For many children, music is either a dispensable pastime or a strenuous task imposed by their parents. But Andrea Chan Wing-shan says it is important that children who play musical instruments, sing or dance enjoy their activity because this can help their development. Ms Chan is a registered music therapist who started playing the piano when she was six years old and studied psychology at university. She believes music is one of the simplest and enjoyable learning experiences for children suffering from emotional or behavioural problems. 'There was once a girl about four years old who had speech problems. She spoke for the first time during one of my lessons. She imitated my singing and her mother looked at me in disbelief,' Ms Chan recalls. In addition to singing, playing musical instruments, dancing and improvisation are common activities in a music therapy session. Each activity is carefully planned based on the children's needs. For example, dancing or playing simple musical instruments such as a shaker or a sea drum can improve the co-ordination of their hands and legs. 'Some elements of training are involved in a music therapy session, but children consider them as games. Some of them may cry during a physiotherapy session, but in my classes, they just think that they are playing,' Ms Chan says. Improvisation helps enhance children's relationship with the therapist and their involvement in music. 'Sometimes children will utter some inexplicable words and I will use these words to improvise songs for them,' Ms Chan says. However, not all children are responsive to music. There are a few cases in which Ms Chan feels she is unable to communicate with her clients or read their minds through their body language. This is when Chan's background as a psychology student comes in handy. After examining the children's family history or cultural background, she often finds ways to interact with them. 'In general, children from Europe or Brazil are particularly responsive to songs that are rhythmic with a quick tempo. On the other hand, Asian children are more reserved and like tunes that are melodic and soothing,' Ms Chan says. Adults should be more sensitive towards children as they can change from being very enthusiastic about music to being totally indifferent and impatient. 'Grown-ups must bear in mind that our focus is on the children and not about what we want to do,' Ms Chan explains. Experienced music therapists understand that they need to empathise with their clients in order to improve their lives. Yasmin Li Ying-chi, a music therapist, says she would drum along at a fast beat with a stressed-out person so that they will realise they have her support. Then she would gradually guide them to play at a slower tempo. 'The mind and body are connected. When your body slows down, your heart also slows down and you will become more relaxed,' Ms Li adds. According to Ms Li, music is by definition the intentional use or perception of sound. It is not necessarily a melody or tune. It can be a beat, a rhythm or simply sound vibrations that we experience in different settings in our daily lives. 'It has a lot of possibilities. It can be very abstract ... and can also be very concrete, such as a song or lyrics. It is also compatible with different art forms such as dance, drama, poetry or painting,' Ms Li says. For more information, e-mail Hong Kong Music Therapy Association at email@example.com .