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«SONGWRITING IN THERAPY BY JOHN A. DOWNES A Final Project submitted to the Campus Alberta Applied Psychology: Counselling Initiative In partial ...»

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This method of composing music may be implemented after clients have written lyrics, or it can be used as a means to help inspire them to write. Either way, clients need to have some instruction on how to use the computer software or the electronic keyboard. Therapists can provide these instructions, allow clients to explore the possibilities, and facilitate the process of choosing a musical style and then creating a chord progression. If lyrics have been prewritten, clients may begin the process of creating melodies to the words and accompanying music. Therapists will need to record these efforts so that they can be replicated later on. This means that the style, the tempo of the style, any particular variations of the style (keyboards often have four or more variations of each style setting), and the melody line is recorded in digital or written form.

Clients may create the melody by singing to the accompaniment music, or by picking out the melody on the upper end of the keyboard. If a keyboard is used, therapists may need to set limits on the melody note choices by masking off keys that will not harmonize with the accompaniment or otherwise identifying the ones that will.

Data Interpretation Clients can offer interpretations of their own creative efforts. Therapists may need to debrief the process and the resulting music with clients in order to fully understand the meaning clients give their music and musical efforts.

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The therapist’s role is that of a facilitator with some degree of knowledge.

However, this process should be approached with an attitude that there is no right or wrong way of participating. Clients decide what sounds right for them and therefore they are the experts in regards to their creation.

In facilitating group songwriting, therapists will need to encourage clients to take turns by imposing some structure on the session. Consensus building skills will be required when it comes time to review the music for acceptance, adaptation, or re-writing.

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Attributed to: Hatcher (2004), Roberts (2006).

Salient Features This technique of cooperative songwriting relies much more on the therapist’s abilities as a composer and musician. In this technique, therapists are responsible for providing creative input for the melody and accompaniment chords for the client’s lyrics, but clients retain the power of choice and have the final say in all decisions related to the finished product.

Clinical Uses This technique may be helpful when songwriting needs to be expedient or when clients are having difficulty with the time it takes to complete a creative process. It may also be helpful when clients have limited abilities in giving input and making choices.

Client Prerequisites Clients must be able to hear and to indicate their choices in some manner.

It is also helpful for clients to have a completed set of lyrics.

Therapist Skills Therapists must have good musical skills and creative abilities to use this technique. Flexibility and the ability to create in the moment are also required.


1. To set clients’ lyrics to music by offering suggestions for chords and melodies from which clients can choose.

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their choices.

Media and Roles Therapists can use whatever medium they choose for performing various versions of a client’s song. Therapists may use voice and guitar, voice and piano, or voice and another means of accompaniment.

The therapist’s role is to provide a number of choices of different versions of a song or melodic fragments from which clients can choose. Clients are responsible for making choices and offering suggestions in how what the therapist suggests can be changed and adapted to suit their personal taste.

Format This format can be used in an individual, small group, or group setting.

Group settings will require therapists to impose structure on the session so that everyone has an equal say in the song’s creation. The decision process will likely be faster in individual sessions.

Preparation Required Depending on the therapist’s skill level, either the variations in chord structures, styles and melody can be presented in the moment during the session, or therapists may need to work with the lyrics ahead of time and choose/compose styles, chord progressions and melody prior to the session.

Either way, therapists need to be prepared for accepting clients’ choices as they may not be the one’s that the therapist would prefer.

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Working with the clients’ lyrics, therapists present variations and options from which clients can choose. Therapists may want to prepare to play in two styles that clients are familiar with, and perhaps one with which they are not familiar. For example, therapists can prepare a pop ballad style, a rock style, and a samba style. Choosing from these styles is the clients’ first choice. After that, the therapist may present options for a melody and chord accompaniment for each line of the lyrics. Here again, two or three choices may be presented. For example, perhaps the first option has the melody as an ascending line, the second option as it as a descending line, and the third option has a melody that centers on just one note. Clientsl then choose which one they prefer and offer suggestions for any changes they would like to hear. In this way, the song is composed line-by-line. As each decision is made, it needs to be recorded so that it can be replicated. A mini-tape deck or other recording device is useful for this purpose.

Data Interpretation Clients will ultimately be responsible for interpreting their own songwriting data. They do this by offering spontaneous feedback or by responding to the therapist’s questions that ask for their reflections on the process and content of the experience.

Client/Group-Therapist Dynamics The therapist’s role is that of a facilitator with some degree of knowledge.

However, this process should be approached with an attitude that there is no

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therefore they are the experts in regards to what options they prefer.

In facilitating group songwriting, therapists will need to encourage clients to take turns by imposing some structure on the session. Consensus building skills will be required when it comes time to review the music for acceptance, adaptation, or re-writing.

Title: Melody and Rhythm Evolving from the Spoken Word Attributed to: O’Callaghan (1996), Hatcher (2005) with adaptations by John Downes.

Salient Features This technique uses the rhythms and pitches that are inherent in client’s speech patterns as the basis for composing melodies in rhythm. Having clients recite their lyrics allows therapists to hear the qualities of melody, center of pitch, and natural rhythm so that these can be used to compose melodic lines that match the words and the clients’ naturally occurring expressive tendencies.

Clinical Uses This technique is one way of composing new melodic lines for pre-written lyrics. This technique can be used when therapists and clients want the melody to be inspired or created by the clients rather than having the therapist offer a choice of melody. For those clients who are uncomfortable singing, this method may offer a safe form of approaching singing if the therapist can hear the pitches that occur in speech.

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Clients need to have prepared a written lyric. They must be able to recite the lyrics out loud.

Therapist Skills Therapists need to be able to hear the rhythms and melodic elements of speech in order to be able to interpret the spoken word into a song. As the melody and rhythm of the song become clear and are approved by clients, therapist can notate the song on manuscript paper or record it into a tape or other recording device.


1. To compose the rhythmic and melodic elements of a client’s song, using their voice as the starting point.

Media and Roles A tape deck or other recording device may be used to record clients when they recite their lyrics. Taping will require consent. Being able to replay sections of the tape allows therapists and clients to hear the rhythms and melody inherent in the clients’ spoken words.

The therapist’s role is to listen to clients recite their lyrics and notate the rhythms and pitches of their speech so that a melody is matched to the lyrics.

The role of clients is to recite the lyrics and give feedback on the notation the therapist makes, offering suggestions for changes as desired.

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This technique would likely work best in an individual therapy setting. The single voice of a client has particular rhythmic and melodic elements that help maintain the continuity of finding the melody within speech. Using this technique in a group would result in many rhythmic, melodic and timbre changes between group members’ voices.

Preparation Required It is beneficial to have a recording device ready to record clients as they recite their lyrics. Notation paper is required so therapists can begin writing down the melody. Alternatively, a second recorder can be used to record the therapist’s interpretation of the melody Procedures Therapists must obtain consent for recording in the session. Clients need a copy of their lyric sheet and should be given a chance to rehearse the recitation of they lyrics once or twice. The client is then recorded while reciting the lyrics.

After the recitation is completed, the tape is played back one line at a time, and the therapist begins reflecting the speech rhythms and pitches, slowly adapting them into melodic fragments. As each fragment is composed, the therapist needs to gain the clients’ approval to make sure that they like it. If it is approved, then the therapist records it on tape, or notates it on manuscript paper. This process is repeated until the entire song is scored.

Once the melody is completed, therapists can harmonize it with choices of chords that make sense given the tonal center of the melody. They may also

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as offering stylistic choices for the song. Hatcher (2004) suggests that the song may need to be modulated in key to better suit a client’s singing voice if part of the goal of therapy is to have the client sing his or her own songs.

Data Interpretation Clients will ultimately be responsible for interpreting their own songwriting data. They do this by offering spontaneous feedback or by responding to the therapist’s questions that ask for their reflections on the process and content of the experience.

Client/Group-Therapist Dynamics Therapists have the opportunity to educate clients about how they are musical beings even if they do not believe they have any musical talent. The fact that the rhythm and melody of the clients’ songs derives from their recitation of their lyrics is a good example of how music is a part of speech. The difference between singing and speech is minor. In fact, it mostly has to do with the length of time that vowels are held. The longer the vowels in speech are held, the more evident is the pitch in speech. Similarly, the rhythm of speech is more evident when the content and meaning of the words is ignored. Having this discussion helps clients understand their own connection with a creative aspect of music, and it also helps demystify the process, thus lessening the power differential between therapist and client. During the process of composition and upon review of the final product, clients should have the final say in regards to approval or any changes they wish to make. Allowing clients such control and input is not only

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Popular songwriters often report that music and words can be created (some say arrive) at the same time. The following techniques explore how this might occur.

Title: Improvisation and Songwriting Attributed to: Boxill (1985); Davies (2005); Derrington (2005); Nelson & Weathers (1998); Oldfield & Franke (2005); Roberts (2006).

Salient Features Improvisation is “inventive, spontaneous, extemporaneous, resourceful, and it involves creating and playing simultaneously” (Bruscia, 1987, p. 5).

Improvisation is a process of making something up as one goes along. It takes place in the here and now. Boxill (1985) borrows the term continuum of awareness from Gestalt psychology to explain her creative process of “using music functionally as a tool of consciousness to awaken, heighten, and expand awareness of self, others, and the environment” (p. 71). Her approach also uses musical improvisation to reflect what is happening in the here and now.

The music that results from playful improvisation with clients can be the basis for later composed music, or it can be a composition in and of itself.

Clinical Uses Songwriting may seem like a task to some clients, whereas improvisation may seem much more like playful interaction and a form of non-threatening

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and reduce boundaries that other music therapy activities may impose” (Roberts, 2006, p. 30).

Client Prerequisites Clients will need to be able to hear their music and to participate in music making with their voice, or with their voice and instruments in combination.

Clients will need to feel comfortable with exploring improvisation with instruments within a context of creative play. For children this may come quite naturally, but for older individuals the therapist may need to create a sense of safety for the clients so that they may express themselves freely through improvisation.

Therapist Skills Therapists will need to be comfortable with improvisation using musical instruments and their own voices. Therapists will need to be keenly aware of cues that clients are giving them. This means that they need to observe clients carefully in order to know what to play and how to respond. This may include picking up on verbal cues as well as non-verbal cues from clients.


1. To engage clients in musical improvisation.

2. To use the medium of improvisation as a tool for exploration of musical ideas that may be transformed into structured songs.

Media and Roles The media for this technique include various instruments of the therapist and client’s choice, as well as their voices. Some means of recording the

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