Tag Archives: music therapy

Lessons From July: A Good Struggle

2 days late, but I was writing in my journal on the 1st of August and came up with a few things that July has taught me, and thought this main one to be blog-worthy.

The lesson on The Struggle and The Emerging… and the Going Back Again.

Yes, struggles like these are probably never going to completely go away. We find periods in our lives where we seem to be sinking into them uncontrollably, and by some stroke of luck and seeming effort, emerge from them thinking ourselves to be stronger than before, only to be immersed in the struggle again, once something else happens.

I’m referring to the struggle with self-doubt, of course.

And if there’s one thing July taught me, it’s that this struggle is truly necessary for reflection and growth. In fact, I should be worried if I don’t feel any struggle and am completely comfortable. Because it’d mean that I’m not pushing myself, that I’m not being stretched, that I’m not growing. In work or in my personal development.

The fact that I see my struggles as negative when they occur does not mean that they truly are. Just like we hate the bitter medication we have to take when prescribed, but when we’re well we look back and see how we couldn’t have gotten better without enduring and going through the medication process. Something like that.

The going through of the struggle also showed me how much I want to continue to do what I do, IN SPITE of the difficulties. It did not trigger in me feelings or thoughts of wanting to quit, or give up, or just let things be. It triggered in me the persistence to think of new ideas, to infuse new life into my approaches and interventions, and to put in more efforts to make the necessary connections and to develop the confidence I need to speak about what I do. The struggle did all that. And I am thankful.

I’m sure the next wave of self-doubt will come soon enough – there seems to be no lack of that in our world. Let’s hope that I’ll remember this lesson, on the value of a good struggle.

 

Anxious Teachers

A music therapy session with a new class today got me thinking about certain things.

Ironically, it wasn’t the kids I worked with that got me thinking. It was the teacher of the class.

More specifically, how the teacher of the class responded to her kids’ behaviour.

Bearing in mind, of course, that these are kids with special needs, albeit high-functioning ones. They understand instructions, they can follow verbal directions without needing too many prompts, and they can adhere to rules and regulations when imposed within the boundaries of the classroom.

The thing was, though… where is the balance between imposing rules and letting the kid “be themselves”?

When is it ok to let the kid have free reign over how he wants to drum and how he wants to hold his mallets, and when is the right time to correct them and show them the “right” way to play?

When is it necessary to step in to tell the kids to “use gentle hands” because they’re doing something really dangerous to hurt themselves and/or their friend and when is it ok to let them have their fun and freedom, even at the risk of taking some risk?

I don’t have all the answers, even though some of the teachers would think that we’re the “music experts” and SHOULD have all the answers.

My stance has always been that musical expression is and can be a platform for communication, interaction, identity building and personal growth, even at 5-6 years old. So when we tell a kid they’re playing the drum “wrongly”, or that they’re going to hit their friend, when in fact they’re sincerely communicating and expressing through the act, it could possibly send a deep message to to them, influencing how they start to view the world and their role in it. Something I really hope we have not done.

Being a teacher, no matter the context, is never an easy task, as I can personally vouch. But I sometimes think we’d do our charges a lot more good if we learnt how to put our own anxieties aside and not worry so much about out heads rolling off the chopping boards should the kid emerge with so much as a scratch on their arm.

Give them more space to find themselves, more air to breathe and discern right from wrong… play the role of the guide, not the authority.

Isn’t that possibly more beneficial for them in the long run?

 

 

Music Collage

At a session one evening, we did something called a Music Collage. The process involves participants choosing a theme, actively listening to a recorded piece of music, selecting images from a range of pictures to fit the theme, depending on how they interpret and think about it, and sharing which aspects of their collage stood out the most for them.

The theme we chose was Movement vs Stillness, and the music selected was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, 1st movement.

“The person on the wheelchair… because it seems like he is still, but at the same time I realised the wheelchair is also about movement.. and I realise… it’s all about perspective. There is no full movement or full stillness. It is all how you look at it.”

“I feel that my collage represents my… character. Like, sometimes I can be really active and loud and outgoing, but other times I will just be quiet and still. So there is no picture that stands out for me.”

“I feel like the music was describing something bad about to happen. So I chose the picture of this crab… the music is describing the journey of the crab as it’s about to be killed and cooked and eaten… from movement to stillness..”

Through their insights and sharing, I have got to know this group of people over the past 2 months. Their personalities, sense of humour, quirks and what means the most to them. And with the time that has flown by, we are also on the brink of parting ways. It has been a blessing to be with them on this journey, one I will always be thankful for.

Music and Mood Regulation

Sometimes it frustrates me that the potential of music doesn’t seem to be reached in the classroom. Especially after experiencing what music could really do for individuals and small groups. It frustrates me that that has to be compromised in the name of curriculum, school needs and manpower.

If holistic and equal education is key, why doesn’t the government provide funds for small group instrumental instruction and music appreciation? Students would still be able to experience the relationary and social nature of music making with the close relationship of a teacher, without the same teacher having to monitor 35 other kids in the classroom at the same time – something will have to give.

This week’s article is “The Role of Music in Adolescents’ Mood Regulation“. The immense and expansive nature which music can play in mood and emotional regulation in adolescents makes me wonder if they really need classroom music teachers at all.

We all have the instinctive and intuitive drive to use music in our daily lives – to counter sadness, to pump up joy, to divert attention, to focus, to fill voids around and within us. How can music lessons in school build on this intuition, such that students feel validated and valued as a person? And I believe that this is something the arts can do and scaffold, far more than any other subject, which usually involves a steep learning curve.

I thought about my overarching aim for this year – for students to leave each class feeling accomplished and developed. Be it cognitively, physically, socially, emotionally – there is potential to touch any of these areas through music at any one time. So while students may already have the ability to use music for self-mood regulation, surely they can also be expanded to feel the beauty of creating a song cover arrangement, feel the adrenaline of playing in unison, feel the anticipation of listening for nuances and basically just become more “whole” as a person through these experiences.

And so could we – even as adults.

 

Article: The Role of Music in Adolescent Development

By: Miranda, D. (2013).

From: International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 18:1, 5-22.

 

This article is a literature review, which highlights how much of adolescent developmental psychology literature and research leaves out the role of music in an adolescent’s life. It concludes by stating that more research into the developmental role of music can present more insights into the psychological, social and cultural needs of the contemporary adolescent.

 

My reflection:

We know that most of the songs we seem close to our hearts are the songs we listen to from our teens to 20s. There is more research and literature about how music can help in reminiscing in elderly patients and clients, helping them make sense of the world around them in their aging years. “Use of familiar repertoire” is a staple music therapy intervention and technique in working with aged care. Most of these “familiar repertoire” are the songs that accompanied them through the tumultuous years of adolescence and young adulthood.

It would make sense, then, to study how the same songs which adolescents are identifying with as they are growing up, are being used (consciously or unconsciously)to help them cope in their psychological and emotional development. With more understanding in this area, teachers, developmental psychologists, counsellors, and therapists might then be able to better understand how to help adolescents cope with the struggles of growing up. These struggles could include: Peer pressure, identity searching and formation, emotional issues, mental health.

Example: I’ve noticed that having the same tastes in music is one of the first things which bond students together into long-lasting friendships. It could be the latest k-pop band, or just the single which became a hit 2 years ago. The moment 2 or more individuals find out they have the same tastes in music, a tentative friendship is formed, which could then be strengthened or dissolved depending on other factors. Music, then, could be used as a bonding agent within the class, especially to aid students who might not be as apt or skillful in social aspects.

During music lessons this week, I asked students what is their “current favorite song”, promising that I would try to incorporate those into our music lessons. My motive, apart from making the lessons relevant to them, is also to improve the social dynamics of the class. Through group musical activities, individuals who might have found it hard to adjust to the social environment would be given an alternative platform to engage with their classmates, and hopefully blend in better into the social fabric of the class. Being well-adjusted is one of the key factors which could prevent later problems from surfacing, such as bullying, truancy or loss of interest in academic studies.

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Am aiming to read and reflect on at least on music therapy article every week and see how I can apply / transfer the content into the music classroom.  Part of self-development and reflective practice, and to not lose touch with the therapeutic side of things!

Bye Di

And so we have reached this moment, the moment we knew was going to come but did not know how it would unfold. It was our last session together, and we had geared ourselves up to say Goodbye.

To my surprise, I felt able to regulate my emotions relatively well, and Di too. Though we were slightly teary at first (at least I was), we did all the usual things during the session. When it came to the last segment of improvisation, I asked her what theme she would like to improvise around this week, and her answer wasn’t totally surprising: “Saying farewell… To you.”

We then talked about the emotions that came with saying goodbye. Di reflected that perhaps it was something that came with age, but she felt that she had become better at saying goodbye in recent years, whereas a few years back she would have been devastated at the thought of parting with people she cared about. I added that it was true, we do gain maturity with age, and that goodbyes need not signify endings, but could even herald new beginnings and navigations which can only be experienced with a physical parting. We exchanged cards which contained heartfelt words we probably felt more comfortable writing than saying, and admired the CD we had put together, containing recordings of our musical explorations.

We agreed that our parting need not be sad and teary. Instead, it could be a celebratory event, a parting filled with happy gratitude that we had the chance to meet, get to know, explore emotions and music together. We can feel gratitude that from this client-therapist relationship, we can now move to friendship, which is not a bad thing at all, from the therapeutic point of view.

And so with these frames in mind, we embarked on our final improvisation on the keyboard together. And it felt like what we had discussed: Celebratory. With Gratitude. Communicative and connected. My only regret was that we didn’t have it recorded, though the presence of recording equipment might very well have hindered the authenticity of the improvisation.

“That’s all right,” Di said, when we spoke about what it pity it was that we didn’t record the improvisation. “We have it inside us.”

And she went on to say the line which would surprise me most: “I feel a lot more confident expressing myself through the keyboard now.”

I was surprised because:
– Increasing sense of empowerment and resources for expression had always been the main goals of her sessions.
– I have never told her that these were the goals planned for her, or that we had goals to begin with.
– Di has NEVER described herself as being confident in anything.

The fact that she said that on her own accord, the fact that she has been able to recognize the change that has taken place on a personal level – it is truly a testimony to the power of music to facilitate non-verbal communication, the mystery and magic of improvisation, and the wonders that can emerge when 2 people connect.

To have been able to experience this journey and transformation, learn, and gain a precious friendship, I am immensely thankful.