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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Falling off Roundabouts


A few weeks ago I had an intense study day preparing for my progression Viva. As some light relief at lunch time, I decided to check out the local children’s playground. To my delight a new roundabout had been installed. Since the playground was empty I decided to try it out. To my puzzlement and frustration, every time I got to the apex, I flew off and rolled onto the ground. This happened even after three or four attempts. On closer inspection I realised that the roundabout was on an angle (why I have no idea) and is actually tricky to stay on, you have to hold on really tight. I have not managed it yet.

Why am I sharing this? The PhD has felt rather like an unbalanced roundabout ride over the past weeks. I cling on, thrilling at the speed and then keep falling off at the top. There have been some very big highs over the last month, I survived the progression Viva, using newly acquired vocal -speech coaching techniques. I managed to try and explain what it is I am doing, including how improvised music might be useful to reveal unconscious processes (a tricky one to explain in words). I completed a very long report, which took hours of working away at writing skills with a dyslexia tutor. I presented a poster at a national conference, and was overwhelmed with the amount of interest in my study, where I definitely suffered from the classic ‘impostor’ syndrome. In between these dizzying heights, I kept rolling off the roundabout and wondering where I was, but thankfully there is a nice, soft grassy landing and time to keep getting back on. I am determined to conquer the puzzle of the ’roundabout’.

It occurs to me doing a PhD is also a little bit like this:


The Magic Roundabout Swindon –  which I have to negotiate on a regular basis. Apparently the best technique is just to drive forwards whatever is in front of you.


Or maybe a PhD is like this?


The Magic Roundabout …

Only time will tell!



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How to be a successful musician

Picture 004

A fact of life for musicians is inherent tension in how meaning in music is interpreted. Music has been understood as an aesthetic object, which can be sold, passed on from person to person and put on a shelf. This is music as a commercial object, music as a book of graphics on a page, music as a round — shiny thing you put in a machine. The problem is, as musicians we understand this perception of music, but in reality it is not our experience, or the experience of our listeners. In actual fact music is us, music is a social process, it is what happens between you and me. Music can not be pinned down to materialism, it floats on the air, it acts in the space between us.

This tension is persistent in contemporary western society, as musicians we are constantly juggling with it. Frequently our highest aim is to create a place of connection with others, that is our success. The Finnish music researcher Hytonen-ng (2013) writes about intense moments of connection in Jazz music. She explains how for Jazz musicians creating and seeking out incredible moments of connections with others through Jazz is the most motivating factor there is to keep on playing. Music therapists are experts in creating these sorts of connections for people on the margins and edges of society. The profession of music therapy highlights the social view of music. That is why music therapists have so much to contribute to the music industry, to music academia and music performance. Music therapists are trained in music as social interaction, music as communication, music as the sounding of souls.

Musicians know the true value of music is to be found in being-us, being together. They frequently come across assumptions, that to be a successful musician is to be famous, to play big venues, to be signed with a record company. If you think of music, as a social phenomenon, then these ideas about success make no sense. I would choose every time the close connection in the music therapy room with a child with autism, or playing to a small group of people in a living room, cafe or local pub.


Hytonen-ng, E. (2013) Experiencing ‘Flow’ in Jazz Performance. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

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Hungry Words

Dark chocolate

So far, doing a PhD, has basically been a long writing task, interspersed with meetings, reading and thinking. What the books don’t tell you, however, is how hungry you get.

Since I started my PhD I have been very hungry. The kitchen draw is now filled with ‘PhD’ snacks, which the man is banned from eating. My snacks are nuts, dark chocolate, dried fruit, oat-cakes, peanut butter, bananas, and the list goes on. It’s so important to eat well when you are studying, better food, means better words.

The other issue, is the need to find a rhythm to working, and take breaks. My usual habit of walks in our local nature reserve are now even more essential. Sometimes I take a break by doing house work, running round the house. It doesn’t require any thought and is an opportunity to move. My favourite type of break is a music break. Being a musician, writing about music, I can’t listen to music when I am working. So as a reward I allow myself to listen to a current favourite track, when a task is finished.

Everyone has to find their individual way of working, when a task is so long and intensive. What works one week, might be different the next week. The key is to recognise how you are that day, and think what you need to do to look after yourself for the day. Sometimes I don’t manage this and end up lying under the desk, but on other days, the rhythm is right and the words flow.

Happy snacking!

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Musicking or Music Therapy?


What is the difference between music therapy and other musical activities?

Is it possible to label all music making as therapy?

These are issues I find myself grappling with, especially as I move between the roles of teaching music therapy, performing and researching. Are there transitional places between activities when music therapy takes place?  In performance, happenings occur: an elderly gentleman spontaneously sings to an old jazz song; at a living room gig people respond by crying; in a busy pub, the room suddenly becomes hushed to the sound of a lone voice. All of these incidences happened (and more) during performances I took part in.  I am a trained music therapist, does this make these performances music therapy?

A few years ago I would have said, without a doubt, no. I viewed music therapy as taking place in a special clinical setting, within psychoanalytic boundaries. However, these days, I am not so sure. It has been in experiences, like those quoted above, which have re-affirmed for me, the therapeutic nature of music. I am always a music therapist, and I bring this training and experience to performance. When performing, I am unable to stop thinking about the music therapeutically. Personally I think that, performing is at its most effective when the therapeutic results of music are in evidence.

Ansdell (2014) writes that:

‘a music therapist’s specialist skill is to midwife music’s help in situations where people can’t necessarily access it for themselves (Ansdell, 2014, p. 295).

He suggests that Small’s (1998) idea of musicking (music making as a social phenomenon) and music therapy are on a continuum, and music therapists often work with people who can’t access music in other situations. I am not sure where I stand with this, since as a performer, who is also a music therapist, I find my self performing in unusual situations where people can’t usually access music. So is this music therapy? I suppose I shall just have to keep wondering and journeying with the music.



Ansdell, G. (2014) How Music Helps: in Music Therapy and Everyday Life. Surrey and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.

Small, C. (1998) Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.




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Making-up music to movement


Recently, I was involved in running a workshop for music therapists on the subject of improvised movement and music. For those of you who have read my blog before, you will know this is an interest of mine. There were many high points to the day, meeting new people, using the lovely facilities at UWE performing arts centre and enjoying the freedom of uninhibited movement. One particular moment stands out, I was asked to play the piano whilst four people moved in pairs. The idea was that in pairs, people mirrored each others movements. They did this, with and without their eyes closed. The aim of the exercise was to explore interaction in close movement. My remit was to play holding, supportive music. I found myself becoming very absorbed in observing the movers. They were so intense and seemed to be highly emotional, as they moved gently and beautifully together.

I used the piano to simultaneously reflect the group, and the pairs. This is a duel reflection skill, using improvise music to reflect the group as a whole, but also to reflect individuals. The music has an overall feel, and has small elements in it  which represent individuals. The other process I used was to represent each duo with a different hand. This is a multi-layered response, which as far as I know is only possible in music. To have a multiplicity of reflection, happening simultaneously in sound. Admittedly this is a skill, and one I developed over years working in music therapy groups. Thirdly, when the couples moved physically away from each other, I played large intervals to represent the space between them. This is something I was taught in music therapy training; but it seems so instinctive to represent physical spaces in sounds. What fascinates me is that physical movements and sounds seem to be intimately connected. When I dance to live music, its like the music is in my body. When I play music in response to others movements, its like the music emanates from their bodies.

Music is essentially a physical art form, made of vibrations. This is an obvious statement, but so easy to forget in a world saturated with sounds. Perhaps its important to keep remembering this as music therapists, and make sure we think carefully about physical responses. It’s also vastly important for performing, you almost have an ethical responsibility to think about what you are doing to others when you play music. This is why it’s so important to get sound levels right, a concert that is too loud can physically damage people.

The exercise I accompanied on the piano was an intense experience and high point of the day. It felt like the movers were expressing their humanity and connectedness, even though they were strangers. The music I played supported them emotionally and reflected their movements, it was a privilege to play. I have many friends who are dance, movement therapists and I really value their input and insights into movement and music. I would like to suggest that more dialogue happen between the two professions of music therapy and dance and movement therapy, so we can share skills, and acknowledge our shared heritage in sounds.

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Dyslexia Support at PhD Level


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 ( 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.

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