Playing handdrum

I  was talking with a college this week about client progress and how sometimes what is visible to onlookers is instantly and so radically different than what is typically portrayed by a client, and at other times, progress is happening more internally and one has to look closer at finer details (body posture, intensity of eye contact, etc). Then, when looking back in time, where the client was and where they are now shows a clear march of progress. These often are the times when those who are unfamiliar with Music Therapy need a little more information from the therapist as to what is happening in the session.

One of the elements of music, specifically rhythm, can exemplify similar results to the ones mentioned above, both obvious and finer, more subtle results. Rhythm is one of those elements that I use frequently to facilitate development when a client is at a level that needs some challenge. Rhythm is a major organizing factor in music. It works significantly in this way for individuals and for groups, or communities.  A group rhythm engagement is a unified sensory motor experience that all experience simultaneously and in a unified manner.  Even when all come to the community with their own chaos happening randomly, if given a little bit of time, with a strong steady pulse, chaos can be organized. Each person contributes their own individual inclinations, and through a bit of organization, inclinations become positive group attributes with individual, unique voices. Individual attribute building relatively impacts individual development. This rhythmic engagement directly and joyfully facilitates positive communication with instant feedback. Rhythmic involvement also provides moment to moment responsibility opportunities for it’s members. Each individual’s contributions is a factor in the group stability. It also provides a secure group support, each member in a unified experience, engaging with others while listening, respecting, creating, cooperating, being aware, and exploring.

Individually, for those with some sort of motoric (gross, fine or linguistic) difficulties, a good steady flow of rhythm provides a means the individual can sometimes not provide for themselves, which contributes to the individual’s most obvious difficulties. When the individual has a strong, steady pulse to lean on, that pulse can then begin to facilitate development where it had previously become stuck.  So what do these things look like in a session?

In the group experience, it may start out looking and sounding a little chaotic, depending on the individuals involved. Each individual brings with them their own tools and baggage. Some individuals may stay outside the experience until they  feel secure enough and must watch and listen to find out how steady, how reliable that pulse is going to be. Others may fumble with the rhythm until they are unconsciously pulled into synch, enjoying the kinesthetic experience. This may take a little bit of time. Personalities surface; there are those who like to lead, whether it is an option provided by the group or not, there are even those who sit with a pout or an angry look, to ward off others, until the steady rhythmic vibrations pull and crack that look into a grin, and there are those who will storm out if they are not the center of attention; however the beat goes on. Where then is the gratification of that storming out if the joyful beat continues? There is always a place in the rhythm for that person to return to when they are ready. It is very difficult to argue with a steady, flowing groove.

In the individual session, those whose bodies insist on stalling and/or stuttering throughout life, find it just as difficult to argue with the beat that moves in waves steadily forward. Most often, given a little time, the steady pulse will grease or limber the words to release them to the pulse. This happens most often when there is nothing to judge, just joy to be had. The little one whose neurological connections or emotional baggage just will not let the steady flow of words out, lends what ability the child does have to which the pulse, ever progressive, continues to move forward like the wave. Contributing when the participant can, the groove will eventually grease and limber the connections as the child’s contributions become more frequent, clear, spontaneous and continuous like the pulse. Before you know it, the brief contributions here and there follow the attentive spirit to full participation. Just like all unused, rusty machines, the longer the un-use, the more time it takes to be properly greased and ready to roll, but rolling does happen. It is that time in between, when all the naked onlooker eye sees is a continuous, repetitive pulse. But the eye with the viewfinder sees as it is happening and knows, from previous experience, that this is how it works..

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC

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