Coast Music Therapy Cause for Applause Award- Amy Kalas, Music Therapist

Cause for Applause Award Goes to Music Therapist Amy Kalas

Coast Music Therapy’s inaugural “Cause for Applause” award was created to recognize a changemaker, innovator, or pioneer helping support music therapy.  

Amy Kalas, MM, MT-BC, board certified music therapist and director of Wholesome Harmonies, LLC is paving the way for new research in the area of music therapy and autism, offers free resources to music therapists and educators, and has published a series of E-Books to further the field.

 Cause for Applause Award Amy Kalas Music Therapist

Amy’s Contributions and Background

Amy Kalas, MM, MT-BC is a board-certified music therapist and the director of Wholesome Harmonies, LLC. She received her bachelor’s degree (’05) in Music Therapy from University of Miami. At University of Miami, Amy received in-depth training on the scientific research and practice of Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT). Amy completed her clinical internship at the Matheny Medical & Educational Center in Peapack, NJ, where she worked with children, adolescents, and adults with developmental disabilities.

Amy completed her master’s degree (’10) in Music Therapy at University of Miami and wrote her master’s thesis on the effect of simple versus complex music on joint attention in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This manuscript will be published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2013.

Amy has 8 years of experience working with children with Autism Spectrum disorder and other developmental delays. She is currently employed at United Cerebral Palsy of Miami, where she facilitates individual, group, and co-treatment music therapy sessions, supervises practicum students and runs the internship program. Amy is also the owner of Wholesome Harmonies, LLC and provides music therapy at various locations throughout Miami.

A Cause for Applause Interview with Amy

How old were you when you first got involved in music?

I started taking piano lessons at age 5. After watching my older sister taking lessons I persistently asked my parents if I, too, could take lessons. After a while they finally gave in and I have been playing ever since! I started playing clarinet in fourth grade and took part in many wind ensembles and orchestras through high school and college (and even played clarinet in a community band after graduating from college!) I started playing guitar in college and use it almost every day in my music therapy career.

At what point did you realize you wanted to start using music to help others?

In high school, I started a community service program called Music For Life where student musicians visited nursing homes to interact with and perform music for the residents. This program opened my eyes to the many benefits music can have on the mind, body, and spirit.

How long have you been a music therapist now?

I completed my music therapy internship in 2005 and became a board-certified music therapist in 2006. So I am now in my seventh year as a music therapist!

What diagnoses do you serve in your music therapy practice?

My full-time position is at United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Miami. I work in UCP’s preschool and charter school where we serve children with a variety of diagnoses. We work with children with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disability, visual and hearing impairment, and developmental delay.  In my private practice, Wholesome Harmonies, the majority of the children and teens I work with have autism spectrum disorder.

What does a “typical day in the office” look like for you?

What I love most about my job is that there are no typical days! Every day is different and exciting, which I love.  My days at UCP include a variety of music therapy related tasks. I spend my mornings attending meetings and talking with teachers about how I can incorporate their IEP goals into my sessions. I also spend mornings writing songs and creating new activities and visuals. After that, I lead group, individual, and co-treatment music therapy sessions and supervise my intern and practicum students. At the end of the day, I fill out my goals and objective sheets and write reports to chart the progress of the clients.

My private practice work happens mostly in the afternoons, evenings, and weekends. Again, there are no typical days, which I love! I lead a variety of different types of sessions: everything from Mommy and Me music groups to early literacy and music programs at local libraries to music therapy group sessions with adults with Down syndrome. In addition to facilitating music therapy sessions, I also write a blog: and create resources to inspire other music therapists.

Amy Kalas in a Music Therapy Session

Do you spend a lot of time after hours preparing special materials for your clients?

Yes yes! I love this part of my ‘job.’ I write all original songs for the children I work with. I do this to distinguish myself from the classroom teachers who sing traditional and typical children’s songs (like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) during circle time. I also write original songs to ensure that I am specifically targeting my client’s goals and to allow for flexibility when I sing them.  I also love to create colorful visual aids, pictures, and props to engage the children in music therapy activities.

Tell us about the game ideas for teens you developed – have they worked well in your practice?

Yes! As soon as the teens hear the word ‘game’ they are immediately engaged. Games are a great way to work on group cohesion, communication, and social skills. For most games I split the group into two teams and have them create a team name to get them excited.

One of the most popular games has been the Music Quiz Game. I use pop songs that the teens listen to, relate to, and like. Each category in the quiz game works on a different skill. We have Name That Tune, Name That Artist, Name That Instrument, Finish the Phrase, etc. Music BINGO and Musical Hangman have also been group favorites!

You have created a book of these ideas – tell us about it!

I began to hear that many music therapists were stuck for ideas when trying to come up with activities for teens who were “too cool for school” in music therapy. I had been having a lot of success with the musical games and other interventions I had been using with my teen groups, so I thought it would be beneficial to share these ideas.

I created an E-Book called Tuneful Teens: Creative Ideas for Engaging Adolescents in Music Therapy. Tuneful Teens contains musical games ideas and templates, instrument jam ideas, social skills activities, move and groove activities, and relaxation activities. It has sold over 150 copies so far and has been receiving rave reviews!

What would you like to see happen in the industry of music therapy in the future?

My hope is that music therapy can be seen as on par with speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. We work on many of the same non-musical goals. My hope is that music therapy will be just as respected in the field as these other therapies are.

What has your research interest been in the arena of autism and music therapy?

For my master’s degree at University of Miami, I wrote a thesis entitled Joint Attention Responses to Simple Versus Complex Music of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In this study, I examined whether the complexity of a musical accompaniment would have an effect on joint attention of children with ASD during short musical interventions. The results of this study will be published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2013.

I would love to continue conducting more research on music therapy and autism, looking at how specific musical elements cue behaviors and stimulate responses.

 Amy Kalas Music Therapist Bio

Amy Kalas has an E-Book series through her blog, Wholesome Harmonies. These E-Books are designed to provide creative ideas and inspiration for music therapists. Tuneful Teens: Creative Ideas for Engaging Adolescents is chock full of intervention ideas, song ideas, sheet music, and templates for a variety of activities and musical games that are appropriate and engaging for teens. Sensational Songs & Activities is full of song ideas, sheet music, intervention ideas, and themed session plans designed to stimulate ALL six senses. Check out these resources here:  



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