Flexibility in Music Therapy

By March 5, 2013Clinical Insights

If you are a music therapist, you undoubtedly know the importance of flexibility. This can manifest in a number of different ways. In this post, I talk about a few types of flexibility I think are important to our jobs. However, I rarely have all my bases covered, so please tell me what I’ve missed! How do YOU demonstrate flexibility in your job?

Flexibility of Time

I’ve worked as a music therapist in a variety of settings, and nearly all of them have required some amount of flexibility in timing. yogaSometimes this means being flexible with other members of a treatment team. Communication and scheduling become essential. Sometimes it’s more about the patient and his or her personal state or timetable. I suspect that many of us have had the patient who “just wasn’t up to it” on Tuesday, but was fired up and ready on Wednesday, which is your busiest day! Being able to rearrange schedules to serve clients with the highest needs definitely requires flexibility, and I’ve seen some inspiring music therapists do this time and time again.

Musical Flexibility

I don’t know every song. I don’t know even close to half of all songs ever recorded. In fact, the number of songs I have memorized is probably a tiny, embarrassing percentage of the collective sum of the songs known to my patients/clients. This means I have to be flexible in using the songs I do know, as well as flexible in quickly reproducing songs that are new to me.

What do I mean about flexibly using the songs I  know? I mean that I should be aware of alternate versions that have been performed in more than one style or genre. For example, consider the song Unchained Melody. The best known version is probably the Righteous Brothers 1965 recording. However, Elvis did a version in 1977, so the song might also please Elvis fans or fans of 1950’s music. If you tell a fan of old country music that Willie Nelson did a version, it becomes accessible to that client as well. Know who else has recorded Unchained Melody? Roy Orbison, Al Green, Susan Boyle, Sarah McLachlan, Cyndi Lauper, Harry Belafonte, Air Supply, LeAnn Rimes, Clay Aiken, Sam Cooke…seriously, all that’s missing here are metal and dub-step versions. Even more interesting to consider is how these different approaches to the same song might be used flexibly to meet different areas of need.

And what about being able to flexibly reproduce new songs? When I need to learn a song quickly, I try to break it down to its most basic elements. What is the overall chord structure (I do a little harmonic analysis using roman numerals so I can quickly transpose)? Which chords can I do without? Which verses are the most important? Can I get by with knowing just a chorus and a verse? Basically, what is the least amount of information I need to pull off this song in a way that is still musical and clinically effective. After that, I can always add more.

Sometimes I’m required to reproduce songs I’ve never heard. By taking the style into account, and by listening to the melody, I can make educated guesses about harmonic progressions. It never hurts to practice this. How? Play along with songs – lots of them – and practice anticipating harmonic motion based on the vocal melody.

Flexibility of Expectations

Picture this: I’ve come up with the most brilliant session plan ever. So brilliant that I don’t mind that Call Me Maybe is on my car radio while I’m driving to the session. In fact, I sing along. I get to my session and dive into my intervention with my client. Only, he’s had a rough day. He’s tired and a little bit sick, and the task is just too cognitively demanding. Sadly, I abandon my awesome session plan and adapt it to match the current functioning level of my client. Music therapists every day have to adapt their expectations based on day to day changes of clients. It’s just one more type of flexibility.

Other News

That’s the end of this post, but I also want to let you know about the Music Therapy Source newsletter. What newsletter, you say? The brand new one that will go out on Wednesday! Be sure and subscribe to get free guitar tips, session ideas, and other thoughts related to music therapy, which will only be published via the newsletter. Click here and subscribe!

Have a great week,

Matt Logan


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