Tag Archives: Community Music

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.





Filed under Academic, music teaching, Music Therapy, Teaching improvisation, Uncategorized

Sound and Silence


Last week I purchased a 1970’s schools text book called ‘Sound and Silence’, by John Paynter and Peter Aston. With delight I received it through the post, it only cost three pounds and had been discarded from an old school library.

John Paynter was a pioneer of music education who worked at York University from 1982 – 1994. He believed in the ability of all children to create their own music, and that the experience of improvising and composing  should come before the experience of listening to recorded music. Paynter and Aston saw the music teacher as a musical facilitator, letting children discover their own music rather than following a pre-determined path. Sound and Silence, contains a wealth of ideas for launching into improvisation, using poetry, visual arts, photography (by the late John Stevens) and patterns in nature. The book was considered controversial at the time, and today it would have the same status. Much of Paynters ideas influenced the syllabus creation of the new music GCSC in the late 1980’s.

It has been with a spark of joy that I have recognized in the work of Paynter my learning at GSCE. I took part in the very first GSCE year in 1988 and remember two years filled with wild group improvisations at the piano, recording compositions on a multi-track recorder and learning about graphic scores. For anybody wanting to refresh their improvisational skills or needing new ideas for composition, Sound and Silence is well worth a read, although written for school children in 1970 it has relevance for performers, music therapists and community musicians today.

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What is that thing you are doing?


I recently announced to friends and family that I was going to embark on a doctorate in ‘free improvisation’ at the University of the West of England. Since then, a number of musical friends, old and new, have expressed a curiosity about what exactly it is I intend to do.

At the moment (two months before the course officially starts) I am hoping to investigate the stories of music students and professional musicians who are learning, and have learnt, and continue to learn to improvise (its not something that you ever get to complete). I am curious about other musicians stories, I want to find out what happened to them when they started to improvise, where it was and when. I’m wondering about how the process of learning to improvise effects (or affects) musicians who haven’t explored it before. If the experience of learning to improvise changes them in some way.  I’m interested in the value of learning to improvise for musicians, if it has any usefulness for musicianship, and quality of musical communication. Hopefully, some of these questions will be answered, or not , through interviews and careful analysis. I hope to interview musicians from three different disciplines,  music therapy, community music and contemporary music performance.

At this point in time, my project is very much forming and taking shape, I’m very excited to be working with music therapy colleagues Leslie Bunt and Cathy Warner at UWE, and will keep you posted on developments.

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