Improvising in Styles: A Workbook for Music Therapists, Educators and Musicians

By Gilbertson, Simon | Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Improvising in Styles: A Workbook for Music Therapists, Educators and Musicians


Gilbertson, Simon, Canadian Journal of Music Therapy


Lee, C., & Houde, M. (2011). Improvising in styles: A workbook for music therapists, educators and musicians. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers. ISBN 978-1-891278-58-7.

A new type of book in 2011

In creating the book, 'Improvising in styles: A workbook for music therapists, educators and musicians', Colin Lee and Marc Houde have produce a unique and significant contribution to the continuation and development of the use of music improvisation in music therapy. The publication is designed to also be of relevance for music educators and for practicing musicians and music therapists who have made the choice to develop and extend their skills in improvising in music styles.

Bringing a wealth of experience with music into this publication, Lee and Houde invited the highly regarded invited contributors Monique McGrath, Sung-yong Shim, Carolyn Arnason, Dianne Austin, Rosemary Fischer, Janet Graham, Ian Hayter, Ruth Roberts and Michelle Song to create a highly significant resource which may support, guide and inspire clinicians, students and, I hope, also researchers in their diverse endeavors and reflections in conjunction with music improvisation.

Roots and shoots: Music improvisation and therapy

In a time of apparent endless diversification of music therapy concepts, this book is clearly situated within a tradition of music therapy in improvisation with its historical roots in the pioneering work of Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins. Thirty-four years have passed since Nordoff and Robbins published Creative Music Therapy in 1977. In the meantime, the world has changed. Globally, the number of music therapists has risen, as has the number and diversity of models, methods, techniques and approaches within the profession. The diversity of individuals engaging in music therapy has also grown in terms of settings and social and political roles and contexts. Music therapists consider their work on an ever-widening spectrum of the individual and the community. At this time however, it is of great significance to observe that no matter how the 'world' changes over decades or centuries, the relational aspects of music and the role this can play in the health of life is unwavering. (In fact, during the past five years, music therapy is becoming a more commonly visited and prioritized element of popular interest in novels and Hollywood films and contemporary research. Even those involved in neuroscience are making very commendable, but somewhat tentative steps away from a consideration of music as a stimulus or experimental object, towards considering the ways music, as a form of relational existence, can illuminate the basic social-neural structures that underlie the relational nature of being human).

Improvising music makes two major demands on i) perception and ii) action. When improvising, musicians perceive huge variations in the dynamics of sound and form, and to interact with these dynamics, practice and immersion in music increases the musicians' capacity to relate their music making to the music making of the other. This is the basis of relational perspectives of music in music therapy in which improvisation plays such a central role. In the light of all of this, Colin Lee and Marc Houde have brought together in this impressive book a realm of experience and concrete possibilities of gaining expertise in the challenges that improvising innately implies.

Contents of the publication

The book is organized in five major parts and includes two audio CD with a large number of music excerpts:

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Classical

Part Three: Popular

Part Four: World

Part Five: Authenticity

Part One: Introduction leads the reader into considering and reflecting on the role and significance of the development of an awareness about the relationship between musical styles, skills, and the social and cultural context of improvisation and music therapy.

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