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I have a confession: I am not a fan of the word “musicking.” Not only is it a silly-sounding word to me, but you can’t even find it in Merriam-Webster. (Okay, technically it’s described as the “present participle of music,” meaning it’s the ongoing action of the thing called “music.” But unlike other present participles it doesn’t have its own definition. But I digress…)

However, I’m now willing to admit that perhaps I should be more open to musicking and its underlying concept. Or at the very least I’m ready to read and learn more about it.

What prompted this shift? A talk I heard in Montreal at the 15th International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC) by a researcher named Michael David Golden. It was a philosophical talk during which Dr. Golden explored the connective function of musicking to cognition. Not “cognition” as in attention, learning and memory, and executive functions, but a more ecological view of cognition that involves connecting the body, mind, and ecosystem.

I would do a poor job of recreating his argument, particularly as I just heard the talk once. However, the nugget that stuck with me—the one related to these musings—was his framing of musicking.

According to Dr. Golden, musicking is a social phenomenon, the purpose of which is to link or align the mental and emotional states of two or more humans.

Musicking had previously been described to me as “doing” music, or the act of creating, making, or engaging in music. The present participle idea. But that didn’t make sense to me. Music isn’t something to be “done,” is it? Sure, there’s “dance” and “dancing,” but there’s not “art” and “arting.” And like with art, there are others verbs associated with music—improvising, singing, playing, listening, composing. Why not stick with those?

But thinking of musicking as a way of interacting and engaging through music…that makes more sense to me. Particularly in a field so reliant on the therapist-client relationship. There are moments in the clinical space when music is the bridge between you and the client. When it’s about the connection and interaction that is occurring through a shared musical experience. In other words, rather than the music intervening in some way, it’s about the music facilitating an exchange.

As I mull this over, I find myself differentiating between music, music experiences, and musicking as it pertain to music therapy practice. “Music” could be considered as a stimulus or tool to be used for a therapeutic purpose. For example, there may be a particular song you select that allows a client to practice a specific aspect of vocal production. In this scenario, although there is a shared experience through singing together and an interaction that occurs, that is not the primary intent. Thus, music as a tool seems appropriate here.

I also see a difference between music and music experiences. Perhaps an example will help illustrate why. I have developed a music intervention called Musical Contour Regulation Facilitation (MCRF). This intervention involves the creation of three types of music experiences: those that will increase the physiologic arousal of preschoolers (high arousal), those that will decrease their physiologic arousal (low arousal), and those that are simply developmentally-appropriate (neutral arousal).

In designing these experiences, some rely primarily on the music itself, whereas others rely more on the experience being facilitated by the music. For example, in the MCRF intervention low arousal music should have a slow tempo, a lower-than-typical pitch range, soft dynamic level, and legato articulations. When during the intervention the task is to simply listen to the music, it’s the structural features of the stimulus itself that’s intended to lower the child’s arousal level. In contrast, during a music-facilitated stretching sequence, the music may have some of the same structural features described above, but in this component the arousal-lowering aspect is more focused on the experience of stretching.

So where does that leave us with musicking? Perhaps musicking can be used to describe those situations in which the primary focus is on a musically-facilitated exchange or interaction is occurring between client and therapist. This could potentially serve a multitude of therapeutic purposes across functional domains, including (though not limited to):

  • Working on nonverbal communicative behaviors;
  • Focusing on increasing sustained attention;
  • Providing space for self- and/or emotional expression;
  • Practicing social interactions; and
  • Valuing client identity.

A final thought to share on these ideas. Although they are expressed categorically, I do not conceptualize it as such, as an either/or situation. Rather, I would pose that most, if not all, music therapy interactions include all three elements, but in different ratios depending on the clinical context. For example, there may be some clinical scenarios in which the music-as-stimulus holds precedence, and others where the musicking does. And this could be fluid even within a single therapeutic music experience as the music therapist is attuned and musically responsive to the client.

These are, of course, all musings-in-process, open to ideas and subject to change. I plan to read and think on this more, and welcome your comments, thoughts, and suggested readings. The comments section below awaits…

P.S. As I revised this post, I am reminded of previous posts exploring ideas on music IN versus music AS therapy that seem related to this. Check those out here, here, and here if interested.

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It’s January! Know what that means…?

Time for the annual Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy month!

I have had the distinct pleasure of helping to coordinate this project since its inception in 2012. Whereas in year’s past we invited music therapy bloggers and podcasters to talk about advocacy, this year we’re structuring the project differently by inviting ALL professional and pre-professional music therapists to participate!

Here’s the deal…we are encouraging music therapists to find and share their “advocacy song” by completing the following:

THINK of an existing song that could be your advocacy song.

EXPLAIN what makes it your advocacy song.

FIND the official music video and copy the link.

POST the link and your explanation to your favorite social media channels.

SHARE by following the #mtadvocacy hashtag and sharing what you find.

So I’ve been sitting on this idea for almost a month, now, trying to think of how I can participate. What is my advocacy song? The challenge for me is that trying to find “my advocacy song” is a bit like asking a musician to name their favorite piece. It’s pretty much impossible, because the song selected depends on a variety of factors.

For example, when trying to select my advocacy song, do I:

A) Go with a perseverance-focused, fight-until-you-get-it type of song, such as Roar by Katy Perry?

Katy Perry - Roar (Official) - YouTube

B) Celebrate the big (and small) successes with a song like We Are the Champions by Queen?

Queen - We Are The Champions (Official Video) - YouTube

C) Or do I acknowledge the reality of how legislative and policy successes are commonly accomplished, through in-person conversations and negotiations à la “The Room Where it Happens” from Lin-Manual Miranda’s musical Hamilton?

The Room Where It Happens - YouTube

These are all aspects and feelings I associate with music therapy advocacy. But I choose none of them as “my” advocacy song.

For that, I turn to something a bit more personal—my love for the music therapy profession, inclusive of colleagues and friends, the clients we serve, and the unfolding knowledge of the impact music can have on individuals and communities. I was fortunate to find this passion early in life and it’s this passion that makes the work I do not feel like a job. It keeps me going through the challenges of processing difficult clinical experiences, starting a private practice, completing a PhD, and, yes, continuing in this advocacy journey.

So in my process of identifying my advocacy song, I present to you Ben Fold’s The Luckiest which, although more literally reflective of romantic love, for me also represents the fortune I feel in discovering this field of music therapy.

Ben Folds - The Luckiest - YouTube

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I was recently inspired by an episode of the Revisionist History podcast to explore musical characteristics associated with “sad” music. This particular episode stimulated some other thoughts as well, in particular the role of geography and song preference.

Where does this come from? In the podcast episode, host Malcolm Gladwell explored characteristics associated with specific genres—more specifically the repetitiveness of song lyrics from those genres—and how these may mirror personality characteristics of the people from those areas where the genres emerged.

Let me break that down a bit more . . .

An article was published in Pudding Magazine in 2015 that used an algorithm to analyze the repetitiveness of song lyrics (it’s actually a fun, interactive read, if you’re interested).

Although the Morris article itself looked at lyric repetitiveness across decades and by artist, Gladwell seemed to focus on this little nugget of information Morris shared:

“Genre does seem like a differentiating factor here. In the 00’s, our artists actually separate pretty cleanly into two clusters, with country music and hip-hop (and whatever John Mayer does) on the left, and pop and rock on the right.”

With “left” referring to songs with lower levels of lyric repetition and “right” to songs with higher levels.

Gladwell goes on to suggest that the reason for this lyric repetitiveness (or lack thereof) may stem from characteristics associated with the geographic locations from which these genres emerged. For example:

  • Song writers of popular country and hip hop songs are from, respectively, the south (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, etc.) and Detroit. Gladwell argues that due to shared cultural experiences—with those living in the south being largely white Southern Protestants and those from Detroit having shared urban experiences—these songwriters came from more tightly knit communities. This then allowed them to share more complicated stories and use more precise imagery in their lyrics. Thus, less repetitiveness.
  • In contrast, Gladwell suggests that pop and rock music emerged from a larger geographic area. This means songwriters are from different places, no one speaks the same language (literally and culturally), and there is more diversity. Though musically this diversity may lead to more innovation, when it comes to lyrics Gladwell suggests this same diversity leads songwriters to keep their lyrics simpler and more repetitive.

Now I’m no expert in musical preference, nor am I an ethnomusicologist. However, I am one who seeks to understand human behavior, musical and otherwise, and use this understanding to inform my music therapy clinical, teaching, and research work. Thus I find these types of discussions intriguing and thought-provoking.

At the outset, it does seem there may be an association between geographical culture and musical preference. Though this particular line of reasoning is based on a single article in a non-peer reviewed publication, my personal experience of learning certain styles of song based on where I was living (country music in Colorado, pop music in Kansas City, and Hispanic children’s, religious, and pop songs in Miami) provides some level of corroboration.

Ultimately, though, the big takeaway for me is that the concept of musical preference is complex. Right or wrong, I tend to fall back on the role of the individual in musical preference, considering things like the association between personal memories and long-term preferred songs, or the role mood and other contextual factors play in daily favorite tunes one plays.

So from that perspective, it’s refreshing to me to have a new angle from which to consider this idea. Particularly one more group sociologically-based and less individual psychologically so.

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