Seeing Your Primary Instrument as a Strength: An Intern’s Experience 

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Current intern, Amaya Stamm, shares about her experience using her flute in sessions across varying ages and populations in private practice music therapy!

How have I used this instrument?

Educational Opportunities


At a private school serving eight classes of children with varying disabilities, my supervisor encouraged me and my co-intern, who plays saxophone, to bring in our primary instruments and teach students about the woodwind family. Our approach was educational, and we created opportunities for active engagement, including fingering along with us, making an “oo” shape with their lips to mimic the flute embouchure, and exhaling. I also showed them extended techniques and asked them to mimic the sounds using their mouth or body: 

  • singing “wee-oo” from a high to low note to represent a tone bend; 
  • rolling their “r’s” to represent flutter tonguing, and;
  • saying “boots and cats”as a group to represent beatboxing into the flute

I also played an excerpt from a piece based on the well-known opera Carmen for the group to listen to since most of them had heard it before in movies like “Up.” My co-intern played Star Wars melodies and other familiar tunes, which increased group engagement as students smiled, laughed, and sang or hummed along.

Later, I rejoined at this placement and brought in my flute a second time. My supervisor suggested incorporating kazoos as a way for the students to join in active music-making. After I captured their attention with the Mario theme song, each class began with an explanation of flute anatomy which I helped them remember by asking them to move their head, body, and feet as I introduced the head joint, body, and foot joint of the flute. I also discussed breath support, posture, and articulation for playing the flute and other wind instruments. I then played call and response melodies on the flute for the students to copy on kazoos. If time allowed, students alternated being the leader of the group and provided three melodies for the group. To finish the lesson, I led the students in playing a melody of a preferred song or two (including Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Down by the Bay, Star Wars movie soundtrack, and the Little Einsteins theme song).

Adaptive Lessons:

One of my clients assigned to my first rotation started bringing in a flute prior to my internship and began to teach herself at home with some assistance during sessions. She is incredibly musical and has an amazing ear, figuring out how to finger several notes on flute and play along to various classical piano compositions by ear. My supervisor asked me to consider how I could enhance her playing by addressing more technical elements like articulation, embouchure, correct fingerings, and tuning. As we worked together, I began to teach her how to articulate using the “tu” syllable, change her embouchure and airstream to create notes in different octaves, and play the C and G major scales. She soaked it up like a sponge, beginning to incorporate the techniques into longer pieces she enjoys playing by ear. 

Working with this client taught me how teaching technique can be a gateway to working on various goal areas. If this client displays frustration while we are working together, we can practice coping skills like deep breathing, hugging ourselves, or stopping to take a drink of water. This client also recently began receiving services from the Meraki Collective, which teaches individuals the purposeful motor skills to communicate by pointing to a letterboard as a reliable means of communication. Fingering correctly on flute requires a great deal of purposeful motor movements, specifically isolating each finger, placing the correct amount of pressure on each key, and changing between different fingerings.

Within the past month, I started working with an individual client on learning to make a sound on the flute. This experience is helping me practice prompting clients in different ways and use age-appropriate wording to explain concepts and is helping the client develop confidence in learning to read and play sheet music on their own!

Older Adults

Name that Tune:

In memory care, I enjoy playing Name That Tune with clients by asking them to guess a famous melody that I play on the flute! Before playing, I always ask clients to hold back their answers until I count down so that everyone can say their guesses together. If the group needs extra support, I often provide a clue about the song’s topic or artist or sing a few of the lyrics. After clients guess the song, I typically provide space for clients to engage musically while I play on flute. Recreative options include singing lyrics or humming, and receptive options include deep breathing or shaking to the beat with egg shakers. At first I was nervous about putting the residents to sleep, but each time, residents seem fascinated by the instrument, looking at me intently as I walk around the room.

I have incorporated this activity into several themes and adapted it accordingly. On April Fools Day, my co-intern and I planned a session in which each song connected to a joke. After telling the joke “What music do planets listen to?” with the answer “Neptunes”, I played three space-themed songs: “Fly Me to the Moon”, “You Are My Sunshine”, and “Blue Skies”. During a spring-themed session, I played “Edelweiss” and paired Name that Tune with recalling trivia about The Sound of Music. Recently, my supervisor and I planned an animal-themed session, and I challenged clients to say the animal referenced in the melody I played, “Bye Bye Blackbird”.

Music Listening:

At a long term care center for older adults, I played my flute alongside my co-intern and supervisor as a part of auditory stimulus layering to promote relaxation. We began at a high level of stimulation with a more complex guitar accompaniment, singing, and flute and then reduced the auditory stimulation one instrument at a time until we reached a simple guitar accompaniment and faded out. In this case, the flute provided an additional layer of auditory stimulation between singing and guitar accompaniment.

Another client at the same placement requested soothing and “calm” music and agreed to hear the flute. As I played “Love Me Tender”, she listened, closed her eyes, and deepened her breathing in time to the music. When I finished, she commented about how beautiful it was, and she reminisced about her father, who played violin and percussion as an orchestral musician. Flute provided a valuable and natural avenue for this client to relax and reminisce about her family members.


Improvisational Soundscapes:

One activity I have repeated a couple times is improvising a soundscape based on a certain emotion. When I facilitate this activity,  I ask clients to choose an emotion from an emotion wheel. As a group, we discuss what makes us feel that emotion and then make musical decisions about what tempo and dynamics reflect that feeling. Each person in the group chooses an instrument and adds to the soundscape one by one in the style discussed by the group. In past sessions, I used my flute to add a melodic element and gave the clients the choice of my playing in a low range or a high range for the improvisation. This added a unique texture to the improvisation, and in later sessions, one client specifically requested to include the flute in the session again.

emotion wheel

Xylophone Play:

As my supervisor taught her client to play a blues bassline on xylophone, I noticed that he benefited from additional musical cues to play the correct notes as he picked up on melodies and harmonies easily. I reached over to my flute sitting on the nearby table and began to play the bassline notes with him. By providing an additional prompt without using words, the client followed along correctly. Providing musical cues rather than verbal ones also gave this client the opportunity to feel more independent, which worked towards his goal in leadership skills. Though not always appropriate depending on the client, having the flute available gave me the chance to see its value in the moment and implement it for the client’s benefit.

Personal Reflection

In high school, I shadowed a music therapist doing room visits with older adults for several months, and she encouraged me to bring my flute to play along with her as we played and sang hymns to clients in a memory care facility. I loved bringing my instrument to enrich our time with these clients, and it was the one instrument I felt confident on, as I knew only basic chords on guitar and had little vocal or piano experience. It was my first opportunity to confidently be myself in a music therapy setting, though I had yet to begin formal training in a college program.

As a freshman, I hoped to keep using my flute with clients. When I expressed interest in this, focus was placed on the issue of sanitization in medical settings or other situations where flute might be a hindrance to therapy. Throughout practicum, supervisors emphasized use of guitar, piano, and voice, along with music technology, which are incredibly important skills. However, as an instrumentalist who loved sharing my primary instrument, I felt disappointed, thinking I would need to separate myself as a flutist from my clinical work and reserve it as a recreational activity. 

In my midpoint evaluation at internship, one of the most frequent comments was to bring my flute into sessions more and see it as an exciting strength and gift, not as a last resort. In an office with MT-BCs who are primarily vocalists or pianists, my supervisors saw playing flute as a unique gift that could bring benefit to their clients. Changing my previous mindset enabled me to bring in my flute with clients across these age groups and diagnoses. We are taught to utilize a strengths-based approach with our clients but frequently neglect to utilize the strengths we bring to the table as clinicians. I hope this inspires other music therapy students, interns, and professionals to explore how their own primary instrument and other strengths could benefit clients in creative ways!