Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Hermeneutic Inquiry on Musical Gestures in a Music Therapy Context/Recherche Herméneutique Sur le Geste Musical Dans Un Contexte Musicothérapeutique

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Hermeneutic Inquiry on Musical Gestures in a Music Therapy Context/Recherche Herméneutique Sur le Geste Musical Dans Un Contexte Musicothérapeutique

Article excerpt

This hermeneutic research project was primarily focused on musical gestures and how they act as a mode of communication between therapists and clients. There was also a focus on how a client's context affects these gestures. Musical gestures are body movements associated with the act of making music, including postures, facial expressions, or movements intended to create sound on an instrument (Godpy & Leman, 2010). I also included a secondary focus on context for two reasons. During my training as a music therapist, I became interested in culture-centred and community music therapy theories developed by Pavlicevic (1997), Ruud (1998), and Stige (2002), and I saw the importance of taking context into account when working with clients. Examining the context of oneself as researcher and the "text" (in this case, the transcript and analysis of the gestural content of music therapy sessions) is a fundamental part of the hermeneutic process.

Although many studies have been conducted on musical gestures and their meaning (Godpy & Leman, 2010; Nakra, 2000; Tolbert, 2001) and the phenomenon of embodied cognition (Iyer, 1999; Leman, 2008; Leman, Desmet, Styns, van Noorden, & Moelants, 2009; Leung, Qiu, Ong, & Tam, 2011), little work in the field of music therapy specifically has addressed the role of musical gestures in the therapeutic process. The meaning of these gestures has not been discussed, yet I believe that most music therapists intuitively recognize non-verbal signals in sessions without overtly discussing them. It is my hope that in bringing interdisciplinary sources together to elicit discussion around the meaning of musical gestures in music therapy contexts, a new discourse will emerge in music therapy.

The primary focus of this study was to answer the question, "What is communicated in the musical gestures of a music therapist and their client in a music therapy context?"

The following were secondary foci:

* What constitutes a musical gesture versus a speechaccompanying gesture?

* What kinds of different musical gestures can be seen within music therapy sessions?

* How do clients' musical gestures affect music therapists' subsequent actions?

* How does the music therapist use the client's gestural repertoire to inform the therapeutic relationship?

The study focused on the analysis of the gestures associated with the creation of music (i.e., playing instruments) only. It did not include a discussion of all non-verbal behaviour in a music therapy session, nor did it include an in-depth discussion of verbal or musical exchanges in the music therapy sessions.

Defining Musical Gestures

For the purposes of this project, a musical gesture was defined as a gesture that accompanies the playing of or listening to music and was analyzed from both phenomenological and functional perspectives. The gestures were not analyzed from intrinsic perspectives since member-checking was not a component of this study.


I began this research with the assumption that musical gestures would be self-evident, identifiable, and that they would be specific to each individual. I believed that there would be a significant portion of each session devoted to improvisation together and that I could examine musical gestures in the context of free associative music-making. I thought this kind of social interaction (within a musical improvisation) would be an ideal environment in which to examine distinctive gestural patterns. Furthermore, upon becoming aware of the clientele I would be working with, I began to form assumptions about the types of gestures I might see in the music. Initially, I believed that a client with autism would exhibit repeating patterns of gestures with few that were intentional or communicative. I also believed that it would be challenging to identify communicative gestures in a client with full body paralysis. I thought that the effects of culture or context on gesture would be self-evident. …

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