Live vs. canned music

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Music Therapy

I remember, during my undergraduate days, a class where we were doing presentations of music therapy experiences.  One person would present, and they would have other students come up and role play a client.  In this memory, I was the “client”.  I don’t recall what I was – I think I was either an adolescent or an adult in rehab for addiction.  The guy who was doing the presentation was doing lyric analysis, and while I don’t remember the song he chose, I do remember that we listened to a recording of the song.

When the presentation was over, the first question out of the teacher’s mouth was, “Why did you use a recording?”  The student said something about the emotional quality of the singer’s voice, but you could really tell that he chose the recording because he didn’t have time to learn the song himself.  He really didn’t have much of an excuse for this.  Many of us were guitar novices, but he was a double guitar performance-music therapy major.

In the lecture that followed, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me about the use of recorded music.  The use of recorded music is OK, our professor said, as long as it is more beneficial than live music.  In the case of this lyric analysis, there was no real benefit to using the CD.  Sure, all the instruments and the unique voice of the singer might be a reason to like the song, but if you’re trying to focus on the words, you don’t need all of that flash.  A stripped down acoustic version is often more powerful than the hit single.

I thought of this again last semester when I was supervising a practicum student working with adolescents in a school setting.  He did the exact same thing – used a recorded song during a lyric analysis.  We talked about it later.  The student was relatively inexperienced on the guitar, but the song only had three chords – not that tough to transcribe.

An issue that came up in our discussion was that of performance.  As music therapists, we’re trying to keep our clients engaged.  We’re not coming in, performing for 30-60 minutes, and leaving.  However, I think that performances are MUCH more interactive than everyone sitting and listening to a CD.  You can make eye contact with the clients, you can change things around, you can solicit participation.  Anyone can push play on a CD player – music therapy has to be something more.  So, no, I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to perform in music therapy sessions.  However, the consideration is the same – it needs to be therapeutically beneficial.  You may have a lovely operatic voice, but is that really appropriate when singing Ozzy Osbourne?

Before I close, I should say that I am NOT opposed to using recorded music in the sessions.  If I need to be working with people in, say, a scarf dance – modeling, helping with movements, or in general leading the activity – I don’t need to be constrained by a guitar or piano.  It’s therapeutically appropriate to have the music in the background so I can be more actively involved.

Anyway, just some thoughts.  Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

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