Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheat sheets

I don't think I've ever had such a long stretch with no blog posts! Since my last Friday Five, my life has picked up so that I have not truly gotten to relax the way a student in summertime expects. I've had a series of unfortunate events, though not too serious, that has kept me on my toes nearly every day: a road trip abruptly ended by an overheated car; an overheated car that needs a new radiator, motor, and hoses; and an embarrassing dental emergency that required four trips to the dentist. In the thick of it all, I've been trying to memorize music.

I've never been great at memorizing music, which inspires the topic of this post: music cheat sheets. As music therapists, we hold an amazing amount of melodies, lyrics, and chords in our head that are ready for use whenever we call on them. However, it is difficult to coordinate melody, lyrics, and chords all at once on the spot with no point of reference. That is why music therapists carry folders and folders of sheet music. We organize and bring what we assume most appropriate to the session, judging the age, interests, and goals of our client.

But problems exist with the folder method. We begin accumulating more music than we can carry, we can't flip to find pieces quickly enough, and we sometimes deal with issues of where to put the heavy folder during a session. Also, it makes us immobile. We can never stray too far from the music if it is all that we have to go by. Certainly not every situation requires music to be memorized, but in the cases when it does matter, therapists can find ways to adapt. If you are at all like me, you might find some of the methods below useful:

Post-its. This was a trick of the trade I learned early in my undergraduate years. On the side of the guitar that faces up while it is strapped to you, tape a post-it note or other piece of paper with whatever information you need. You might put the order of music for a session, song keys, chords, or lyrics. You can take a quick glance and then return eye contact with the client. Tip: typing in small font (rather than writing) may help you fit more information on the sheet.

Cheat-sheets. I began one of these myself while memorizing this past week. I've included an example of it at this link. You can put whatever information is most helpful to you. I included song title, key, roman numeral chords, and beginning lyrics. If you choose this method, you may organize in the same way you might organize a folder: by music genre and age.

Technology. I don't consider this cheating, but more and more people have turned to iPads to hold their sheet music. Flipping through music is much simpler when it requires a touch. While I've never worked with an iPad, I understand its possible to arrange music in a certain order. This can be planned before your session.

Let me know: are there any other "cheats" you use in your session? If you have an iPad, are there certain apps that are helpful for reading music?


  1. I love your 'Cheat Sheet' method! A problem that I'm running into is that I often go blank when I need to sing a song. AND, my song books are DEFINITELY a crutch for me (well, for certain genres)... they give me a certain sense of confidence. I think your cheat sheet method is a good way for me to start weaning myself off of them. Thanks!

  2. I use and ipad to keep all of my music. It is super easy to clean and I can give it to the patients so that they can look through the music themselves and select their preferences very easily. It also comes in hand when you're doing procedural support or some type of distraction and you need to quickly move on to the next song. I have even created folders for specific patients so that when I'm doing their procedure I don't have to remember what they like.. I just find their folder and voila! it's their favorite songs or activities!

  3. Excellent ideas! I agree with Michelle, the 'cheat sheet' idea is great; I look forward to trying it out.

  4. Holly, how do you configure all that? I just got an iPad and I'm trying to figure out how to best get organized and transfer music charts so I don't have to schlep so many books around.

    Such is the life of a hospice music therapist! :)

  5. Thanks for all the comments! I'm glad you all found this post useful. Holly, that's a great idea about keeping patient folders! One day I'll have an iPad to... :)

  6. This is really a terrific topic, Michelle. I have a lousy memory, and I usually end up schlepping a lot of books around to Community Music Groups. In the course of my work (at the developmental center, but also when I worked in a hospital and. briefly, with adolescents) I have often found myself in situations where I don't know a specific song (or that I want to play a song and don't know where to begin). Sometimes I'll just do my best with it and flub my way through it, because I figure, ultimately, I'm using the music as a tool to build a relationship, and the fact that I'm willing to struggle through the song with someone conveys a willingness (I think) to struggle through difficult life stuff as well.

  7. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one who needs a little extra help remembering songs. There are just so many of them, and it takes me many times of singing until I have one song memorized. Love the cheat sheet idea!