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Is The Melodica Useful for Music Therapy?

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It’s a strange instrument, this little plastic blown keyboard, with the metal reeds inside. But I have become rather fond of it over the years. First discovered when I began working as a music therapist in the year 2001, it has accompanied me on my journey and had many different forms.

The melodica was originally designed by Hohner as an educational tool in the 1950s. The instrument comes in all sorts of sizes, soprano, alto, short keyboard, long keyboard , buttons, short plastic mouth pieces, long curly mouth-pieces that look rather odd. My favourite melodica has to be the rare ‘bass’ instrument I found covered in dust in a school cupboard. It had a low, wide frequency, which was lush and rich. I coveted that melodica, but sadly had to leave it behind when I left the school. I hope someone else used it.

In music therapy there can be a real advantage to being mobile, being able to move around with your client or to easily carry your instrument. The melodica provides this, the beauty of it is you can even dance, following the movements of the child you are working with. Often it has been my instrument of choice when I have had to go out to the playground or work in a school hall way. It is an instrument which is easy to play, and easy to carry (but you have to practice not looking at the keys as you play).

However, the real useful  aspect of the melodica is its reedy, harsh, strident  tone quality, akin to an accordion. This makes it an excellent instrument for gaining attention, or bringing a hypo-responsive withdrawn child into a musical relationship. You can sit in front of a child, give them eye contact and play. The tone, combined with physical gestures and body movements can enable social interaction between yourself and a child. However, be warned, the tone is not for everyone. Some clients find it overwhelming, or too harsh and can’t tolerant its metal sounds. It is an instrument to be used with due care and consideration, but can be very effective.

 

 

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Is the Trombone Useful for Music Therapy?

 

The trombone is a uniquely flexible and useful instrument for music therapy.

My very first encounter with music therapy, largely involved the trombone. I was on a music therapy under-graduate placement working at a large UK hospital institution. In a group for people with learning disabilities, I vividly remember opening the trombone case and immediately attracting the focused attention of older women. She had a background in the salvation army and made a bee line for the instrument. She wanted to touch it, for me to play it. The introduction of this instrument had a powerful effect on her, week after week she would sit close to me, and want to put her head in the bell as I played. For this women, the instrument was associated with her life history, with something positive, although she was unable to articulate and tell us what this was. It was expressed in her actions and how she related to both me and the instrument. I was nineteen at the time, and for a teenager it was a very overwhelming and profound experience.

Over the years I have used the trombone in different guises. It is an impact instrument, both visually and sonically. It can be used to gain attention or create an exciting event within a session. The slow opening of the case and putting together of the piping, can be done with anticipation. As any trombonist can witness, it is an extremely versatile and flexible instrument. The trombone is not restricted to the western tonal system, if a child is vocalising ‘off key’ you can easily join them in micro-tones, and the vocal nature of the timbre makes it excellent for matching or mirroring voices. However, it can easily dominate a session situation, because it is a large presence instrument. It could overpower others music, and needs to be used with the utmost sensitivity and care.

I often use low, soft breathy notes to create a holding effect under a group’s music, sometimes it is possible to obtain an almost imperceptible sound which can be felt and just heard. Breathing or speaking into the instrument amplifies sounds. In contrast volume and timbre of the trombone can cut through chaotic group sounds. I have experienced children holding onto the slide as it has been played, putting their head in the bell, holding onto the tuning bolt.

The children that remain in my mind who have responded to the trombone, have often been children who are very-very withdrawn, have disabilities which mean they are extremely isolated or find it difficult to relate. It is with these children that the instrument has come into its own. I have used it to create connection, to create interaction and interest, which has been difficult to make previously.  It is these sorts of experiences, working especially with these children that has convinced me that the trombone is a gem of a instrument (to be used with care and consideration) in music therapy.

 

 

 

 

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Is the Bass Guitar useful for Music Therapy?

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Redwood Acoustic Bass

I first thought about learning to play the bass guitar in the mid-nineties. A friend played a Warwick fretless, and the sound entranced and enthralled me. It had a similar quality to the trombone (which I already played) with the ease of timbre, flexibility and freedom of tonality. In 2002 I bought a Dean Fretless (a heavy metal instrument) and Calsbro 50 Watt amp. The dean had a beautiful, deep lush sound and I spent evening after evening investigating its mellow tones, I was hooked.

The bass guitar soon became a staple part of my practice as a music therapist with children with special needs. It is a deceptively simple instrument, but like all things which look simple, it has a complex underlayer. You can do a lot with a little on the bass. Just sonically holding a group’s music, can involve playing a few long notes on the E string, underpinning whatever sounds. But in addition you can take the bass out of its traditional box and throw away the rule book. The bass has hidden talents which are untapped.

As music therapists we have an improvisatory approach to instruments. The bass is no exception, it can be used in a melodic role, playing soaring melodies or short riffs that provide musical glue between people. It can leave harmonies wide open,  playing two notes of a chord in a large register that spans opportunities for sounds between the notes. It can be a percussive instrument, twanging the strings, hitting the body. The timbre can be changed simply by placing your hand on different parts of the strings, the sound widens (becoming potentially double bass like) if you play on the neck, or narrows if you play by the bridge. You can hit, pluck, scratch your fingers over the strings, like a world within a bass world.

The instrument you choose might depend on the needs of the client you are working with. Use a large acoustic bass if you want to be independently mobile, have a child sit on it whilst you play, or run their hands over the strings. Or use an electric if you want the sounds to be more resounding, louder and enfolding.

All of this makes it a fascinating instrument to utilize as a music therapist. The sonic possibilities attend to the acute flexibility required. It has been an under-used instrument in music therapy, but one which has great possibilities and potential.

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Music Improvisation and Research Interviews

A question that arose during the recent progression viva was, ‘why use musical improvisation within phenomenological qualitative interviews?’

In my project I am combining semi-structured verbal interviews with improvisations, talking and also playing music with my participants. The examiner questioned why I should want to play spontaneous music with the interviewees, what was the point exactly?

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I pondered a bit, this was a good question, and something which I had not articulated before. What was the point of improvising with my participants? It seemed like such a natural and obvious thing to do, I had hardly questioned it before. I considered Langer’s (1942) philosophy, who described music as ‘modes of feeling’, as ‘presentational’ symbols of communication touching beyond the verbal, getting in-between spaces in our heads and hearts and making emotions audible.  Then I thought about explaining, when you improvise, it is like you come to acknowledge another intimately, you feel you know something about the inside of them, without the need for external information and etiquette (all the usual social questions such as; what work do you do or how old are you?). In my typical ‘mixed  media’ approach, I then fell onto Merleau Ponty’s philosophy of art (1964), in which he said that art is, ‘the inside of the outside and the outside of the inside’. A painting has the potential to literally expose and reveal a painter.

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Kandinsky Improvisation 28 – What does this painting reveal?

So if music and art have the possibility to reveal ‘inside’, then my question is; why not improvise with research participants? There are more forms of communication than recorded and typed words, this is something we know strongly and personally as artists and musicians. It seems so important to use artistic skills in research to try to get to the core of the moment of connection and what is being expressed in the research encounter.

References:

Langer, S.K. (1942) Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art. (3rd ed). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) Eye and Mind: The Primacy of Perception. USA: North Weston University Press.

 

 

 

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PhD as Improvised Mountain Walking

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 (Photo  – Reaching the top of the mountain Meeknoken on Averoy, West-Coast of Norway).

Taking the high road, taking the low road, the research map is not set but improvised, keep writing, wondering and climbing.

I am nearly half way through this PhD journey, it still excites me and requires an inordinate amount of determination to keep going. Having walked many mountains in Wales and Norway during my twenties, I often think of research like walking. The top of the mountain constantly looks closer than it is, there is always a point when you need to push yourself, it’s important to have provisions and to drink from cool mountain streams.

Having now completed seven interviews, transcriptions, graphic scores and analysis, the participant’s voices resound in my head, like musical leitmotifs. I can conjour up the sound of their voices in a moment. Their experiences fill my mind and I keep wondering where exactly this research is taking us. I feel I am finally starting to understand what the research journey is about; listening, wondering, going backwards and forwards, round in circles, letting the map change and being prepared for your knowledge and life view to expand.

I am sure in the future I will look back and see just how much this research journey is changing me personally. Curiously I find my creativity expanding, a new flexibility in my bass-playing fingers, and the art work more fluid and loose. As an accompaniment to this journey new songs have been written and art work bubbles away underneath. I hope to reach the top of the PhD ‘Meekknoken’ in a couple of years, but know rain, brambles, swarms of insects and unmarked paths are all the hazzards along the way!

 

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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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An Improvisatory Approach to Learning Instruments

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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.

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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)

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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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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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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:

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Or on a time graphic:

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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:

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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