Being passionate about music is something pretty standard. Right? Or perhaps, because of my own personal musical interests I was always drawn towards people with a similar view.
It is often forgotten, or at least not properly recognised, that young people these days have a multitude of activities, instagram posts and new gadgets thrown at them at the same time, making it difficult for them to focus on one particular activity or interest. Why would a young person be passionate about, or even spend time, contemplating one thing such as music when they can do ten things (including listening to music in the background) at the same time? At a time when trends change at the speed of light and multitasking is a seemingly "must have skill", this is a fair point. Hence, we should not be surprised that our perception of music and its significance is often not theirs.
I have been delivering therapeutic music programmes for the past year and a half and have come across several children and young people (CYP) who despite regularly “listening to music” never actually stopped to think about its significance or the embodied emotional and creative expression within. When questioned about what they think about this or that song, they often reply “I like it” or “it’s annoying”. More rarely than we wished we heard comments such as "it makes me sad", "it calms me down", and even less mentioning music structure, instrumentation, rhythm, lyrical content or even relevance in today’s society. Arguably, such understanding could lead to a better appreciation and deeper involvement with music and therefore my task as a musician, clinician and teacher is to help these young people with breaking down the barriers that separate them from a more meaningful relationship with music. But how to do so? Well, if only I had the key answer to the question...however I don't, and neither believe there is one.
Still, there are a few things to consider. Age is an important factor to consider when preparing a session. For the younger groups we often focused on introducing music through its rhythmic patterns starting from the most basic time signatures. Once they are familiar with the percussive instruments we can use call and response type exercises to get them interacting with each other and the leaders as well as encouraging improvisation. This often works really well as a first introductory session where we are seeking to establish a therapeutic relationship between the leaders and the CYP. For the older groups, we often start with music they already have a connection to and appreciate. We have observed that this often facilitates engagement and interest from the beginning which is vital to the success of the any project or programme.
As the sessions progress we can start introducing them to other music genres through very clear, and even stereotypical tracks. At this stage being careful not to pick tracks which fuse different styles of music that may confuse the understanding of how a particular genre “typically sounds or at least "used to sound". These sessions will allow the CYP to recognise different instruments and rhythms whilst linking them to the genres they are often associated to (a bit of History of Music). Once the main concept is grasped, we can later explore sub-genres and the fusion of styles. This will often link back to some of the music they are already used to listening to on their phones everyday. It is both helpful to know the origins of genres (and its main traits) as well as encouraging a creative, non-restrictive thinking process when writing new music. We have seen that this will not only add to their knowledge but increase their self esteem when they see they are able to tell their friends about the new facts they have learned. Hence, the purpose of this exercise is not simply to educate the CYP towards music itself but to allow them to identify ways in which they can connect to it in a positive and perhaps therapeutic way.
Although very minimal, these points have aided the delivery and development of our programmes whilst guiding the CYP towards a greater interest in music and how to use it purposefully to aid their emotional wellbeing. It is incredibly encouraging to see this in practical terms where by the end of the programme several CYP reported a greater appreciation of music as well as the interest in trying different instruments at school or at home. In the end, we believe these activities will help CYP break some of the barriers that separate them from a more meaningful relationship with music, or at least raise some awareness about the different ways in which they can engage with it.