Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

What's in the Lyrics? A Discussion Paper Describing the Complexities of Systematically Analyzing Lyrics Composed in Music Therapy /Que Contiennent Les Paroles De Chanson? Une Discussion Décrivant la Complexité De L'analyse Systématique De Paroles De Chansons éCrites En Musicothérapie

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

What's in the Lyrics? A Discussion Paper Describing the Complexities of Systematically Analyzing Lyrics Composed in Music Therapy /Que Contiennent Les Paroles De Chanson? Une Discussion Décrivant la Complexité De L'analyse Systématique De Paroles De Chansons éCrites En Musicothérapie

Article excerpt

Songwriting has become increasingly prominent in music therapy literature as have investigations of it. This is illustrated by a recent international survey (Baker, Wigram, Stott, & McFerran, 2008, 2009) of songwriting practice by professional music therapists, which was completed by 477 individuals in 29 countries. With a pool of 3,152 music therapists in the survey, this implies that at least 15 percent of music therapists are using songwriting within their practices internationally. Assuming this represents a conservative estimate of the number of therapists who write songs with clients, the survey reveals the importance of investigating songwriting from a number of perspectives.

Lyrics are an important element of therapeutic songwriting, which combines the non-literal meanings inherent in instrumental music with the more precise connotations of words. The focus of this article follows a tendency in the literature to emphasize lyrical over musical interpretations when examining original song composition with clients. Music therapists typically use songwriting with clients who have verbal capacities and who are interested in exploring their therapeutic needs through words. Improvisation is more suitable for those who are not able to express themselves using words or are uninterested or ineffective in doing so. The use of familiar songs is more appropriate for those requiring more directed or structured interventions.

Collaborating with clients (in contrast to writing songs for clients) in songwriting most often involves the creation of lyrics as a priority, although this does not suggest that the music is not highly valued. Baker et al. (2009) found that music therapists and clients were more inclined to compose the words first, followed by the music. Similarly, a survey by Jones (2006) of the literature on how therapists write songs for use in their work implies that lyrics are written first and play a critical role, with the music in a supportive role. Lyrics are an important element of songs written with and by clients and are worthy of significant investigation; however, this acknowledgment does not suggest that the music plays a subservient role.

To date the largest study of the therapeutic purpose of songs written as a part of music therapy was carried out by Jones (2006), who focused on songs written for clients. In addition, an international survey of songs written with clients was undertaken by Baker et al (2008, 2009). For the latter, 20 categories of goals were identified from the literature, and the 477 survey participants were asked to comment on the degree to which they addressed each category in their work. The most common goals were the following:

* to externalize thoughts, fantasies, and emotions

* to experience mastery and enhance self-confidence/self-esteem

* to gain insight or clarify thoughts and feeling

* to validate experiences/coping

* to reduce anxiety, anger, and tension

In addition to these goals, therapists who had been practising for "more" than ten years also focused on "telling the client's story" as a goal priority. The goals listed above emphasize the value of putting words to experiences and appear to draw heavily on a psychodynamic framework where cognitive processing of experiences are considered critical for therapeutic growth (Yalom, 1995). This is congruent with the knowledge gathered from the international survey that collaborative songwriting most commonly takes place in psychiatric and oncologic settings and that music therapists are more likely to write songs for clients in special education or aged care where language skills may be minimal or diminishing (Jones, 2006; Williamson, 2006). Given the emphasis on meaning-making based on a psychodynamic orientation, two meta-levels of purpose were extrapolated by the researchers who divided the songs into those that focused on positive affirmation and those who grappled with, and expressed, more complex aspects of experience. …

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