Delight lit their eyes as the melodic strumming of the guitar lured them closer to the source of the sound they associated with freedom. A man they have grown to trust has arrived to give them their weekly session of joy.

Doug Babb, an IUPUI music professor, is working with a non-profit organization called VSA Indiana. VSA Indiana was established in the 1980’s with a mission to make arts accessible to people with disabilities. Formerly known as Very Special Arts of Indiana, VSA offers opportunities for people with disabilities of all ages to engage in the arts as a means of education, self-expression, and personal growth.

“The students today, when they hit that door and the music starts, they change,” Babb said. “I call it a joy break. What I do is bring a 30 or 40 minute opportunity to have some fun and share some joy on a weekly basis and I’m often told that it’s the one hour a week that everyone looks forward to.”

Every Tuesday morning Ms. Shockey’s Life Skills class at Pike High School experiences what she considers the highlight of their week.

“The kids look forward to it so much,” Shockey said. “Probably the first month that Doug came to work with the kids nobody moved. Everybody just sort of stood in a circle. Now, they compete for an opportunity to be in the spotlight.”

In addition to having fun, according to Ms. Shockey, the students have gained much more. They’ve benefited by learning new moves and skills to the rhythm of the music, learned to follow directions, keep rhythm and keep time. Their hand and eye coordination has improved and they’ve learned to trust Babb, someone from the outside.

“It has done so much for their socialization,” she said. “They’ve become friends as a result of spending time together doing something other than being in class together.”

For many of these special students, this class constitutes the majority of their social interaction. Children who don’t like to be touched allow staff members to hold their hands as they dance together. Dee Vaughn, an IUPUI Social and Behavioral Science student, points out one of these students.

“Getting him to let you touch him is a huge achievement,” Vaughn said. “This is the only time he allows it.”

Another case in point is Amber. When Babb started his program at Pike H.S. two years ago, Amber couldn’t even sit through an entire session. Now, to the amazement of her teachers, the little girl who’s afraid of everyone walks up to Doug, takes his hand in hers and helps him strum his guitar. This is the power of music therapy.

IUPUI is one of several universities that offer a masters program in Music Therapy. Like many students, Phil Mauskapf didn’t understand the potential impact that music therapy had until he spoke with an academic advisor.

“Her story and so many of the testimonials she had of patients who’d experienced music therapy was just so incredibly moving and so deep and inspiring that it was almost like I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to be doing,” Mauskapf said.

For more information on the IUPUI Master of Science in Music Therapy program, visit

For more information on VSA Indiana visit

This documentary (above) was made by students at IUPUI who came to see

what I do in the Life Skills Classes at Pike H.S. for a project in a nursing class.

That is not me in the photo. I am later in the piece. The accompanying text is below.

Contact: 317-506-0669


NOTE: Vinyl Flashback, TWANG! Studios, The MOOG Guy, The MIDI Guy, The GarageBand Guy, The Beatles Guy, 
The Pink Floyd Guy, the illuminaudio, SOUNDBYTES, Dr. Spin and all audio, information, photos and material posted on this site are the property of Douglas Babb and may not be copied, published or used in any media without permission.
Copyright 2012 Douglas Babb. All Rights Reserved.mailto:DOUGBABB@AOL.comshapeimage_1_link_0

Click the logo above to go to the Douglas Babb page at VSA Indiana.

VSA Indiana’s Mission...

“to provide access to lifelong learning and creative expression

through the arts for people with disabilities in Indiana”

Note: Douglas Babb is a Master-Teaching-Artist with VSA Indiana, not a licensed Music Therapist.  He provides creative and adaptive learning experiences through music, singing and dancing, and music technology. He refers to his visits as “Joy Breaks.”

Philosophy Statement

“I create opportunities for students, families, teachers and staff to learn and grow

physically, mentally and spiritually. I refer to my work as "Joy Directed Learning"

which is based on having BIG FUN, playing together, trust and openness.

                                                                                                Douglas Babb

“I was so happy to meet with you all on Friday afternoon!  The kids enjoyed the entire process with Doug Babb so much!   It was truly my pleasure to be a part of the teamwork effort that allowed these children to let their “voices be heard”.  It was a powerful experience for many of them.  We passed out the CD’s today to their individual therapists.  Many of the kids had weekend passes and were very excited as they went with their families to have their CD’s in hand to share with them. Several of the kids talked more today about what it meant to them to record their lyrics.  

Thank you again, for your commitment to helping these children have a voice in such a unique way! I cannot express to you how wonderful Doug Babb was with every single child.   He willingly stayed after the groups to allow the children to record in privacy, who struggled to speak in front of their peers.   He came in early to several groups so that we could get them all recorded.  One girl was very sick on the last recording day, and he promised her that he would set up the equipment the next week, so that she could participate.  When I read it to Doug on the Friday that she was sick, he said, “Oh…we have to let her record that!  We will extend the recording one more day for her to participate.”

 One young man wrote and memorized his drum solos.  I printed him blank percussion sheet music. He practiced the rhythm and came up with the music in the weeks leading up to the recording.   Doug allowed him to stay after group and use his electronic drum equipment and play with 100 instruments in the background!  He did instrument selections #1-52 the first week, and then did #53-100 the second week.  His face was radiant as he was able to perform in his own area of strength!  He did not want to sing, or read.  He asked Doug in the very beginning if it would be possible for him to play the drums on the CD.   Doug not only allowed him to use his electronic equipment, he asked if we could make arrangements for him to stay after his group so he could play with all the instruments.  That young man has a dream to get a job, and search on “Craig’s List” to buy a set like Doug had.

I just wanted to share a few of the stories with you to let you know how impressed I was with Doug Babb’s dedication to this project.  Even more importantly, Doug valued each child’s uniqueness and patiently encouraged them to let their voice be heard.

 It was my privilege to be a part of this entire project.  Thank You!”  Tracey W.  CBC, 2010  

“I received the following letter from the Activity Therapist  at

The Columbus Behavioral Center where I have done multiple CD projects with the support of The Columbus Area Arts Council.”

Examples may be heard on the Audio page.

Click here to go to the Douglas Babb page at where almost two hours of audio will stream for you, including cuts from the VSA Indiana Music Tech class,
CBC and many other residencies.

"There are several points I would like to make about Doug and his residency.  While I was unable to gather written comments from staff members at CBC, I did get verbal feedback from some of them.  To a person, they all praised his work.  I attended seven of the sixteen sessions and was impressed with Doug’s overall approach.  He was engaging and disarming, patient and respectful, encouraging, and very much in control in the proper measure.  The students felt safe with him, which is evident in the level to which they exposed their feelings.  This was a cathartic exercise for many of them and emotions sometimes ran high.  Doug took it very seriously.  He handled the production of the CD with an equal measure of seriousness.  I will give you an example:  One of the teenagers chose to recite a published poem.  He seemed to have a slight learning disability and was a poor reader.  But Doug worked patiently to capture a decent recording.  I was truly moved to hear the respect with which Doug handled this young man’s piece.  He adjusted the pacing, giving it room to breathe. It was important to Doug that each young person be able to hold something in their hands that reflected their efforts and with which they could feel genuine pride.  There were other instances where abuse and pain were revealed.  Whatever the issue, he understood the need to treat everyone’s work with respect.  It takes special insight to understand the dynamics of a population such as the one housed at CBC.  Doug was able to take his skills, draw on his workshop background, and create a wonderful experience for 44 young people."

“Below is a letter I received after a 2008 residency at the CBC in Columbus, IN.

The residency resulted in a CD of original work. Each participant received a copy and the staff, therapists, teachers

and families were able to share in the innermost feelings of the kids, via their music.”

Examples may be heard on the Audio page.

In the spring of 2010, the Columbus Indiana Arts Council funded a documentary film about a 6 week residency by Douglas Babb at The Youth Services Center and also at the Columbus Behavioral Center. A CD of the original music  was created on site and shared with the students, staff, therapists and families of the participants. A major fundraiser “Boogie Nights, an unCommon Cau$e Gala 2010” was held on October 23, 2010. Douglas Babb’s work was featured.

Some of the music may be heard by clicking here.

The video was created by Dave Clark @

This letter is from a classroom teacher in the Life Skills department at Pike H.S. in Indianapolis, IN. Douglas Babb has been an Artist-in-Residence there for several years, through VSA Indiana. Babb was invited to speak at Graduation on behalf of Amber, a non-verbal child who learned to trust Doug, and to look forward to music class.

Her hand can be seen guiding his in the photo below.

Also see below for a short film about the residency...


      I checked out your web site, pretty cool! You have a lot of stuff going on. Anyhow, I wanted to thank you for the great job you did while at Camp Gather the last two years that I have been there!

     Honestly, I love music, but I really hate dancing that is only because I have my own issues. Often being in a situation where I have to function and move in front of people (more than just walking) is often enough to through me into a panic attack.  Last year was a rough year for me and my emotions were quite raw, and while you were there last year I tried to find other things to focus on like, I had to go to the bathroom or find some kind of "busy work". Once I even had to remove my self from the area just to get a grip. Usually if I could just keep focus on a wheel chair kid, like Uriah :D which didn't require much moving, I was ok.

    Well this year was different, I think I moved my feet a couple of times, haha. I began to watch all of these kids who didn't know any particular dance moves or how to necessarily keep a beat, (Lord knows I can't do any of those things)  some looked down right silly, but ya know what? THEY WERE HAVING LOTS OF FUN! In fact Thursdays were their favorite day, when you came to play music and dance with them. The kids didn't care how they looked or how coordinated they were or weren't, they just had fun because of the music you brought to them.

    I love all kinds of music, my favorite right now is the music Tech Band is working on for their Bands of America competition in November, because my kids are in it and I am helping out at band camp this week.  I kinda have always loved music from afar and wanted to play a guitar, but never got to play it (Although I did play a key board in music appreciation when I went back to school 6+ years ago; which again caused panic attacks) and I NEVER danced to music.  Not that I am ready to do that now, I think I still like to watch.  Although, I think having you come to camp benefited more than just the kids there, it gave me a greater appreciation for music and how it touches the lives of so many people in such different  ways.

Thanks for all you do!


“I received the following letter from a counselor at Camp Gather.

It is an Indy Parks camp for special needs children where

I have been an artist-in-residence for the the past several summers.”

“I want to thank you. The kids and adults really enjoyed the music time.” 


Lafayette, IN 2010


Many thanks for sharing the YouTube video documentary on your work with these young students. It clearly demonstrates the powerful effect music has in expressing human emotions and communication of feelings. 

Best wishes in continuing this creative work with students at risk. 


Dr. David Peters, IUPUI

Dear Doug,

It’s a terrific video, and it sounds like a great program.  I really respect you for doing something that matters. 

--Linda, Moog Music, Inc

Recently I was discussing with Mister that I questioned if half of us who know and love you

truly had a grasp of the importance of the work you are doing. You're much bigger than most of us!

You are awesome. I am honored to be your friend.”  Jacque G.

“Thanks for making the video project so personal and down-to-earth...”

Warren W. Baumgart Jr. Executive Director

“That was really fantastic.  You sure do a lot of good things!” B. Keys

I play “My Girl” by The Temptations to end all my events. Not only does it signal the end of our “Joy Break” and begin transition time, it is a really nice song.

Many of “my kids” have learned the song. Above is one of my favorites.