We Got the Beat: Part 4

March 4, 2012

This may be my longest series!

Sometimes clients need to be empowered.  In my psych setting, my clients are mostly dual-diagnosis, but at times there are more acute cases, and often these patients want to be in control, take charge and monopolize my groups.  In other settings, I have to be more flexible and go with the flow, but in the psych setting, everyone deserves a balanced music therapy group. On the contrary, in my dementia settings, people are usually hesitant to participate openly for fear that they’ll do something wrong, so I try to help them feel more confident whenever possible.

I empower people in an organized fashion in all settings with rhythm leading exercises. This type of exercises can be used anywhere, but here are two settings where I have used rhythm leading:


Psych Setting Rhythm Leading

I begin this exercise after “check-in” and some sort of directed drumming intervention.  I usually introduce it by saying something to the effect of “The next thing we’re going to do, is have each of you lead us in a rhythm. You can pass if you would like.  Would anyone like to volunteer to go first? I’ll give you more direction when someone volunteers.”

When I get a volunteer, I ask them to choose an instrument they would like to lead with.  The leader is allowed to take whatever instrument he/she wants, even if someone is holding it already.  That person is then asked to orchestrate what the rest of us play as well.  He or she can give specific instruments to each participant, or if they don’t care what other people play, participants can choose whatever instruments they want.

The leader can give specific musical direction if they are so inclined, but most people feel the most comfortable just playing a rhythm for the others to follow.  If they have trouble getting started, I tell them that they should just play “whatever comes out of your hand.”

Before a person starts playing, I tell them that the only thing they need to do after they begin playing, is stop playing when they want to, “and hope that everyone else is paying attention.”  I encourage others to pay close attention to what the leader is doing so they don’t miss any cues.  If a person goes on for more than two minutes, I give a quiet reminder to them that they can stop whenever they want to, just in case they have forgotten the directions.

When the leader has stopped, I ask him/her to give a title to their creation, and always thank the person and praise their title.  If they have difficulty coming up with a title, I ask them if the group can help us, and then ask the other group members to come up with some potential titles, and the leader is able to choose which one he/she likes the best.

Rhythm Leading in Dementia Care

This can work in one of two ways.  One, is the above explanation (without the person being expected to remember to stop on their own).  The second way is as follows:

Often, when I am leading a drumming check-in with folks with dementia, they continue to play, not remembering that others have just played a short rhythm to explain how they’re feeling.  SO…I allow the person to keep playing, and encourage others to play along with the leader.  After a minute or two, I do a stop cut (4, 3, 2, 1 STOP) as if that was what was supposed to happen, like in the other drumming interventions we do.  I then have the leader title their work.  Most of the time, folks will give titles like “Music,” “Rhythm,” or “Noise,” and I give praise for their titles no matter what they are.  If someone can’t think of a title, I do what I explained above, and have the other group members help the person (if they have confirmed that it’s okay for others to help).

This intervention can also be combined with a check-in, as an adaptation.  In that case, I would ask each person to play a rhythm that speaks to how they’re feeling (without having to give a word for that feeling) and encourage others to play along.  I allow them to stop on their own, or I facilitate a stop cut if necessary, and then I have them give their rhythm a title, etc.


I hope this post was helpful!


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