Though I play the majority of the music in my music therapy groups live, I find that it is often beneficial to include one or two pre-recorded songs in a session to free up my hands so that I can effectively interact with my clients as well as provide hand-over-hand assistance as needed. I have also used pre-recorded music during lyric analysis interventions which is usually followed by playing and singing the song live with the client so that they may be able to be a part of the music experience and perhaps connect with the song on a more personal level. Out of all of the times that I have used pre-recorded music, I have typically avoided using it in a performance setting up until recently.
Though most of the groups that music therapists tend to lead are not performance based, I recently lead a group of individuals with emotional, behavioral and/or learning disabilities which included a choir performance. Since I was leading the group by myself without the help of an additional accompanist, I had assumed that I would try to accompany the choir myself on either guitar or keyboard. Since I wanted the group members to have a real “choir” experience, some of the songs included two to three voice parts rather than singing everything in unison.
However, I quickly realized that even an exaggerated head nod to cue the parts while accompanying the songs was not going to suffice as many of the members were unable to read music and/or had learning disabilities which required a more distinct visual cue. So with only a few weeks to rehearse and the performance quickly approaching, I came to the conclusion that I would need to free up my hands so that I could effectively conduct the choir. This, however, was not my was not my preferred choice since as a musician, I prefer to play as much live music as possible. However, as a music therapist, it is my job to support my clients and help them have a successful experience to the best of their abilities and in this case that meant using pre-recorded music.
Since I had limited time, I knew that I would not be able to record quality backing my tracks myself so I can began looking for songs to purchase online. I stumbled across a website called Karaoke Version (http://www.karaoke-version.com) and was able to find all of the songs that I needed. Not only that, but the songs could be downloaded with or without the backing vocals and the key could be modulated up or down by either a half or whole to better meet the vocal range of the singer (I also found that the key of song could even be modified and downloaded again for free even after it has been purchased). Since we used the tracks without the backing vocals, the members were able to sing the various voice parts live and most importantly, my hands were free so that I could cue them and guide them as needed to allow for a fun and successful experience for everyone.
Through this process I learned that pre-recorded music can not only be therapeutic when facilitated effectively in a music therapy group or 1:1 setting, but that this can also be true in the performance setting as well if it allows the participants to perform to the best of their abilities.
*Please note that the songs on the Karaoke Version website are allowed to be used in home and private settings only and that the performance mentioned above was in compliance with this regulation as it was not a public event. If you would like to use songs from Karaoke version for public performances, you will need to attain the proper permission to do so as described on the website.