Music and Brain Blog #3
Kuester, Stephanie. Rhythm of the Soul: Music Therapy for Percussionists, Percussive Notes, Vol. 46, No. 2, April 2008, pgs. 16-17.
Synopsis: Most musicians take for granted the vague sense of the “power of music,” understanding at some base level that music somehow produces a general feeling of satisfaction and well-being. However, within the realm of music therapy, the “power of music” is viewed as a more quantifiable and definite source of benefits for physical and mental health. Generally, the field of music therapy encompasses the “treatment of the total individual” (developing motor, communication, memory, and other skills, and not simply trying to learn a piece of music), “planned personal interaction” (providing a clear structure in a social setting to build social skills, instead of simply fostering healthy self-confidence through successful individual practice), and “continuous manipulation of the musical environment” (meeting the dynamic and changing needs of a patient). Thanks to their “intimate understanding of rhythm,” percussionists are excellent candidates to pursue careers in music therapy, thanks to the well-established importance of rhythm in almost all forms of music therapy treatments. Many established therapists maintain that there are many benefits to be found in rhythm and percussion, noting the strengths of inherent structure and organization.
One example of music therapy in action can be found in the activities of “Doing Anger Differently” (DAD), which focus on channeling the energy of overly-angry and aggressive teenage boys into hand drumming exercises. One such activity is “Mapping Anger,” wherein the patients express the rise and fall of their anger reactions through a rise and fall of drum activity in a group setting; this provides all of the benefits discussed above. Another example is the process of Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) executed by Michael Thaut, professor at Colorado State University. In RAS, patients are people who have brain damage due to injury or illness, and their physical rehabilitation activity is keyed to a “click tone” to facilitate inherently-rhythmic motions, such as walking.
Reflection: The purpose of this article, as explicitly stated by Ms. Kuester, is “to introduce the profession of music therapy and, more specifically, to show how percussion can be used within its context.” Therefore, we can forgive her for only skimming the surface of this topic, since the article is aimed at introducing music therapy to percussionists who may not know anything about the field. Still, I was particularly intrigued by the first example she gave (DAD). Here, Kuester mentions attempts to express the inherent superiority of drums over other instruments when used as a treatment of anger. While I certainly don’t mind the percussion ego boost (as I’m sure all subscribers of Percussive Notes would agree), I actually have to admit from first-hand experience that hand drums aren’t necessarily the only way to physically express anger in a therapeutic, and not simply musical, fashion.
Every day in high school, I would come home and spend anywhere from ten minutes to three hours or more pounding away on our old out-of-tune standup piano. I wasn’t even aware of this habit at the time; only looking back do I realize that this was actually a regular occurrence, and not something I simply felt like doing every now and then. The act of physically working myself up and pounding out all those notes on the piano helped me to get rid of loads of excess ADHD energy, and helped me to focus on the moment and not dwell on whatever may have troubled me that day during school. Eventually, I started spending more time at the marimba or vibraphone after school and less on the piano at home, but the effect was the same; after each of these unconscious “therapy sessions,” I felt calmer and unburdened by the stress of high school’s many trials and tribulations, social or otherwise. Nowadays, I still indulge in this sort of activity when I feel the inclination, and even now I much prefer the piano or keyboard percussion instruments to simple hand drums. For me, part of the therapy comes from being able to express the source of my stress to myself as accurately as possible, and I simply find it easier to do so with an array of pitches and techniques at my disposal, rather than the relatively limited voice of a conga or djembe. Mind you, I don’t view this as an overly musical experience; I am in agreement with Kuester in that this kind of exercise is solely therapeutic, rather than building my technique or expressivity as a trained musician.