To Play: The Process and Progress

Play is literally defined as “without seriousness, to take part or engage in a game” (, the operative phrase being “to take part or engage.” When an unstructured 2 or 3-year-old enters the Music Therapy room with no direction and wanders from thing to thing, moving about like a whirlwind, leaves behind a path of chaos and is not engaged in any form of curiosity or play, the therapist develops a simple tune with a basic beat, following the little boy’s movements. Within the next two sessions, she notices that the basic beat no longer coincides with the child’s behavior but instead its strength and inviting beat coincide with the child’s movements as he slows and begins to notice and play with toys all on his own. In the security of the structure and the rhythm’s irresistible lure. the child begins to make eye contact with the music-maker, listening to what she is going to do or sing as she partners with his pauses. Stopping to listen is not something this boy is accustomed to doing in his whirlwind of activity. This little guy loves the stability. He picks up some drumsticks, looks at the music-maker, and randomly hits the drum with his might and pleasure. To his surprise, it matches: the structure remains, yet follows him simultaneously. He continues to test this structure while also receiving pleasure from the mirrored reverberation of his impulsive strong strikes.
Miraculously, no one jumps, no one yells, and no one corrects. The music-maker stays in her spot at the piano, continuing to provide structured, inviting boundaries. Over time, this testing continues until the inviting lure of the beat pulls these strong strikes in the direction of the pulse. As this is fun, inviting, strengthening, and secure, the little boy now joyously seems to beat the drum to the music-maker’s beat. He wants to test this again, so he tries a soft beat (nothing he had ever done in such a controlled, purposeful manner before). The pulse continues: structure and mirroring continue. In between drumbeats, he goes to the toybox and listens as the music-maker sings his name. As he walks over to the assistant to hand over the toy, he pauses and listens for what the music-maker will name it. The curiosity of this game innately propels this listening game to 10 minutes of his attention, then 20 minutes of his attention. These sounds are intriguing. He goes to the music-maker’s black box and pounces with his fingers. Amazing, it still fits that pulsating structure. Over a couple meetings, he gets it. he comes over to the black box and presses one white rectangle after another. He whisks a look of pride at the assistant. If he could, he would say, “Did you see that? Did you hear that? I played that.” Then he claps in self-fulfillment. Now let’s try organizing these rectangles. He plays one after another, going up and then coming down, whisking another glance at the assistant. This play is sooo much fun!

Antoinette Morrison, MT-BC

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