Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

The Playwheel: A Model for Therapeutic Improvisation/« the Playwheel » : Un Modèle D'improvisation Thérapeutique

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

The Playwheel: A Model for Therapeutic Improvisation/« the Playwheel » : Un Modèle D'improvisation Thérapeutique

Article excerpt

The Importance of Improvisation

For the music therapy clinician, therapeutic improvisation is an essential and effective working method. In the last 30 years there have been several advances in approaches taken to improvisation in the profession of music therapy, as reported by a variety of innovators (Alvin, 1975; Priestley, 1975; Nordoff and Robbins, 1977; Bruscia, 1987; Kenny, 1989; Pavlicevic, 1997; Ruud, 1998; Lee, 2003; Wigram, 2004; Smeijsters, 2005).

The Latin improvisus means unforeseen. Mercedes Pavlicevic reminds us that "Music improvisation has always been. Before music was notated, oral tradition ensured that songs and pieces were kept alive through performance, and each performer added something distinctive to the music, which transformed it, albeit subtly" (1997, p. 73). One could argue that all music therapy work involves a degree of improvisation. Three primary reasons for this are uniqueness, exploration, and natural process.

1. Uniqueness: Each individual (or group) has a unique set of presenting conditions and requires a treatment program suited to that uniqueness. Each music therapist has a unique world view and skill set developed through the opportunities and challenges of their own experience. It follows, therefore, that when the music therapist comes together with the individual (or the individual in the group) to facilitate a positive change, it is essential that the therapist adjust their approach to the uniqueness of that person. Improvisation provides an open and effective forum for this dialogue. This allows for ongoing assessment within the treatment plan.

2. Exploration: Improvisation permits a range of exploration within the dynamic process of music therapy. This opens the door to personal expression as well as new possibilities for dyadic communication. Exploration opens the door to possibility.

3. Natural Process: In the same way that we improvise through verbal language; we think as we speak in the ongoing dialogue of conversation; so music therapy process allows for the give and take of the ongoing musical dialogue. We can apply the improvisational skills of language to the skills of music, and vice versa. For the musically untrained client, the process might feel anything but natural at first, presenting a challenge similar to that of learning a new verbal language.

These attributes of improvisation-uniqueness, exploration, and natural process -highlight the importance of improvisation within music therapy.

Note: The reader will note that in this essay we are using the word individual (rather than client, patient, etc.) to represent the person with whom the music therapist is working. Also, we are using the feminine pronoun she (rather than "he or she", etc.) when referring to the music therapist.

It is important to recognize that "therapeutic improvisation" is different from "performance improvisation" in music, as in jazz or in various World musical cultures (Indian, African, etc.) in two ways: 1) Therapeutic improvisation always involves the dyadic relationship of therapist and individual. 2) This dyad is guided, not necessarily by the rules of rhythm, melody and harmony-but rather by an unfolding process based on the therapeutic intent of the work.

Given the central role that improvisation plays in the clinical practice of music therapy, it is important that the music therapy student be initiated in the ways of therapeutic improvisation. The present model emerged as an attempt to teach classically trained music students to improvise-not only in a solo style, with their instrument, and not only in a musical group context, with each other, but in the context of a musical dialogue in a therapeutic dyad.

In Kenneth Bruscia's seminal study he, "provides a taxonomy of clinical techniques commonly used in improvisational music therapy" (1987, p. 533). In his synthesis, these total 64. This begs the question: How does one access this large number of improvisational techniques in an intuitive and masterful way as "action knowledge" during a music therapy session? …

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