During the last 3 years I've had the opportunity to work on a music therapy book publication with my Wilfrid Laurier University professor Colin Lee. When he approached me about the idea of co-authoring a book, I was more than thrilled! He has been my mentor and inspiration throughout this project, and although it has been a long ride, I am now proud to present the results of our work. Several music therapists have also contributed chapters and essential parts which complemented the rest of the book's content. I wish to extend my gratitude to all who were involved in this project directly and indirectly.
The book is designed to explore musical improvisation from the perspectives of a variety of musical styles ranging from classical music to jazz, blues and other world styles. Although it is designed primarily for music therapists, this workbook contains mountains of ideas for general improvisation which any musician can benefit from. The book is available at Barcelona Publishers:
The following is a description from the publisher's website:
Although improvisation is a therapeutic method that has been known and used in many music therapy settings, it is surprising there are only a few published practical guides on how to learn to clinically improvise. This publication aims to redress this gap by providing a comprehensive workbook specifically designed to give music therapists the tools to successfully improvise in their work.
This book was inspired in large part on the pioneering work of Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins through their books Creative Music Therapy and Healing Heritage. It is also philosophically grounded in the ideas put forth in Colin Lee’s Aesthetic Music Therapy and Ken Aigen’s Playin’ in the Band. While Nordoff’s texts explore the most basic properties of music starting from intervals, scales and triads, this book addresses these aspects but within the context of fully formed musical styles, ranging from classical music to popular and world styles. Aigen explains the rationale for such an approach to clinical improvisation:
Nordoff-Robbins work is predicated on a belief that the properties, which define musical styles and scales, are reflective of their cultural contexts. By this it is meant that different kinds of music, from different cultures and time periods, have essential, defining qualities which are shaped by, interact with, and embody the experience and world view of the original creators and performers of such music. These personal and communal experiences—these ways of being in relation to other people and the external world—find expression through the appropriate musical forms and tonal relationships, and because they are archetypal experiences, their significance can often transcend cultural boundaries and the limitations imposed by disability (Playin’ in the Band p. 11-12).
Musical forms should never be studied in a social void but should be understood within proper musicological contexts. Knowledge of the formal properties of music and associated cultural contexts will inform and influence the practice of clinical improvisation. This book is designed in a way that reflects this balance.
Each chapter focuses on a different style of music and begins with a discussion of its historical/musicological context and relevance to music therapy. Then follow exercises for solo and duet practice that are built on each relevant aesthetic/musical component of the style. Solo exercises practised alone give the musical building blocks to begin using the style. These are meant to be fully experienced separately before improvising communicatively. Duet exercises are designed to allow a partner or soloist to experience the style while being supported by the accompanist, therefore mirroring the roles of client and therapist.
The concluding chapter on authenticity provides additional exercises geared towards readers developing their own unique style. It is important for therapists to recognize their tendencies, likes and dislikes and to take time to reflect on the music they connect to. This chapter moves beyond the conventional renditions of styles and gives suggestions to help therapists develop their musical imagination.
In addition, two accompanying CDs provide examples from the text that serve to demonstrate beginning ideas and how to formulate the exercises presented. These are seeds give readers concrete ideas before beginning their own unique explorations. Each player and therapist must find their own way of playing so that they can bring musical authenticity to their work. Just as piano students explore different interpretations and meanings of the same Beethoven sonata, so each exercise can be interpreted and applied differently according to the therapist’s own developing voice. The listening examples and exercises provide only a few of the limitless possibilities available in each exercise.
The layout of the workbook was carefully designed to make the content practical, accessible and concrete, complete with appendices of instrumental combinations, jazz modes, and international scales. A listening guide provides readers with authentic audio recordings related to each chapter. We believe that by basing oneself in authentic musical renditions, readers will be able to experience the subtly inherent in each style that cannot be described in traditional music notation or words. This publication can be used both as a reference, in order to address specific clinical situations, and a daily practicing guide for long-term study. Readers may note that similar musical components and techniques are revisited in several styles. It is possible therefore to cross -reference between chapters to experience how the same technique is realized in various stylistic contexts.
We hope that this publication will be an addition to the existing texts on clinical improvisation and one that is unique in its emphasis on the duet (soloist-accompanist) relationship and its concrete step-by-step explorations of musical/aesthetic components. This thought workbook contains something for therapists, educators, and general musicians interested in developing or perfecting improvisation. (2010, ISBN 978-1-891278-58-7, Spiral bound paperback, 430 pages, 2 CDs, $65).
Aigen, K. (2002). Playin’ in the band: A qualitative study of popular musical styles as clinical improvisation. New York: Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy, New York University.
Lee, C. (2003). The architecture of aesthetic music therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Nordoff, P. & Robbins, C. (2007). Creative music therapy: A guide to fostering clinical musicianship Barcelona Publishers. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
Robbins, C. & Robbins, C. (1998). Healing heritage: Paul Nordoff exploring the tonal langauge of music. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.