Just call me MacGyver (because I improvise)

Posted: September 16, 2010 in Music Therapy, Techniques

One of the things about taking over clients from another therapist is that you have to deal with their goals.  Different therapists have different styles, and they often choose to address certain needs of certain clients in certain ways.  For example, one of the clients I picked up is an adult who has two communication goals – to contribute five words during songwriting, and to contribute three words during a vocal improvisation.  Now, I must say that I’m not entirely comfortable with songwriting or improvisations.  Part of it is a discomfort with coming up with things on the fly…I prefer to work on things over time.  My preferred method of songwriting is fill-in-the-blank with precomposed songs.  I took two semesters of improv in college, and know what I’m doing in principle.  In practice…well, that’s another story.

But, alas, these objectives are in the treatment plan, so I need to continue to work on them.  Actually, all of the clients I picked up have some sort of songwriting/vocal improv goal.  My predecessor came from a Nordoff-Robbins background, so improvisation is a big part of her repertoire.  But, I want to talk about today’s session with the client I mentioned above (K).

I’ve tried to do songwriting with K before, but I’ve found it difficult to come up with topics.  We always seem to talk about food in our songwriting exercises, and I’ve tried to write out some ideas beforehand – some lyrics with blanks.  However, when the session starts, I’ve found that my ideas aren’t really sparking anything with him.  He’ll often fill in the blank with the word “everything,” even if it doesn’t make sense.

I didn’t have time to write anything out tonight, so I thought we’d just wing it.  I was a bit leery about it…this goes back to my lack of self-confidence I’ve mentioned before.  We had just finished singing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” when we got to songwriting on the schedule.  I asked, “What should we write a song about?”  K usually shrugs and doesn’t say anything, but this time he thought for a moment and said, “James Brown.”  OK!  We have an idea!  He came up with it!  Score one for K!  Even though it relates to what we just did, it’s still appropriate to what we’re looking for.

I don’t know that much about James Brown, but I know a couple of things.  He was a singer, he did a lot of dancing, he had a history of trouble with the law.  Not a whole lot, but certainly enough for the five words required for a song.  We started out with “I like _______“, which K filled with “James Brown”.  Next, we went to “I like the way he __________”, which K filled with “dances”.  Next was “He dances like __________”, which is admittedly not a very good sentence, and which K predictably filled with “everything.”  Moving on, next was “I also like his _________”, which K filled with “songs”.  We ended with “My favorite one is ____________”.  I was hoping for “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “I Feel Good”, or “Living in America”, which are the only three James Brown songs I know.  K said something I couldn’t make out, with the first word sounding like “Please.”  I jumped on the computer quickly and looked up “James Brown please” and found his song “Please Please Please”, also known as “Please Don’t  Go”, which is what I think K said.  I asked, he said yes, and we have our song.  We put it to the tune of Papa, and it came out pretty well.

Next was the vocal improv, which I don’t always do because I often forget.  This time, I was emboldened by our success with the songwriting, so I picked a topic.  I didn’t want to do food or music, so I pulled the first thing out that popped in my head…dogs.  And we started singing.  I supplied most of the lyrics, and left some blanks, which K filled without a single “everything”.

So, why is it that K hasn’t been meeting those goals?  Is it him, or is it me?  Today was very good for building my own confidence in making spontaneous music.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be marketable, it doesn’t even have to be GOOD.  It just has to be a collaborative effort with the therapist and client connecting on a musical level.

Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

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