Monday, February 22, 2010

Key Ideas For Facilitating Relaxation

Concepts For Drumming & Relaxation

People don't usually associate drumming and relaxation, but slow rhythmic drumming in a group setting with some added ambient instruments like ocean drums and rainsticks can be a great way to relieve stress! In order for a music therapist to facilitate an effective drumming session for relaxation, there are a few ideas that should be considered. These ideas will remain fairly constant with or without drums as part of the experience and will be useful for many different kinds of facilitated group relaxation.

  • Facilitated dialogue - Keep your verbal directions as soft as possible with a relaxed tone of voice. Your speaking tempo should be "Adagio" while leaving some space and time between words and phrases. Start off the relaxation script in a higher pitch of voice and gradually lower the pitch of your voice as the relaxation deepens. Try to follow cues in the music and speak each sentence or idea with a rise and fall of expression as with a musical phrase.

  • Word choice - Use words like "stress" and "discomfort" instead of "pain." Active words also work better than phrases beginning with, "try," "I would like," or "do not think."

  • Music - Client preferred music is always best if you can find appropriate sedative music. Try music that is slow, 60 -70 beats per minute as a pulse. Music without words will be more sedative than music with lyrics. The music should have some melody, but it should be mainly repetitive and predictable. "Elevator" music (e.g., strings versions of rock songs) is not recommended.

  • Breathing is very important. - Direct the group to, "allow your body to find its own natural rhythm." Breathing should be slow; in through the nose and out through the mouth. Deep breathing is aided by obtaining a good exhale. Think of breathing out as a "cleansing" breath.

  • Remind people to relax - Focus the session on feeling relaxed, heavy and/or drowsy. Each body part can be tensed and then relaxed. Each exhale should bring a deeper sense of relaxation, clearing stress from the body.

  • Imagery - It is helpful to imagine breathing in "life" and "vitality." Cool, calm air comes in and stress and discomfort are breathed out.
Remember to practice relaxing! It can become a conditioned response, especially when paired with the same music for several sessions. There is one album by Kevin Kern that I can't listen to anymore because it is such a powerful cue for me to relax!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Self-Assessment Inventory For Using Drumming In The School Setting

Self-assessment is always a valuable tool since we don't always have trusted and expert people around to help evaluate our activities. Here is a list of some things to think about after you decide to implement some kind of a drumming strategy in a special education setting. This assessment tool might be used by a music therapist, music teacher or teacher in the special education classroom. I have included some comments about each topic to help explain each one. You may want to grade yourself using a sliding scale or simply with a "yes" or "no." It may also be interesting and enlightening to take the self-test after several different occasions of using a drumming activity and then see how you have improved!

  • _____ Used clear hand signals
Regardless of the type of drumming activity, the facilitator should practice using clear and consistent gestures. Examples of this would be asking for changes in volume or indicating that a certain individual or group of individuals should play or stop.
  • _____ Provided clear verbal instructions

Attention should be given to the arrangement and seating of the group so that spoken instructions are always provided while facing the intended communication partner. Verbal instructions should be spoken with enough volume in order to be heard above the drumming or else stop the drumming before speaking.

  • _____ Provided a clear start/stop signal

Start and stop signals can be done verbally or with any number of different hand gestures. Choose something and be consistent and remember that large gestures for start and stop are preferred. Counting off, "1, 2, ready, play!" and "4, 3, 2, 1, stop!" can be very effective when combined with a gesture.

  • _____ Demonstrated a useful intervention for a targeted goal/objective.

How did the activity go? Did the intervention appropriately address the student's IEP objectives?

  • _____ Incorporated an adaptation or a strategy for the education setting into the drumming activity.

How well did you facilitate students with disabilities to be successful in the group? Visual aids, adapted instruments or instrument holders and careful selection of peer models/helpers are all important parts of a successful drumming activity.

  • _____ Exhibited overall confidence/preparedness

Confidence and comfort level in leading a drumming activity can be one of the most important elements of a successful activity. Excitement is contagious! Did you have a plan for a sequence of events during the drumming so that there was not too much "dead" time?

  • _____ Provided verbal or gestural praise to participants when appropriate

Teachers and therapists should always be reviewing their use of positive reinforcement. Drumming activities usually provide many opportunities for giving out both verbal and non-verbal praise. A simple smile or thumbs up to an individual is appropriate for the situation during drumming when verbal praise might not be clearly heard. Practice providing both individual and group praise.

  • _____ Used appropriate level of rhythm complexity, drum technique and age appropriate activity for targeted population
Modeling some sample drum rhythms and keeping the rhythms short will help everyone to feel confident and successful. Be discrete in using instruments, especially in the upper grade levels. Some students may not want to play on a kid's djembe that has a childish fabric finish, even if it sounds good!

  • _____ Established a clear transfer of idea(s) between the activity and the group discussion
Take the time to point out a topic or idea that can be related to the activity. Sometimes a key word like, "teamwork," or "complimentary," spontaneously presents itself during an activity and can be used to transition from the instrument activity to a discussion.

  • _____ Successfully demonstrated a drum skill or therapeutic strategy (i.e., adapted instrument strategy, behavior management, modeling leadership skills, etc.)
Were you looking for opportunities to help someone play an instrument correctly or encourage peer leadership? Drumming activities are a great motivator for behavior management programs. Did you include the drumming as a reward and use good judgment in handling inappropriate behaviors during the activity?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Horses Make Sense!

Michael Richardson has an incredible story. My wife and I know him personally and have always been impressed by his infectious character and positive attitude. I think it is great that horses can provide the freedom and mobility Michael lost through an accident. Many of my music therapy clients have also benefited from horse-back riding as therapy and as an avenue for moving. Michael was already a skilled rider before his injury and he did not allow personal tragedy to get in the way of his dream of riding and working with horses!

Michael is like the "horse whisperer," except on wheels! He is an extremely talented trainer with a gentle touch. In the same way some maestros can shape a symphony, Michael can persuade and develop a relationship with "difficult" or "spirited" horses. If you ever need a motivational speaker for an event, think about inviting someone who can speak from experience about overcoming challenges and reaching for a dream!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Music In A Snap!

I found a fun web-page that is actually part of the American Heart Association. The page is called the "Hands Symphony" and is set up with three different styles of rhythms: dance, hip-hop and Latin. The page shows pictures of 12 different sets of hands performing a certain clap, snap or other movement that create different sounds. Each set of hands is actually a short video loop that can be turned on or off by a simple mouse click. The hands change for each style of music, but you can have all 12 hands playing at the same time and it still sounds good!

My daughter and I had too much fun playing around with the different sounds and rhythms! I gave her choices between two sets of hands and let her choose which one to activate until we had a nice rhythm going. By isolating just one set of hands we also tried to imitate what the hands were doing. She is only 21 months old, but was pretty good at trying to copy them! I think that this could easily be adapted to the classroom setting by choosing 4-5 sets of hands and playing the rhythms on instruments after the students learn the rhythms with their hands. Start with one rhythm and then layer in the other rhythms one by one. It may be helpful to have someone keep a steady beat on a drum or cowbell. There are endless combinations, so everyone in a group can have a turn in developing a unique rhythm!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

In The News: Wakefield's Autism Study Retracted by The Lancet

MMR Vaccine Study: A Lesson for Us All

The original research by Andrew Wakefield that essentially got the ball rolling on looking at the possible links between MMR vaccinations and autism has officially been retracted from publication in The Lancet (England's premier medical journal). This has been a large controversy over in England for awhile now and I am not surprised that the research has been retracted. There were many ethical and methodological questions surrounding this original research and it probably should have been better vetted by The Lancet in the first place. There was also some unwarranted hype caused by the media when the original research was published. Unfortunately, the retraction only serves to try and discredit the idea that many have had that there is some link between vaccinations and autism. Many people, through observation and anecdotal information, have noticed that there is often a curious timing between autism and vaccinations. The other part to this interesting correlation is that there are so many people with autism who also have bowel dysfunction or disease (see the new research about this here). Some researchers have been focusing in on the relationship between viruses and bowel disease and how it may effect the brain.

It would be nice to see everyone working together on the questions surrounding autism, vaccines and bowel disease. I often feel that doctors are very knowledgeable in their specialties, but very few of them are experts in holistic health and trying to evaluate how different body systems work together. Dr. Bryan Jepson speaks to this problem in his book, "Changing the Course of Autism." In addition to this phenomenon, pharmaceutical companies are usually the ones behind the research promoting the safety of their vaccines. Although there are government agencies with oversight, they often have some conflict of interest in being completely objective because of the influence of interest groups or because they might find something that does not support the Department of Health's stated goal in getting everyone vaccinated! Even more disturbing is the history of government people from the oversight agencies eventually going to work for the pharmaceutical companies or vice-versa! What a mess!

There are a few places out there trying to do some objective research, but they sometimes have difficulty in getting their research published. Dr. Wakefield's research that has been revoked from publication will not help the situation. Dr. Wakefield is a founding member of the Thoughtful House Center for Children in Austin, TX. They have a webpage that defends Dr. Wakefield and his research: here. My hope is that future research at the Thoughtful House is not overshadowed by the current controversy.

We all need to remain informed about the issue. I recommend that you read the original research studies and pay attention to the motivation behind each study as well as those involved. Many parents are understandably upset and concerned about vaccines and autism, but it is important to remain level-headed and objective as you explore the debate and evidence.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Side Notes: The Music of Jacquie Lawson

Jacquie Lawson e-cards

You may already be familiar with Jacquie Lawson's e-cards, but I have recently discovered them and think they are wonderful! I became impressed by them after watching my 20 month old daughter become mesmerized by these cards! She even sings to the music! I admit that my daughter is exposed to a lot of music, but I think there is something special about these cards. Every card I have seen is beautifully rendered with warm colors and fascinating settings. The music is always classic in nature even if it is not simply orchestral. Sometimes the music is more playful with different band instruments. I think that the quality of the sound files and the thoughtful selection of music are key to the special nature of her cards.

Jacquie's website allows for previews of all the cards, so go and enjoy! You can click on the card above for some previews. I think my sweet little girl wants to look at some more too so off I go!

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