by Meredith Flory


Music, like reading, challenges our thinking skills, encourages our creativity and increases our emotional intelligence.  When I was teaching English, I would often bounce ideas off of my husband, who was a music educator at the time. Of things regarding how I might incorporate music into the classroom – such as playing music from the countries we were reading stories from or using song lyrics to teach aspects of language, rhetoric and vocabulary.  At times he would work to connect music from his choirs to lessons for other teachers, such as singing music from a certain time period for history classes.  Music can help us connect ideas and remember things, making it a valuable tool for connecting and learning with our children and teens.  For those of us with small children, we use music to help children learn the alphabet, calm everyone down for sleep, get their sillies out with movement, or learn about new skills and subjects.  However, music can play aneven deeper role in helping us through life’s challenges, and music therapists are professionals that work specifically with music for therapeutic purposes – an option I had heard about in news items on both children with long-term illnesses and for adult veterans working through injuries both seen and unseen. While I am a strong advocate for the necessity of music education, as we think about families with special needs children and area resources available to families in the CSRA in this month’s Augusta Family, I wanted to learn more about music therapy and the role it can play in helping children, or parents, with disabilities, illness, emotional trauma or behavioral issues.

Sok Hwee Tay, MMT, LPMT, MT-BC is a nationally certified, licensed music therapist working here in the CSRA.  Tay works primarily at “an acute care crisis stabilization program where we see individuals (ages 5 and up) who might be going through emotional, behavioral or addiction problems,” she says. And also works with a local cancer center and assisted living facilities.  She explains, “music lessons are focused on the development of musical skills while music therapy is focused on the development of non-musical skills” through the use of music.  Music therapists use music to help patients achieve clinical goals such as developing motor skills,  increasing eye contact, building self confidence, appropriate social behaviors, academic learning and to establish relationships, elevate mood or increase self expression. Families facing a wide range of challenges may benefit from music therapy or other forms of recreational therapy as an addition to their treatment plans.

Music therapy might involve instruments, singing, listening or moving to music. According to the American Music Therapy Associations website,, therapeutic use of music, “can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words” and can increase “people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment.”  Tay points out that music therapists are trained to find the resources that best fit the need of the patient and that sometimes that might involve including the whole family.  For example, “music therapists who work with a child on a certain goal sometimes design interventions that the family can work on at home. This might involve teaching the parent a song that they can use with the child at home to encourage certain behaviors.”

Tay shared the love she has for her job in seeing her clients meet their goals through the use of music and moments where, “a child who has difficulties staying on task remains focused throughout a drumming activity, she says or watching a child that has difficulty expressing themselves do so through song discussions.  She has watched children accomplish goals individually, such as expressing their joy after a song writing activity and groups of children feeling accomplished when they work together on orchestration of a piece. 

If you feel that music therapy might be a service that you or your child could benefit from, Tay encourages parents to learn more about music therapy through the above mentioned website, or to find a certified music therapist in the area through There are several board certified music therapists working throughout the Augusta and Aiken areas. 

For parents of teens that have a passion for music, music therapy may be an avenue to think about volunteering or even future job opportunities.  Tay suggests connecting with a board certified music therapist to shadow them for the day and adds that, “music therapists work in a variety of settings so it would be beneficial to talk to and shadow more than one music therapist to gather a better idea of how music therapy functions with the different populations.”  Music is a way to connect and help us heal, so accomplished young musicians may find that looking for volunteer opportunities, such as performing or teaching at nursing homes or other healthcare settings will not only help them decide if they would like to pursue a career in music but may help them form intergenerational relationships to keep them grounded and learning. 

Many parents think of music as a separate entity apart from the academic, emotional or physical well-being of their children – as something extra confined to recreational time or instrument lessons, but in reality, music can be a resource in many areas of our life, helping us to make connections in an enjoyable way.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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