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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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Filed under Academic, Art, Graphic Scores, learning, music teaching, Music Therapy, PhD, Research Methods, Synaestheisa, Uncategorized

How to be a successful musician

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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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Filed under Academic, jazz, music teaching, Music Therapy, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Academic, jazz, music teaching, Music Therapy, Research Methods, Teaching improvisation

Is Improvisation an acquired or a taught skill?

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I’ve recently been reading some older papers from around twenty years ago which discuss whether music improvisation is an acquired or a taught skill. Hall (1992), an ethnomusicologist, thought that improvisation couldn’t be taught and was only acquired and absorbed through culture and unconscious learning. He thought that musicians primarily learnt to improvise through being in a musical improvisational culture ( ie, jazz) and learning was through hearing and seeing others improvise.

I wonder if the question of whether improvisation can be taught was a contentious issue in the 1990’s?  Since other educators and musicians at the time wrote very clearly about the teaching of improvisation and championed the introduction of courses into formal music education. One such American educator was Kraus (1991) who devised a seven step method (based on the Dalcroze  style of music teaching, 2014) designed to help musicians develop improvisational skills, from first steps to the development of stylistic playing and individual style.

Indeed my own experience of formal music education in the 1990’s was very dismissive of improvisational skills, and several times at music college I was told that improvisation couldn’t be taught, and one tutor even stated that jazz musicians were only playing jazz because they couldn’t make it in the classical world! Thankfully, the world of music education has moved on, and now improvisation, especially jazz improvisation is part of the mainstream for music students studying at Higher Education level.

So, back to the question;

‘Is Improvisation an acquired or taught skill?’

In my opinion it’s probably both, children are natural improvisers and music improvisation is part of childhood play and development (Flohr, 1979). If any of you have ever read the wonderful book by Iona and Peter Opie (1985), ‘The Singing Game’ which is a rich collection of playground songs created and sung by children, its obvious that musical play is a natural and human inclination. So if we all have music play within us it must be possible to develop our natural inclination to play with sounds and learn how to harness the skill when we go to school or college. I expect that both types of learning continue into adulthood, and we continue to unconsciously absorb musical cultures and influences, but also learn from tutors, mentors, recordings, performances, workshops, lessons and lectures.

Right now, at the beginning of my research journey,  I am interested in stories of how people have learnt to improvise and what your experience has been. Please feel free to share and contact me about any of your experiences of improvising, how you learnt to improvise, was it at home playing along to a recording, or was it with a teacher?  Feel free to leave a comment below or e-mail me at bwskylark@yahoo.co.uk

References

Dalcroze (2014) Dalcroze. Available at: http://www.dalcrozeusa.org/. Accessed 24th August 2014.

Flohr, J. (1979) Musical Improvisation Behaviour of Young Children. PhD. Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hall, E. (1992) Improvisation as an Acquired, Multilevel Process. Ethnomusicology (online). Volume 36. (2.), pp. 223-235. [Accessed 21st August 2014].

Kratus, J. (1991) Growing with improvisation. Music Educators Journal. Volume 78. (4), [Accessed 21st August 2014].

Opie, I and Opie, P. (1985) The Singing Game. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

 

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