In a previous post, I discussed the use of percussion in music therapy as best addressed through two overlapping indigenous perspectives, those being the indigenous traditions of music, and the indigenous processes found within the field of music therapy. In that post, I focused on the importance of our musical relationship with percussion instruments. I also discussed that we can best develop such relationships by immersing ourselves in the indigenous traditions of the instruments most commonly used in our field.
As noted in part 1, the aesthetics of percussion instruments exist largely within their traditional contexts. Even if we spend our time solely focusing on the musicality of an instrument, not taking into account the extra-musical qualities that a cultural tradition adds, we can often encounter an eye-opening experience. Take, for example, the following “tambourine” videos.
In each case, we see a “tambourine” (a frame drum with zils or “jingles” embedded within the frame) being played, but each tambourine is different, and the techniques being used appear very different from each other. Each instrument, although likely rooted in a common ancestor, arose in a different time and place, and evolved through a different culture. The musical techniques also have some common roots, but each cultural tradition evolved a variety of rich playing styles.
Perhaps most importantly, we may note that the musicality of the tambourine is much larger than we may have been previously aware of. We might also deduce, after having seen some new possibilities, that the utility of the tambourine in our clinical work may be larger than we previously realized. We see that this instrument is capable of more than gospel-style shaking and tapping, capable of more than embellishment and punctuation in an orchestral work, capable of more than acting as a “rhythm band” or “auxiliary drum circle” or “expressive improvisation” instrument. These videos show how the tambourine is capable of rich timbres, diverse accompaniment styles, and of unlimited music-driven improvisation. The tambourine, the instrument that we see in the music therapy literature fourth-most often (according to a content analysis), has many rich musical histories. New musical playing styles, in themselves, may better inform us how to use these instruments therapeutically. Our “aperture” has been opened. We have (likely) experienced music in a new way, and that alone has informed us.
During our training, we are exposed to the great instrumental works (piano, guitar, etc.), and we simultaneously develop our musical skills based on our needs and our skill requirements. We may not yet be capable of playing that difficult Debussy piece that will help us to understand the open, airy, contemplative capabilities of the piano. But we seek to understand by listening, and by practicing note by note. We become musicians through the experiencing of music.
I would like to now begin considering the indigenous perspectives of music therapy, and how they may relate to our use of percussion. According to Kenneth Bruscia, there are four means within which we may experience music, those being:
1) re-creating music
2) improvising music
3) composing music
4) listening to music
These four types of experiences can occur in any manner of combinations and weights. These four types of experiences are also the building blocks for any music experience created for/through/with our clients. The four types of music experiences are therefore also known as the four music therapy methods.
How does/may percussion play a role in each of these methods?
How does/may the musical value of percussion play a role in each of the four music therapy methods?
As music therapists, we are all also (most hopefully) musicians! Our training, our practical knowledge, our theoretical understanding, and our overall skill as music therapists and musicians relies largely upon our own active experiences of music.
Let us take for example Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, a specific model of music therapy clinical improvisation. NRMT requires particular musical skill sets that are most commonly related to the piano. The therapist’s intimate knowledge of the instrument can allow him/her to create a spectrum of music experiences for/through/with his/her clients.
Clinical improvisation is indigenous to the field of music therapy. Percussion is often used in clinical improvisation. Taking into account the common perspective of clinical improvisation and its value of musical aesthetics, such as the NRMT perspective above, does it not follow suit that our exposure to indigenous percussion music, and our own experiences and skills with percussion music, would only inform our ability to facilitate/create improvisational experiences with our clients? I believe it does.
If we look back again at our four means of experiencing music/the resultant four music therapy methods, the same assertion applies. Our ability to re-create music using percussion, whether it be cultural/traditional music or contemporary music/song using percussion instruments as accompaniment, is informed by our relationships with the instruments we are playing. Our ability to compose percussion music will be affected by how well we understand the musical qualities of the instruments being played. Our ability to facilitate listening music therapy experiences using percussion (a somewhat rare but plausible occurrence) will be informed by our ability to contain such with adept musical prowess. Remember, percussion is progressively accessible. We can be inspired by the opportunity to spend a lifetime developing a rich relationship with every instrument we play. We can be inspired by how each music experience we undergo will inform our ability to facilitate music experiences for our clients.
In further continuances to this thread, I will begin discussing the extra-musical contexts of indigenous musics, and how they may relate to the general indigenous constructs of music therapy. I also plan to discuss in more detail the ways in which each music therapy method can be enhanced through an understanding of cultural/traditional musics.