Category Archives: learning

An Improvisatory Approach to Learning Instruments

img_0037

How do we learn to play musical instruments? For those of us who have been through exam systems we are provided with a stepped set route of pieces, scales and graded music. But for the individual who wishes to explore creating their own music this may not necessarily be the only or best way. For the improvising musician the instrument is a means to discover sounds, both their own voice and that of the object. It is double sided, a dialogue between instrument and musician. I own a cheap acoustic bass guitar, to some it might be inadequate, have too many flaws, feedback, rattles and buzz. But to me, I have taken time to discover its peculiarities, its unique sounds. I play with and around those noises and make them my own. Some of the best music lessons I’ve had over the years, have been those which have allowed me to find my individual path on an instrument, my own unique way of playing, my own fingering, my own touch, my own breath.

‘Searching for an individual sound’ is the job of the improvising musician (Frisk, 2014). This involves trying to get away from existing schemas and ways of playing. Discovering new means to produce a sound or turning to a new instrument. The saxophonist Ornette Coleman picked up the trumpet and violin in order to extend his musical resources, deliberately playing instruments he had no or little skill on to explore increasing amounts of freedom. Sometimes playing an instrument that you are unfamiliar with forces you to be more explorative, to move away from the usual ways of playing and to re-learn.

I recently attended the abstract expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. Included were photos of Jackson Pollock  dripping paint onto canvas. The photos speak of the artist finding his visual voice with materials, they are dynamic, kenetic and demonstrate the embodied nature of an artist manipulating objects.

img_2194

Figure 1 Jackson Pollock painting No. 32, 1050, photographed by Rudolph Burckhardt (Anfam, 2015)

The same process occurs for the musician, trying to tease noises out of an object and through this process of learning the musician becomes embodied with the instrument.

LaBelle writes that in music improvisation the ‘instrument functions as a partner in the unfolding of musical expression, where an individual and object are integrated, becoming a single body driven by choreography of movement and energy, precision and improvisation, skill and its reciprocal gestures’.

Learning to play an instrument as an improviser is so much more than set pieces, regular techniques and sounds, it is a journey of discovery of the self and the peculiar sound world of the chosen object.

References:

Anfam, D. (2015) Abstract Expressionism. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson world of art.

Frisk, H. (2014) Improvisation and The Self: To Listen To The Other. In Schroeder, F., and O’ hAodha, M. (2014) SoundWeaving: Writings on Improvisation.Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 153-169.

LaBelle, B. (2005) Museum of Instruments. Exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde Denmark. September 30-December 18, 2005. Available at http://soundartarchive.net/WORKS-details.php?recordiD=1106. (Accessed November 10 2013)

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Contemporary Art, learning, music teaching, Music Therapy, Teaching improvisation, Uncategorized

Graphic Scores, Art and Music Therapy (pt.3)

Graphic scores occupy the liminal space between art and music.

A score created from an improvisation can be as simple or complex as you wish. There is a point where the translating of music into visual images becomes art. It is a bit like the mid-point on a see-saw, carefully balanced and slightly elusive.

A major aspect of the 20th century artist Paul Klee’s work was exploring the relationship between visual arts and music. Teaching at the Bauhaus he developed a theory of form relating musical structures to line, in particular the elements of rhythm and time. This became expressed in Klee’s famous phrase, ‘taking a line for a walk’ in which the movement of the linear line embodied temporal aspects. This line illuminated and overlaid with additional marks then became ‘polyphonic’, mirroring the textural nature of music.

In the following extract, taken from a music therapy session, I used the idea of the simple line sketch influenced by Klee (Centre Pompidou, 2016; Bergstrom-Nielson, 2010). The upper line represents John the client and the lower line the therapist. The additional layered graphics correspond to musical events: diamonds (vocal sounds); eyes (eye contact); piano keyboard.

IMG_1822

Simple Sketch Line Drawing for a Music Therapy Session

 

I then ‘illuminated’ this adding more detail.

IMG_1815

Illuminated Version of Line Drawing

The background became blue to represent the blues scale, holding and framing the picture. In a similar way the blues held the structure of the session. I added lines and cross-hatching to indicate the dynamic movement between the two individuals. Colours were added to reflect tone. The picture slowly metamorphosed from a sketch into an art work. In a ouroboros circle it would then be possible to ‘perform’ the score. The art which began as session notes, transformed into art work and then transforms again into a different music.

It is almost as if this is neither art or music, but both. This is what fascinates me about graphic scores.

References

Bergstrom-Nielson, C. (2010) Graphic Notation – the Simple Sketch and Beyond. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 19 (2), pp. 162 – 177.

Centre Pompidou (2016) Paul Klee: Romantic Irony – The Exhibition. Centre Pompidou: Paris.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Art, Contemporary Art, Graphic Scores, jazz, learning, Paul Klee, PhD, Research Methods, Uncategorized

Graphic Scores and Music Therapy (pt.2)

 

This is the second blog in the series about Graphic Scores and Music Therapy

Understanding how 20th century and contemporary artists have attempted to visualise music can create alternative ways of re-imagining music therapy. It can be useful to incorporate graphics into music therapy reflective notes. This can not only aid memory, but develop thinking and assist analysis.

As an example I would like to use a simple one minute extract of work with a 5 year old boy*.

Clinical Notes: ‘Seated at the piano side by side with John. I played a blues in C major and sang, ‘John and Becky in music now’. He turned round to look, giving direct eye contact. Brief pause of piano music. John seemed to notice the camera and then started sounding the piano using all his fingers at once. I continued playing and singing ‘music now’. He started to use loud vocal sounds such as ‘ra-ra’. I imitated his sounds. There was a real feeling of connection and playing together. After one minute John lost concentration, said ‘oh’ and turned away. He then quickly moved away from the piano.’

This can be illustrated in a box graphic:

IMG_1821

 

Or on a time graphic:

IMG_1818

Bergstrom Nielson (2010) discusses the idea of the simple ‘line sketch’. Drawing a single line to represent the individual and layering graphics over this to illustrate events and music.

In the extract with John it might look something like this:

IMG_1822

The idea is taken from Klee (Duchting, 2016 ) who, when teaching at the Bauhaus, developed a theory of form and structure in painting related to music. Klee (1953) sought to visualise music, particularly it’s temporal and rhythmic elements. Single flowing lines for Klee represented the temporal in music, and showed movement from one moment to the next. In layering graphics over these lines, he was able to illustrate the polyphonic nature of music.

Drawing  a ‘polyphonic’ graphic related to John’s session, allows me to immediately see the shape, time and structure of the session. The drawing shows there were two main points of interaction, the eye contact after I had initially played the blues introduction and the joint vocalising at the end. The relationships between the two flowing graphic lines illustrates the times of coming together and being apart. The blue background represents the holding and containing nature of the blues structure.

To think about this extract in a wider context, it was highly unusual for John to vocalise and give so much eye contact at this point in the therapy. The graphic score highlighted the closeness of the interaction. This demonstrates that its possible to use a combination of reflective notes with graphic scores which can inform thinking about the work.

I would like to invite you to try out simple drawings to accompany your sessions, and think about if you find the process useful. Please let me know your results.

*The extract is loosely based on actual clinical work, all names and identifying information have been changed and consent given.

 

References:

Bergstrom-Nielson, C. (2010) Graphic Notation – the Simple Sketch and Beyond. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 19 (2), pp. 162 – 177.

Ducting, H. (2016) Paul Klee: Painting Music. Munich: Prestel

Klee, P. (1953) Pedagogical Sketchbook. Translated from the German by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. New York.

Further Reading:

Guy, F., Shaw-Miller, S., and Tucker, M. (2007) Eye-Music: Kandinsky, Klee and all that Jazz. Chichester: Pallant House Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Art, Contemporary Art, Graphic Scores, learning, Music Therapy, Paul Klee, PhD, Synaestheisa, Uncategorized

Are Graphic Scores Useful for Music Therapists?

Do graphic scores have a place in the practice of music therapy?

How might they be useful as tools of transcription, communication and analysis?

As music therapists we are often time poor. It can be difficult to find space to keep detailed reflective records and notes. However, making visual transcriptions of clinical work can enrich our practice.

There are many different ways of keeping records of music therapy, audio and video files, reflective and process notes. It can be useful to transcribe aspects of sessions and make brief visual jottings. Bergstrom-Nielson (2010) describes using drawing as an aid to recording musical events in sessions. He suggests making extremely simple sketches, such as single lines or graphics boxes, to aid memory and convey events in a session. These can be incorporated into the therapists reflective notes, and potentially communicate in an immediate direct fashion which the written word might lack. For example:

IMG_1756

A Line Sketch

IMG_1755

A Box Sketch

IMG_1758

A Mind Map

To take the idea deeper, graphic realisations of sessions can be useful for analysis. If as a therapist you are listening back to a session, and want to think in more detail, the process of making a graphic score can reveal ‘hidden aspects’ of the therapy (Bergstrom-Nielson, 2009). With a sketch intended for analysis you may take time to add in more aspects, to create specific symbols for instruments, or to show other aspects of the session, such as a time line or physical gestures.

IMG_1760

Key for Instruments

IMG_1762

A Time Line

IMG_1764

Illustrations of Physical Gestures

Drawing can also be utilised to communicate about the work. When presenting clinical material showing graphic realisations can enhance the understanding for the listener. For example a simple box flow chart:

IMG_1753

Box Flow Chart

Graphics scores can be an extremely useful tool for music therapy practice. We need not limit ourselves to always using the written word to communicate or think about music therapy. I hope I have demonstrated that you don’t need to be an artist to use graphics as part of your music therapy practice, but can make simple sketches, mind maps or more detailed scores for analysis which can potentially enhance working life.

 

References

Bergstrom-Nielson, C. (2009) Graphic Notation in Music Therapy: A Discussion of what to Notate in Graphic Notation, and How. Approaches: Music Therapy & Special Music Education 1(2). Available at: http://approaches.primarymusic.gr [Accessed 23 March 2015].

Bergstrom-Nielson, C. (2010) Graphic Notation  – the Simple Sketch and Beyond. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 19 (2), pp. 162 – 177.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Art, Graphic Scores, learning, music teaching, Music Therapy, PhD, Research Methods, Synaestheisa, Uncategorized

Guided Imagery in Music

IMG_1618

A Mandala created as part of the Guided Imagery in Music Course

As part of my PhD course I recently attended Level 1 training in Guided Imagery in Music, with Professor Leslie Bunt at The University of the West of England, further details available at: http://courses.uwe.ac.uk/USPKJE15M/2016

Guided Imagery in Music is a particular branch of music therapy which focuses on receptive responses accompanied by a therapist.

GIM has a lot to offer the music therapy community. Not only do we need live improvised music making, we also need recorded music. Many of us use recordings in our clinical work, but how aware are we really of the techniques required to use them? GIM should be part of all music therapists training, it seems to be such an intuitive step in the development of the profession of music therapy.

The training involves listening to programmes of classical music. Beginning with a gentle start of listening whilst doing other activities such as drawing Mandalas (Fincher, 1991) or writing a narrative, developing into listening in deep states of relaxation whilst being closely attuned to by a therapist.

This is the first time that a Guided Imagery in Music course has been run at The University of the West of England. Receptive therapy in music is like the missing jigsaw piece in the music therapy spectrum, and it feels absolutely right for GIM to have a higher profile and an increasing number of therapists are starting to recognise its value.

GIM was originated by  Bonny (2002) following an epiphany experience in a prayer meeting, playing the violin, Bonny started to research the therapeutic benefits of listening to classical recorded music. Sessions in GIM start with a carefully controlled induction in which the therapist first finds out about the individual’s life, and creates a relaxation activity that facilitates the ‘traveller’ to enter an altered state. This is not strange as it sounds, since ‘altered states’ are a natural part of our everyday lives. The moments between waking and sleeping, or when we day-dream are all ‘altered states’ (Meyer, 2007).

The imagery and amount of direction is carefully considered by the therapist, designed to aid therapeutic process. The traveller is invited to visualise imagery, such as a pathway, a boat or a house.

GIM has two more levels in which the therapists learn to keep the travellers safe, before they can practice. One of the aspects that interests me is the analysis of sessions, looking in close detail at the musical analysis of a piece of classical music and then tracking the journeys it creates. I love this sort of analysis looking at small details in music. Which is part of the reason for doing a PhD.

On a personal note, I had one experience of travelling on the course, I was very surprised at the profundity of the experience, and I am still thinking about it two weeks later…

“Mandala created with sea-glass, pebbles, rocks, shells, toy instruments, lights and drawing”.

 

References:

Bonny, H.L. (2002) Music and Consciouness: The Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music: Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers

Fincher, S.F. (1991) Creating Mandalas for Insight: Healing and Self-Expression. Boston: Shambhala.

Meyer, E. (2007) Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind. London: Bantam Books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Guided Imagery in Music, jazz, learning, music teaching, Music Therapy, PhD, Research Methods, Spiritual, Synaestheisa, Uncategorized

Magic Synaesthesia and Lost Words

cropped-img_1398.jpg

Extract from ‘The Musical Flow Moment -Saxophone Timbre’

Researching the intersection between art, music, words and modalities of expression.

I recently wrote an assignment on ‘the ineffable’ in musical experience, how we become lost for words when we try to speak about music. Through attempting to write this (with words) I found myself reaching into the visual to try to describe the musical.

Music for me triggers shapes, colours, spatial sensations and touch (Cytowic, 2002; Marks, 1975). Compounded with this I have visual stress syndrome, which means I process colours and light differently, and black and white print moves around on the page.

So in order to explore the PhD study of improvised musical experiences. My first impulse is to draw.

Since January I have spent time researching art focused on shapes; such as the work of textile designer Tibor Reich or linocuts of Angie Lewin. Both of these artists take their inspiration from the natural world, using shapes that are already present around us, but it is the artist job to notice them and bring them to our attention. In the same way, music for me has a particular natural form, and it is this I have been trying to express. The process was:

  • Choosing two colours which related to timbre, then drawing large fluid lines
  • Drawing further shapes to represent different aspects of the music
  • Adding smaller lines in
  • Repeating the process.

Each picture is rather like a continually developing jazz standard, the first one is created, but then the second becomes an improvisation on the first, the third on the second and so on.

IMG_1387

Extract from ‘The Musical Flow Moment – Bass and Voice’

As I drew these pictures particular thoughts dreamt up, the lines felt like drawing bodies together, with music inside. I had words such as ‘ musical archeology, digging-deeper and magic’ bouncing around my mind. It was if, in the act of visually realising the shapes, they came into sharper focus and shifted from my unconscious to conscious mind. This then enabled clearer thought about the musical experiences. For example, on drawing shapes based on traditional notation, this morphed into inner body shapes, clef’s became kidneys, note stems veins. I became aware of drawing the embodiment of music.

IMG_1397

Extract from ‘The Musical Flow Moment – Bodies and Notations’

To return for a moment to the subject of ‘ineffability’. It is almost as if some experiences are without words. That there exists a musical realm, a visual realm which is sensory, embodied and felt. This is music as ‘musical thought’, visual as ‘visual thought’ – only then is it translated into words. It is possible that this ‘other dimension’ is closer to our primitive selves, to our authentic selves, and it is only in the arts, especially in improvised arts, that we connect and reveal this part to each other.

 

References

Cytowic, R.E. (2002) Synaesthesia: A Union of the Senses: Massachuetts: MIT Press.

Marks, L.E. (1975) On Coloured-Hearing Synesthesia: Cross-Modal Translations of Sensory Dimensions. Ppsychological Bulletin. 82(3). pp. 303-331.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, jazz, learning, Music Therapy, PhD, Spiritual, Synaestheisa, Teaching improvisation, Uncategorized

Dyslexia Support at PhD Level

IMG_0528

One of the heart warming facts about my PhD experience so far has been the dyslexia support I have received from the University of the West of England (http://www.uwe.ac.uk). Last December I had my very first official test and diagnosis of dyslexia, with visual stress syndrome. I had been told at school (in the 80’s) that I was dyslexic and then been left to muddle my way through school. Over the course of my student and working life I developed various tactics to overcome problems or hide it from employees and tutors. One of the most successful was the recruitment of friends and family in proof-reading before sending any work into the outside world. The other was pouring over the dictionary combined with a thesaurus, and then of course, a God-send, was spell check and computers.

After a fairly stressful assessment, consisting of three hours of tests I couldn’t do well. I had an official diagnosis. In the report was a long list of help, support and recommendations I should have when studying (and working). Initially the list made me burst into tears. Here was a list of things I had done for myself, without support (for example getting handouts for lectures well in advance of the lessons). It was an emotional experience, to finally have recognition that I had some specific needs around spelling, reading and writing. Since then I have received a grant from student finance England, and been given some amazing software. I am currently using ‘mind view’ to write the first draft of my literature review. This allows me to write in the form of a mind map, rather than creating the usual messy word document and drawings on paper. I have been given proof-reading software, including a dictionary that has pictures. And as a musician, aural-note taker is very interesting, its software to write aural notes whilst listening to a recording. This has potential for other areas, such as song-writing, and music therapy clinical notes.

Probably the most useful equipment has been using coloured overlays to read black and white text. Last week when reading music (now green) I didn’t get lost in the notation, the notes didn’t bounce around. I am due to buy a set of green glasses, provided by student finance England. Having green text is making a huge difference to my speed when reading, and to my stamina. In addition I have some software, that is text to speech (claro-read). This makes it possible to listen to papers whilst doing other things (my kitchen cupboards are very clean).

Overall, having this support is making PhD work a lot smoother than some of my other educational experiences. It’s a relief to use software which is geared towards creativity and visual thinking, and great to finally have the support I need when studying.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, learning, Uncategorized