Striking Emotional Harmony in Music Therapy: The Power of Lyrics Substitution

  • by

Music, The Universal Language of Emotion 🎵

Music – a global chatter that doesn’t need a translator and has the magical mojo to tame the wildest of moods. It’s a superpower that’s been harnessed and rocked out to by people from every corner of the globe.

‘Ah, music… a magic beyond all we do here!‘
– Professor Dumbledore (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

But beyond this, have you ever pondered about its capacity to serve as an outlet for us to express our deepest, most intimate feelings? Music, in its various forms and genres, allows us to put forth our innermost emotions into tangible form.


Now, hold on to your headphones as we tune into the therapeutic frequency of music. Let’s dive into how music therapy, one of the less conventional yet profoundly impactful forms of therapy, helps us strum the strings of our emotional guitar and croon our heart out, hitting those emotional high notes and low notes alike. Let’s get ready to create an emotionally charged symphony!

jump to a section!


    The Power Chords: Understanding Music Therapy 🎹

    Music therapy is a unique form of therapy that utilises the power of music to heal, soothe, and express. And one of the interventions used in this field is lyrics substitution (or fill-in-the-blank songwriting).


    In my 2-years-and-counting career as a music therapist, I’ve used lyrics substitution in many occasions across different populations: individuals, groups, in the hospital, community centre, clinic, with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, stroke, depression and more. I’ve seen people create a completely different song, express themselves in ways they never imagined, and feel super accomplished because they never thought they could write a song.


    So… what’s so magical about lyrics substitution?

    The Melody: Therapeutic Fill-in-the-blank Songwriting Explained ✍🏻

    As the name suggested, lyrics substitution is an activity in which you replace the lyrics of a known song with your own words.


    A typical template looks like this (guess the song!):

    P.S. you can get this template at the end of this article. Keep reading!

    Songwriting as an Effective Intervention in Music Therapy 🎼

    Music therapists carefully design the fill-in-the-blank songwriting templates to provide the right prompts for clients to complete the tasks. This means the templates accommodate the difficulty level, sometimes even the theme which provide a structured musical experience for clients to explore emotions in a safe, supported manner.


    Most people find the idea of “song writing” daunting as they imagine they have to start from scratch. Their mind will usually go blank. But when they are presented with a fill-in-the-blank sheet with a hint of a familiar tune, they can approach songwriting easily – adding or taking away words as they need.

    The Chorus: How Lyrics Substitution Facilitates Self-Expression 💛

    Sometimes, words fall short. Sometimes, we can’t find the right words to express what we’re feeling. That’s part of the reason why music is effective as a therapeutic tool: we can harness the non-verbal elements of music to express our emotions. We can hum, drum or create melody lines that reflect our state of mind.


    But for clients who are working on using words to label, describe and regulate emotions, lyrics substitution is a powerful tool to target exactly that.

    Lyrics Substitution in Action: Real-Life Case Studies 📝

    Let’s look at this example here from one of my clients in a rehabilitation hospital:

    The fill-in-the-blank songwriting template provided lots of space for this client to reflect on his favourite things during times he did not feel so well. Simple yet effective. After he finished writing the song, we sang, played and even recorded the new song for an extra self-esteem boost. The client did not just experience a sense of accomplishment via expressing himself, but also from creating a product (recording). Well done to him!

    The Verse: Regulating Emotions Through Lyrics Substitution 💕

    Lyrics substitution isn’t only about expression, it’s a powerful tool for emotion regulation too. Here’s how it helps.


    This client of mine lost his pet bunny to stroke 3 months prior to writing this. He requested to rewrite a song based on “Last Kiss” by Taylor Swift.

    The Role of Music Therapy Songwriting in Mental Health 🎶

    Labelling what we are feeling is the first step of emotion regulation. When we label our emotions, we make them tangible and concrete, which allows us to manage them more effectively.


    Once we’ve given our emotions a name, it’s like we’ve started a friendly chat with them. Music therapy holds a non-judgemental space and creative means for us to explore our emotions. By engaging in music therapy activities like lyrics substitution, we can articulate our feelings more freely and vividly. In my client’s case, he was able to process the feeling of grief and loss through writing about the memories of his loved pet.


    This open, therapeutic dialogue with our emotions can lead us to try different things. We might invite mindfulness to the party, call on our trusty coping skills, or even shake things up a bit by changing how we think and act. As we dance through this process with the aid of music therapy, we start to lead the emotional waltz instead of just following along. This is how we find the rhythm to our psychological well-being.

    Emotional Connection through Music Therapy: Bridging Self and Others 🤝

    Regulating our emotions is like learning to read our own inner compass. It’s the first step towards truly understanding ourselves and forming meaningful connections with others. By recognising and managing our feelings, we become more attuned to our own needs and are better able to empathise with others.


    Lyrics substitution in music therapy can be a powerful tool in this journey. By substituting lyrics, we’re given the freedom to express our emotions in a creative, non-judgmental space. We translate our feelings into words and melodies, creating a beautiful, personal piece of music that reflects our emotional landscape. This not only deepens our connection with ourselves but also offers a bridge to others, inviting them to understand our experiences and emotions.


    Take a look at how my client rewrote “Adore You” by Harry Styles into a song for his good friend:

    The Ensemble: Social Benefits of Music Therapy 👥

    Here’s the cool part – music therapy and lyrics substitution aren’t just a solo act. They’re a full-blown social jam session! First off, they give you a language to express your deepest feelings in a way that others can actually groove to. It’s like translating your inner world into a catchy tune that others can hum along with, creating a deeper bond and shared experience.


    Secondly, these activities aren’t just for the lone wolf. We make music to express, to connect, to bond. Imagine how fun it would be to gift your masterpiece to a friend, or even jam and record together! It’s like a social skills boot camp that boosts your confidence, communication, and sense of belonging. The more the merrier they say…


    Lastly, creating and sharing music isn’t just therapy, it’s a heart-warming concert. Knowing that others are tuning in to your song, appreciating your lyrics, and grooving to your beat can give you a much-needed standing ovation for your experiences.


    In a nutshell, the social perks of music therapy and lyrics substitution go beyond just you. They’re like a contagious melody that resonates with others in your life and community, turning your therapy into a chart-topping hit!

    The Conclusion: The Symphony of Healing 🎷

    Music does more than just please our ears. It acts as a therapeutic companion, always present to guide us through the roller coaster of life’s emotions. Whether we’re soaring on the wings of happiness, sinking into the depths of sadness, burning with anger, or basking in a moment of peace, music is right there, providing therapeutic support and helping us understand our feelings.

    Encore: Your Next Steps 👣

    Just as every good song deserves an encore, every good therapy deserves a try. Here’s how you can get started with music therapy and lyrics substitution.


    Sign up for my weekly DO-RE-MI newsletter (i.e. DOable ideas, REflection prompts and MIndfulness) and gain access to my Notion Wellbeing Support Templates which include the lyrics substitution sheets👇🏻