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.


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).



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.


Simple Sketch Line Drawing for a Music Therapy Session


I then ‘illuminated’ this adding more detail.


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.


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:



Or on a time graphic:


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:


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.



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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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:


A Line Sketch


A Box Sketch


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.


Key for Instruments


A Time Line


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:


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.



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: [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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‘Drawn Music’ – An Exhibition

Today until the 2nd July there will be an exhibition of my art and cards for sale at the Pewsey Tea Rooms, Wiltshire.

The title is: ‘Drawn Music‘ and consists of two series of pictures:

The first is ‘The Song Catcher’ series, about a mythical character who roams the earth looking for songs:


The Song Catcher


The second series grew organically out of the song catcher. As I drew the musical shapes in the song catcher pictures, I started to think, ‘can I draw music?’ and ‘what does music look like?’ So I started to experiment with drawing lines and colours which seemed to me to represent musical experiences:


The Musical Flow Moment – Bodies and Notations.

I hope the people of Pewsey enjoy these to accompany their tuna sandwiches and cream teas!



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Guided Imagery in Music


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:

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”.



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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Art Work in Progress

Currently working on drawings which reflect Synaesthetic experiences. Listening to music and drawing what I see. Up and coming exhibition at Pewsey Tea Rooms June 4th to Saturday 6th July … Here is a taster …


Saxophone Timbre


Bass and Voice


Body and Notations

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Essay, Art Work or Hypertext?


Creating essays which are ALSO art works.

Trying to create a beautiful book is a relief in a world where we are so often virtual and on-line. It was a pleasure to create a physical object and to try to use that to communicate a creative heart.

As part of the taught module in ‘psycho-social’ studies, at the University of the West of England, I wrote a 6000 word assignment which included a reflective portfolio and micro research project. My aim was to create something beautiful, which was both aesthetically pleasing, and academically sound. This was instigated by the reflexive aspect of the assignment, being asked to express a personal research journey. I thus fell to using music<>visual aspects of reflection. This was the first ‘physical’ object I had been asked to produce towards a PhD, and it seemed important to express something tangibly creative through the act of making.

I was inspired by the idea of artists books, which are art works in the form of a book, made as small runs or one-off objects. I wanted my essay to give the reader a sensory experience of musical synaesthesia, or coloured hearing. This was done by the traditional practice of incorporating prints, on separate pages:


Extract: The Magic Picture

In addition, I wanted to give the experience of the simultaneous act of images combined with text. I did this by creating a hypertext, layering graphics underneath the words though out the document. This was inspired by the music therapist Stige (2002) who discusses the idea of different ways of collecting and viewing data such as, music, diaries, poems and drawings. In combining visual and text together I was revealing my own neurological difference, that the first thought is music <> visual and then it becomes words. My thought processes through out the module, involved thinking about highly coloured shapes which were also aspects of experience in improvised music. I wanted to try to convey this through the making of an artists book.

The next stage was to take some of the actual pieces of the art work and tie them onto the  book:


The art tags on the spine

I used all of the spare pieces on the books, so they  became merged with the art works.

The final aspect was to use the paper craft technique of applying layers of paper on top of the page using masking tape.  I also played with the formatting of the words.


The dancing shapes

The question remains what will my final PhD look like?

I’ve no idea what so ever!


Stige, B. (2002) Cultured-Centered Music Therapy. Gilsum NH: Barcelona Publishers


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Magic Synaesthesia and Lost Words


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.


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.


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.



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.

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