard to deny the value of music when some of the qualities that make it accessible to kids make great opportunities for speech and communication. It’s important to have an open door policy with the interdisciplinary team. Invite them to work with you on a regular basis, and seek opportunities to talk about how you are addressing clinical goals.”

Instead of giving me a list of songs for this population, Kerry broke it down into categories of music:

  • Children songs with movement elements: great for family centered sessions because parents often know the music too. They promote awareness and pre academic skills, imitating body movement and sounds.
  • Developmental Music Programs, such as Sprouting Melodies created by Beth Schwartz and Meredith Pizzi (http://sproutingmelodies.com)  This is an Early Childhood music program along the same lines as Kindermusic, but it is created by music therapists for music therapists. The music is robust, containing different keys and modes, and childhood development is thoughtfully considered.
  • Original compositions for specific clinical purposes
  • Improvisation: Floor time, following client’s lead


  • VOICE: often enough for little kids, allows you to have hands free. Use a lot of affect in your face and voice, using dynamic ranges and different timbre quality. This helps with emotion recognition and anticipation.
  • Percussion instruments that are safe to go in someone’s mouth if that happens. Shakers, small drums, and a gathering drum.
  • Guitar
  • Tactile instruments: cabasa, ocean drums, anything with a sensory component which helps to explore different sounds while making music

Music Therapy and Early Childhood – book by Elizabeth Schwartz   http://www.barcelonapublishers.com/music-therapy-early-childhood
According to Kerry, this is a must read for someone working with this population. It talks about how music development parallels child development, creating a foundational understanding of working with a young child in a session. “It is advantageous to have a solid understanding of where they are and how their music making reflects that or vise versa.”

Rachel Rambach’s Listen and Learn is also a great resource for this population. Rachel is constantly writing new material for use in Early Childhood settings and she shares many useful materials on her blog.

Songs for Success – This is Kerry’s own blog which she uses to share resources and materials. Be sure to follow her on her Instagram as well!


I hope my readers have been as inspired by Kerry as I am. She has a contagious passion for her work and I am excited to follow her successes in our profession!

This month, Becky and I will be taking a look at the categories of repertoire listed in this post. Since our repertoire list a little less specific than usual, we would LOVE to hear what YOUR favorite songs are for use with Early Childhood clients, OR favorite songs from YOUR childhood. Please feel free to share in the comments of our posts, on our Facebook page, or by sending us an email.

Have a musical and colorful October!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s