Part II: Musical Examples and Analyses
In this section we’ll study several instrumental compositions written by music therapists. Take the time to play and/or sing each one. The music is written with piano accompaniment, some with chords indicated. Guitarists have successfully adapted such music while still adhering closely to the particular makeup and construction of the original harmony. In addition, pieces have been used purely vocally when no harmonic instrument is available or if voice is the preferred way of relating with a client.
Carol and Clive Robbins describe the “mechanics” of constructing a musical place for the client in the texture of a composition in Music Therapy for the Hearing-Impaired and Other Special Groups (1980, Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy, NYU).
1) “Beat the Drum Once” by Herbert Levin and Gail Levin
This is an activity song by Herbert and Gail Levin, former students of Nordoff and Robbins. The song is published in Learning through Music (1998, Barcelona Publishers), a valuable resource for music therapists. Sing and play this extract from the song to experience its striking clarity and musical/clinical unity of purpose.
There are other notable musical aspects at play:
1. The melody strongly supports the lyrics by following its prosody (patterns of stress and intonation), i.e., placing certain words, like “Beat” and “Once” on the downbeat.
2. The lyrics are relevant to the activity at hand, contain repetition, and are clear and direct.
3. The ascending melody creates a feeling of anticipation, especially as it does not resolve immediately to the tonic.
4. The silence (rest) following the phrase gives the player a clear place to be heard.
5. The minor mode lends a feeling of purposefulness to the activity.
6. The song’s structure encourages attention and impulse control as the player listens and waits for her time to beat
This is a ideal model on which to base a new instrumental activity song, in whatever style or mode you’d like to create for your client. (Following this section, you will view a short excerpt during which the song is introduced in a session.)
2. “Ring Your Bells “by Michele Ritholz
In this (unpublished) composition for two resonator bells (E” and A’) and piano, the bells are given a place of importance within the arrangement, and are sounded during the rest following short melodic phrases. One or two players may participate. Play the piece and try to identify what musical elements might motivate engagement.
1. Reciprocal/interactive play with the therapist is embedded into the music.
2. Two clients (or more, if being doubled) may take turns playing, listen/wait at times, and then play together at the end.
3. Written in the key of A major, added tones such as the Maj 7, min 7, Maj 9th, #11ths and b5 are used to enrich the chords and lend a jazzy style to the piece.
4. In addition to the primary chords of I (A), IV (D) and V7 (E7), minor chords such as iii (c#m7), vi (f#m7), and, a chord out of the key, the bII (Bb Maj9 b5) are present.
5. Notice the alternation of wide and close spacing between notes in the piano arrangement. Using contrasts can invite and hold attention.
3) “Reed Horn Blues” by Marc Houde
Instrumental compositions can be written with simultaneous parts leading players into directed ensemble playing. The following 4-measure excerpt from a piece by Marc Houde invites players to make music with two reed horns, electric guitar (open D tuning), percussion and cymbal. It can be found in Composition and Improvisation Resources for Music Therapists, edited by Colin Andrew Lee, Aimee Berends, and Sara Pun (Barcelona Publishers, 2015). The composer writes:
Later in the piece, the composer provides an opportunity for instrumental solos as the piano continues the pattern without pre-formed musical parts written. This is a clear example of an ABA form, the B section being improvised within the frame of the piece.
1. Blues idiom and band structure may be highly motivating to certain clients.
2. The moving bass line creates momentum.
3. Dissonances can awaken attention and stimulate participation.
4. There are opportunities for various kinds of participation in the Interplay of parts.
4. “Listen to the Sound!” By Michele Ritholz
The final (unpublished) example is a piece that calls for cymbal punctuation. The lyrics bring attention to the activities of the moment--listening attentively to the music and playing the cymbal with purpose. Meant as a vehicle for a client whose single strike on the instrument might take great effort, the music highlights and celebrates the achievement.
1. Written in Bb minor, the descending bass and harmonies create shifting musical moods.
2. There is a suggestion of a minor blues tonality.
3. The harmonic rhythm is quick, as chords change often.
4. After the music repeats, the player contributes his last beat accompanied by an unexpected DbMaj9 chord. A change such as this is meant to both bring out the significance of the player’s role in the musical whole and be aesthetically pleasing.
The value of composing and introducing such songs in sessions is described in Creative Music Therapy: