Spring 2019

Just the right note

Music therapy helps hospitalized kids feel better, inside and out

A good song can change a mood, bring back memories, brighten a day. And while music can feel therapeutic in this way, it can provide far more than just a feel good moment, says University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital music therapist Kim Donley.

“Music therapy is the use of music to achieve nonmusical goals,” she says. “So even though we might be teaching children how to play the ukulele, we’re increasing their motor skills, getting their fingers and hands moving. It could be a stress management or coping thing, too. We’re constantly assessing their needs—cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical, and existential.”

Country music star Chris Young knows the power of music. Shortly after he visited U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital in June, he gave $34,000 to the music therapy program, allowing the staff to fill four carts with new, higher-quality instruments and purchase equipment to let patients record their own songs. The recent Stars and Guitars concert benefited the program as well. 

As a gesture of gratitude, the team sent him this music video thank-you note.

Learn more about a few instruments on the music cart below.

Photos by Brady Willette


Kids play this fiberglass drum, a friendly-looking favorite, by sitting on it and reaching down to pound out rhythms with their hands.


Squeaky shark
“This simple little musical toy told us that a child was going to live,” music therapist Mark Burnett says. “He squeezed this when he wasn’t doing anything else—not communicating at all, not moving.”


Hapi drum
The “tongues” on this steel drum, cut to different sizes and slightly different shapes, produce different tones when struck.


Reverie harp
Local anesthesia is often the hardest part of many medical procedures involving children, music therapist Mark Burnett says. 

“I played this and held it in front of the child so it blocked their vision [of the procedure]. I said, ‘Find this note every time it comes around.’ The child had no idea what was going on behind me.”


Hand bells
Music therapists have used these bells, which can be held and rung or hit like a service bell, to teach rhythm, patience, and even colors.


Even the sight of a doctor can cause stress to spike in many hospitalized children, music therapist Kim Donley says. “So if we can teach them to play the ukulele and we have the doctors sing with them for 30 seconds when they walk in the room, it lowers the kids’ anxiety.”


RainSong carbon fiber guitar
Besides producing a high-quality sound, these guitars hold up well to the frequent bleach cleanings required in a hospital setting—which is not the case with wood guitars.


“Kids just like to bang on stuff,” music therapist Mark Burnett says. “They can feel it in their bodies.”