Category Archives: Research Methods

The Reflexive Researcher

An aspect of research I have grappled with is developing a ‘reflexive’ stance. As an experienced arts therapist I am familiar with the practice of the ‘reflective practitioner’, using self awareness to understand the experience of others. But according to Etherington (2004) reflexivity is about a deeper process, moving into our inner core of responses, and high-lights the hidden places of our thoughts and feelings when working with others in research.

In phenomenological research, whilst working on data,  we are asked to ‘bracket’ off thoughts and feelings, putting them to one side (Moustakas, 1994). An important question is whether it is possible to successfully ‘bracket’ personal responses and maintain these as separate. Through doing interviews I realise that my experiences are interwoven with the PhD project. It is inevitable that personal responses will become part of the research, for me it is important, if not ethical, to acknowledge this.

My methodology is a combination of reflexive thinking with ‘Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis’ (Smith, Flowers and Larkin, 2009). In a heuristic circle the emphasis is on ‘interpretation’, the researcher tries to understand the inner world of the participants, how they are experiencing their lived world. A useful comparison for musicians is it could be like playing Beethoven. Beethoven provides the text and the performer creates the interpretation, trying to understand the inner world of Beethoven, the music becomes a co-creation between Beethoven and the performer.

I have taken detailed reflexive notes on personal responses to the interviews, a skilled practice developed as a music therapist. Before beginning the analysis the reflexive notes are present, but put to one side on the desk, as the analysis process starts. My understanding is that the reflexive notes and analysis eventually become merged in an interpretation of the participant’s lived world. There is a possible ‘interaction’ between my material and the participant’s which could be revealed in the writing. How much I reveal remains to be seen, but the aliveness and spark of working with participants to create something new, speaks to the creative musician in me, who is constantly seeking connection with others through the joint making of sounds, only this time it is words and sounds in a research frame.

References:

Etherington, K. (2004) Becoming a Reflexive Researcher: Using Our Selves in Research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publisher.

Moustakas, C. (1994) Phenomenological Research Methods. London: Sage Publications.

Smith, J.A., Flowers, P., and Larkin, M. (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory, Method and Research. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

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Performative Arts Social Science and Music Therapy

Performative arts social science (pass for short) is an alternative view of ‘arts-based research’. Leavy and Jones see the two terms as interchangeable and with a different emphasis. Jones views pass as highlighting the sharing of a creative research process with an audience, whilst Leavy uses the term ‘arts-based research’ to describe any social science which utilizes the arts. Pass seems to be more directly relevant for music therapy, in that it incorporates the notion of ‘sharing with others in a creative process’ in its language (Beer, 2016).

Recently I have been using pass as a label to understand my research. Being a musical performer, thinking about relationship with others and sharing creative processes is the bread and butter of life. Everytime I step out into the world with an instrument, be it to play jazz or to therapize, I am thinking about musical communication. Connecting with an audience, with clients, is a vital part of the vagabond life of a musical therapist-performer.

But what does ‘performative arts social science’ really mean? Is it a useful term for arts therapies research?

The word performance is commonly understood as describing entertainment, or showing off talent. However, there is a deeper sense of performance or performative which is connected to the common sharing of a creative process. The theologian Ward (1992) defines it as, ‘form coming through’, or carrying ‘something through to completion’. 

In qualitative social science research ‘form is worked out, brought-through’. It is possible to perform research through a constant sharing of process, for example I am doing this now in this blog. The process of ‘form coming through’ is present in qualitative research that utilizes the arts (McNiff, 1998; Leavy, 2009). In pass art is understood as social, and always created in relation to others (Jones, 2012). The researcher takes part in a continious co-creation with research participants, with research audience, co-creating the meaning, discovering new knowledge and potentially opening up a space for new audiences.  

My PhD project involves a similar process, co-creating data with the participants using spontaneous music, interviews and responses to graphic scores. Continious sharing with a research audience through blogging and twitter (thank you for reading), showing reflexive art works  (Schenstead, 2012) and through traditional means such as conferences and journals.

Performative refers to the process, to relationships, rather than a single event. This implies that it might be useful to explore pass in arts therapies research, since we also view the arts through a social/relational/process lens.

References

Beer, L.E. (2016) From Embedded to Embodied: Including Music in Arts-Based Music Therapy Research. Music Therapy Perspectives, 34, pp. 33-40.

Jones, K. (2012) Connecting Research with Communities through Performative Social Science. The Qualitative Report, 17 (18), pp. 1-8.

Jones, K., and Leavy, P. (2014) A Conversation Between Kip Jones and Patricia Leavy: Arts-Based Research, Performative Social Science and Working on the Margins. The Qualitative Report, 19 (38), pp. 1-7.

Leavy, P. (2009) Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. (2nd ed). New York: The Guildford Press.

McNiff, S. (1998) Art-Based Research.London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Schenstead, A.R. (2012) The Timelessness of Arts-Based Research: Looking Back Upon A Heuristic Self-Study and the Arts-Based Reflexivity Data Analysis. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 12(1).

Ward, R. (1992) Speaking from the Heart: Preaching with Passion. Nashville: Abindon Press, p. 77.

 

 

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Arts-Based Research and Music Therapy

Arts-based research is the mixing up of social science and the arts. In recent years there has been a move towards using the arts to tease out deeper experiences in social science. Dance, drama, art and music all have the capacity to communicate emotional, embodied and sensory experience that words can’t always effectively translate  (McNiff, 1998; Leavy, 2015).

As music therapists we have been slow in research to utilise our skills as musicians. The reasons for this may have been born out of a need to prove ourselves as a profession, in a society which can value quantifiable facts over sensory-embodied experience (Barone and Eisner, 2012).

Recently some music therapy researchers have started to explore how we can use music as data, as a reflexive tool and as a way of disseminating research in our work. Ledger and McCaffrey (2015) have provided a short literature review of recent music therapy studies which employ arts-based practices. Music therapists have begun to not only use music, but other arts such as poetry, and sculpture to deepen understanding of therapeutic processes. Interesting studies include, Gilbertson (2015) who explored phenomenological narratives of music therapists work through taking casts of their hands, and Beer (2015) who used improvisations and interviews to investigate the experiences of Asian music-therapists training in the USA.

The arts have a unique and important role to play in qualitative research, and as music therapists we have special skills which we can employ. Many of us have music analysis skills, transcription, in-depth understanding of musical processes and knowledge of how music inter-relates with human relationships. In my doctorate, focusing on the experiences of music students learning to improvise, I am going to combine improvisations with semi-structured interviews. I am using music as data because improvisation can reveal deep psychological processes, encouraging participants to make new insights into their experience. The music for me is as important as the spoken word, and not an extra compoent or alternative way of working.

Finally, the philosopher Langer captures something of how the arts can contribute to our understanding of human experience in social science research. She writes about arts as forms of presentational communication, which are:

forms of human feeling … forms of growth and of attenuation, flowing and slowing, conflict and resolution, speed, arrest, terrific excitement, calm, or subtle activation and dreamy lapses … not joy and sorrow perhaps, but the poignancy of either and both … the greatness and brevity and eternal passing of everything vitally felt. Such is the pattern, or logical form, of sentience … (Langer, 1953, p.27).

 

References:

Barone, T., and Eisner, E, W. (2012) arts based research. Los Angeles: Sage.

Beer, L.E. (2015) Crisscrossing Cultural Divides: Experiences of US-Trained Asian Music Therapists. Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy, 10(4), pp. 127-173.

Gilberston, S. (2015) In Visible Hands: The Matter of Making of Music Therapy. Journal of Music Therapy, 52(4), pp. 487-514.

Jones, K. (2006) A Biographic Researcher in Pursuit of an Aesthetic: The use of arts-based (re)presentations in “performative” dissemination of life stories. Qualitative Sociology Review II, I.

Ledger, A., and McCaffrey, T. (2015) Performative Arts-Based, or Arts-Informed? Reflections on the Development of Arts-Based Research in Music Therapy. Journal of Music Therapy, 52(4), pp. 441-456.

Langer, S. (1953) Feeling and Form. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Leavy, P. (2015) Method Meets Art. (2nd ed). New York: The Guildford press.

McNiff, S. (1998) Art-Based Research. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

 

 

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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.

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Simple Sketch Line Drawing for a Music Therapy Session

 

I then ‘illuminated’ this adding more detail.

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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.

 

 

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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:

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A Line Sketch

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A Box Sketch

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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.

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Key for Instruments

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A Time Line

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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:

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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.

 

 

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Guided Imagery in Music

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can you practice improvisation?

bass at the bear

This blog is in response to the music therapy blog challenge set up by http://www.serenade-designs.com/blog/

Something students have asked is, ‘how can we practice improvisation? You can’t practice it’. The word ‘improvise’ comes from the Latin ‘improvises’ which means unforeseen. So how can you practice music which is unforeseen? Well, I suppose the answer to that is ‘you can’t’. However, you can practice for it, by preparing for what you might play, for what might be unforeseen.

In an ethnographic study of Jazz musicians, Berliner (1994) documents in detail how they prepare for improvisational performances. The musicians learn through imitating recordings of solos; learning phrases; learning scales, modes and harmonic language and a whole repertoire of standards. They develop a grounding in the language of jazz. They practice through imitating, taking musical phrases and transforming them into every possible permutation, knowing a tune in every key, knowing every rhythmic possibility. Once this practice has been done, the musician can then create their own music, find their own voice and play music which is new and unforeseen.

Music therapists who are learning to play improvised music may go through a similar process. Taking familiar songs, learning them in every key, taking musical phrases and turning them inside out, upside down and transforming them until new phrases are created. Music therapists need to practice improvisational skills, in order to provide a good musical experience for the people they are working with. Unfortunately there are no short cuts for this, its all about practice. In my own work as a music therapist I tend to keep up the practice of improvised music as part of the working day. So I will spend some time each day, learning a melody or playing something in a different key. I have also spent many hours at home listening to recordings and playing along. You can’t ever know what exactly you will play in a music therapy session, you can make a draft plan, but its important to react in the moment and change your music to meet the needs of the person. Berliner uses an interesting phrase, being ‘musically agile’ (p.94). This means being able to musically respond quickly, and sensitively to events, whether it’s a jazz performance or a music therapy session. It’s a bit like exercise, in order to be agile physically you have to keep exercising. So the same principle applies in music improvisation, in order to keep musically agile, you have to keep on practicing.

Reference:

Berliner, P.F. (1994) Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

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Teaching Improvisation – a balance between the creative and the technical

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Over the past two weeks I have started teaching an improvisation evening leisure class at a local FE college. Whilst being very happy to have the opportunity to try out some of my new knowledge in music improvisation, I have found it challenging to really get the heart of how to teach improvisation and meet the needs and expectations of the students. The course is set as fairly broad, and students are at all differing levels of musical skill and experience. Teaching lessons like these is not totally dissimilar to planning music therapy sessions in special education. As a music therapist working in special needs schools I had to devise educational objectives for children with special needs, and find ways of meeting these objectives in the sessions. In running this class for adults, I have to find out what the students want to learn, what their expectations are and then find ways of helping them learn.

I began the workshops by discussing with the students what they wanted to get out of the course and also did some careful observation and listening to their playing and responses during the first lesson (a bit like doing a music therapy assessment). I then decided to adjust the lessons plans week by week to fit into the students needs and learning path. The lesson last week seemed to be a success it used the following format:

  1. Focusing on defining the difference between pulse and rhythm using clapping exercises.
  2. Dorian mode, and inviting the class to improvise using a bass riff.
  3. Free improvisation (supported by myself on the piano).

I think one of the main challenges in teaching improvisation maybe striking a balance between teaching technical musical skills and encouraging creative exploration. It’s common for courses to either fall into one camp or the other. Traditionally teaching in Jazz has placed emphasis on the importance of learning technical music skills before learning creative expression (Murphy, 2009). Although I think there is some truth in this, that learning a technical skills (such as the scale of D major) is important and facilities being able to find creative expression and freedom. It is also important to explore creative expression at whatever level, from complete beginner to advanced musician. In a study of musical identities amongst improvising musicians Wilson and MacDonald (2012) found that jazz musicians placed more emphasis on the importance of technical skill in improvisation and freely improvising musicians placed more emphasis on the importance of the social and relational aspects of improvising. The groups were polarised into their culture and way of thinking about music. However, I think, that both aspects are important, that its important to have a technical grasp of music but also important to have a creative grasp, the challenge is doing both at the same time.

In the class I am currently running, the students have expressed a wish to learn both aspects of improvising. So last week I included specific technical information and then also a free improvisation. I was also open to any initiated music by the class, for example one student started a blues jam and I encouraged the class to go with it, letting the class take the lead in their own learning experience. This may be a key skill in teaching improvising, providing the right technical musical information but also providing what Winnicott (1971) called the ‘potential space’ in which people are free to explore play and creativity.

References

Murphy, J. (2009) Beyond the Improvisation Class: Learning to Improvise in a University Jazz Studies Program In Solis, G. and Nettl, B., eds. (2009) Musical Improvisation, Art, Education and Society. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Wilson, G, B. and MacDonald, R, A, R. (2012) The Sign of Silence: Negotiating musical identities in an improvising ensemble. Psychology of Music. 40(5), pp.  558 – 573.

Winnicott, D, W. (1971) Playing and Reality. London and New York. Routledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Narrative Inquiry, Stories and Cheating at GCSE Music.

This week in preparation for writing my RD1 (the project proposal and first milestone in the PhD process) I am busy reading about the research method called narrative inquiry. Presently there are two main options I am considering for the methodological focus of my study, phenomenological methods and narrative inquiry. Narrative inquiry is a relatively new method (Webster and Mertova, 2007) and is about hearing and recording stories of people’s lives, finding patterns or the plot within them. It treats ‘narrative knowing’ as a way of learning about aspects of people’s lives or particular happenings.

What is currently interesting me about researching stories is that it seems like a natural way of exploring identity. It’s through stories that we create our identities and the identities of others (Kenny, 2005). Stories are a way of making sense of time, of looking back, looking at the present and looking forward, we construct our identities through this constantly shifting perception of our time line. As part of my study I hope to explore how improvisation becomes integrated into ‘musical identity’ (the musical story of our lives), exploring what part it plays in the stories of music students and how taking improvisation classes contributes to those stories. So, at the moment, narrative inquiry seems to be a good fit for my study, although it is early days.

Recently I’ve found myself telling people stories about my improvisational musical journey. In different contexts with different peoples, I’ve caught myself re-counting the time I learnt this, or did that, in music improvisation. It’s as if my own narrative of music improvisation is coming to mind and informing the path and direction of my research. One story I recently told was about GCSE music (aged 14-15). I took my GCSE’S in 1988 in the first year of the new syllabus. In music education at secondary school level it was a time of experiment and change, and a move away from the western classical approach of the traditional O level. The syllabus I took at GSCE was heavily influenced by John Paynter and Peter Aston (1970), the radical music educators who advocated the teaching of music through exploration and improvisation (authors I have mentioned several times in this blog). The music GSCE explored creating compositions through improvisation. I wrote many compositions during my GCSE music, some of which I can still remember and play on the piano. However, as well as writing some compositions out on manuscript I also submitted improvisations (and pretended to my teacher and to the exams board that they were compositions). I simply recorded the improvisations, made up a title for them and sent them in for my final course work. It wasn’t until I was re-counting this narrative to my Supervisors that I thought, why did I do that, and what was behind it? Possibly I didn’t understand the point of formalising my music, when it seemed perfectly fine as a spontaneous creation, or I might have been acting as a typical teenager and doing as little work as possible in order to pass the course. However, the punch line is that my music teacher (a wonderful women called Dorothy Gallagher) attended a music teachers day for the county on the course work and compositions and I received the highest mark in the county for my improvisations (sorry compositions)! In a way this story also highlights how difficult it can be to make the divide between composition and improvisation in music, that they are one and part of the same picture.

In telling this small piece of musical narrative, the story was brought to life and it forced me to reflect on my actions of the past, creating self-reflection. It also caused one of my supervisors to think about different ways of helping her son to learn music. This improvisational narrative is an event on my time line, a part of a bigger story, a small story within stories, and has partly has led me to this point of researching improvisation in music in 2014.

Telling some of my own improvisational musical narratives, and reflecting on them has started to draw me closer to using narrative inquiry as the underpinning of my PhD study. It’s through the stories that we tell ourselves and others that we understand our lives and find meaning. Hadley (2009) in her moving narrative inquiry of Clive Robbins life and work puts it into words;

In the process of hearing someone’s story, it is already interacting with our own in such a way that is not only brings us to a greater understanding of that person’s narrative, but can encourage self-reflexivity and self-inquiry with regard to our own narrative as music therapists‘ (Hadley, 2007, p.33).

I would encourage you to think about your own musical stories, to reflect on them and tell them often, in doing so, your perception of yourself as a musician can change and develop. Narrative research is about finding a truth that is only found in stories, that stories represent the way we feel about an event. A person might tell a story one way on one day and in a different way another day, both stories are valid, both are true. I am sure a friend of mine who is a children’s story teller would agree, that stories grow and change and reveal the self of the teller and change the self of the hearer. This fascinates me, and might possibly lead me use narrative inquiry as part of my PhD study.

References

Hadley, S. (2009) Meaning Making through Narrative Inquiry. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy. Volume 12. (1), pp. 33-55.

Kenny, C. (2005) Narrative Inquiry. In: Wheeler, B., L., ed. (2005) Music Therapy Research. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers, pp. 4160429.

Paynter, J. and Aston, P. (1970) Sound and Silence, Classroom Projects in Creative Music. Cambridge, London, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Webster, L., Mertova, P. (2007) Using narrative inquiry as a research method: an introduction to using critical event narrative analysis in research on learning and teaching. London, New York: Routledge.

 

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