The words Cowboy Carter for Music Therapy Sessions layered over lyrics from Cowboy Carter's opening track.

How to Use Cowboy Carter in Music Therapy Sessions

By Nikki Belshe Lanza, MNLM, MT-BC (she/her)

It started as a joke with our music therapy intern. She was no longer going to be in one of my more discussion-heavy sessions, and I lamented that I was going to have to begin session planning again. Then I said something along the lines of, “Hey! I could do a lyric analysis of every single song on Cowboy Carter!” After that, I was ruined. Anytime I had the album playing I was pondering how I could incorporate the songs into my music therapy sessions. While I didn’t detail activities for all 27 tracks below, I still realized that we had to share these ideas on our blog to 👏 make 👏 your 👏 life 👏 easier! 

(I’m happy to report that I have already utilized 2 songs from this album in recent music therapy sessions! Love that this client prefers current hits!)

First things first.

I am a white, neurodivergent, cisgender, straight-passing, queer woman. It’s important to acknowledge that my identity as a white woman affects the lens through which I view the world as a whole, and in this context, this album. Beyoncé has stated that Cowboy Carter was “born out of an experience” in which she felt unwelcome. The opening track, Ameriican Requiem, delves into not only the discrimination that she has personally felt as a southern Black woman in the country music community, but systemic racism as a whole. This album is beautiful. This album is victorious. And while I sure feel like Beyoncé’s biggest cheerleader while I’m listening to her belt out her most moving lyrics, I must acknowledge that as a white woman, I exist and participate in systems of oppression that contribute harm to Black folx. That this album is the culmination of Beyoncé’s skill and also centuries of oppression is not lost on me. 

The intervention ideas that follow come from the perspective of a music therapist with much privilege. Those with identities different from mine may have different feelings arise when listening to this album or analyzing and discussing the lyrics. Music therapists should always consider their positionality and how it may affect the therapeutic dynamic – especially when utilizing music that may be activating to those from underrepresented groups

If you are a therapist or MT-BC unfamiliar with the concept of systemic oppression, come learn alongside me! I’m currently reading Decolonizing Therapy by Jennifer Mullan, PsyD.

Let’s Dig In!

We’ve done the planning for you, and your sessions are going to be on point. Check out our ideas, use them in sessions, and let us know how it went! We’d love your feedback and your ideas to be shared in the comments so that we can learn from one another. 

Ideas for Using Cowboy Carter in Music Therapy Sessions

 

  • Jolene

Y’all, we have to talk about it. ICYMI, Beyoncé has released her version of “Jolene,” a song most famously recognized as Dolly Parton’s confrontational cantata. The differences are obvious from the get-go. In the opening chorus, where Parton politely asks someone, “I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man,” Knowles threatens, “I’m warnin’ you, don’t come for my man.” Reception of this powerhouse rewrite is mixed, with some loving the energy and others stating that it is over the top and even forced

Without getting into Bey’s personal life and the long-lived speculation that The Other Woman exists or has existed, there are plenty of other opportunities for discussion here. For instance, a board-certified music therapist leading a group session might implement a music experience called lyric analysis. It is, in short, exactly what it sounds like. 

A photograph of hand holding four highlighters in blue, orange, pink, and yellow against a pink background.

In a lyric analysis, the MT-BC will often distribute copies of or project song lyrics so that group members can follow along as the song is played. Some music therapists utilize live music during lyric analysis and perform the song live, while others utilize recorded music so that group members can get the authentic experience as the song was written. (Personally, I’m not a purist and feel that both options have a time and place.) Often, participants are given writing utensils and instructions such as, “Underline words or phrases that are meaningful to you,” or, “Highlight lines that you disagree with,” and are encouraged to take notes while listening. [Pro tip: Once the song has been played, I like to set a timer for 1-2 minutes to give folks additional time to jot down their thoughts. This also encourages those who have not yet marked their page to participate.] The MT-BC then facilitates discussion based on the song and what it brings up for the participant. 

The Jolenes present us with the unique opportunity to hear and discuss two songs. Here are some questions that I might use in a music therapy session based on the song Jolene:

Sample Discussion Questions for Jolene

  • What was the motivation behind the singer in Dolly Parton’s version? How is she feeling? What is she asking? 
  • What was the motivation behind the singer in Knowles’ version? How is she feeling? What is she asking? 
  • Could Beyoncé’s rewrite be a statement? About what? Who or what is it directed toward?
  • Do you think that one singer’s communication is more “right” than the other? Why? What does that tell you about yourself? Your past? Your values?
  • What can the differences between these songs tell us – about perspective? about culture? About history?
What questions would you ask when facilitating a lyric analysis of Jolene by Dolly Parton and/or Beyoncé? Comment and let us know!
  • Texas Hold ‘Em

This is a great upbeat song to use when addressing some of those physical goals. It’s a toe-tappin’, knee-slappin’ little ditty that can support toe-tapping, heel-lifting, stomping, extending upper and lower extremities, crossing that midline to strike a drum, nodding, shrugging – so many quick movements. 

I’m also a fan of Follow the Leader, a do-what-I-do game that can be used to address motor skills but also engages our attention skills when the leader changes their movement every few beats! Additionally, the cue, “Your turn!” quickly turns this game into a more challenging activity in which participants engage their executive functioning and make decisions about which movements they will choose as the leader. 

  • II Most Wanted

This is a duet sung by Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus. Another great song for a lyric analysis. 

Sample Discussion Questions for II Most Wanted

  • Is this song about romantic love or platonic love? 
  • What does it mean to be a shotgun rider? 
  • Who is your shotgun rider? 
  • To whom are you the shotgun rider?

  • Ameriican Requiem

As mentioned earlier, this opening track contains multitudes. This song could be used to facilitate discussion about oppression, inclusion, belonging, triumph, heritage, and so much more. 

  • Protector

A lullaby from Beyoncé to her child, Rumi, who can be heard at the beginning of the track. The lyrics are filled with gorgeous imagery and unconditional love. A lyric analysis of Protector by Beyoncé could touch on parenting, family, support, aging, and more.

  • 16 Carriages

This song could easily be a lyric analysis about perseverance, but there’s also opportunity here for a rewrite. Using a fill-in-the-blank template, music therapy participants could fill in their own historical account of personal struggles and triumphs, or even write about the life they wish for their younger selves. 

A photo of 4 people talking in an office, presumably a group therapy session.
  • Alliigator Tears

Here’s a song that lends itself well to discussion on healthy relationships, boundaries, and honesty.

  • Just for Fun

Featuring country singer Willie Jones, this song echoes the phrase “time heals everything” followed by “I don’t need anything.” The composition and  instrumentation feel more somber than most of the other tracks on this album. Lyrics mention “saying goodbye” and “just need to get through this.” Discussion topics could include grief, hard times, coping skills, support networks.

  • Smoke Hour ★ Willie Nelson, Dolly P, and The Linda Martell Show

These three tracks feature short voice cameos from Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Linda Martell, and could be used to play Name That Voice (Name That Tune’s cousin). Once the voice has been identified, you could play a song by that artist. Introduce younger clients to older music and older clients to newer music! Older adults may especially enjoy hearing songs from their younger years and learning that those artists are featured on an album topping the charts in 2024. 

  • Riiverdance

Name That Tune! Just kidding, don’t really do that with this intro. Just know that this exists. [Pro tip: Mention to your Gen Z clients that you saw something on TikTok about this song and you’ll be bussin.]

Clearly, Cowboy Carter is a valuable album as far as music therapy use goes. We didn’t cover all 27 tracks here, so what did we miss? We’d love for you to share your ideas in the comments so that others who stumble across this blog post can appreciate your music therapy interventions for Cowboy Carter. 

PS – Did you choir kids feel seen when you heard Caro Mio Ben in Daughter

By Nikki Belshe Lanza, MNLM, MT-BC (she/her)

The words Cowboy Carter for Music Therapy Sessions layered over lyrics from Cowboy Carter's opening track.
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