Wednesday, November 2, 2011

6 Ways to Empower Your Music Assisted Relaxation!

It is very popular to use music during relaxation, as evidenced by the thousands of "relaxation" music tracks available for sale and published on the internet.  Choosing from this vast resource of music is a challenge, but there are basic guidelines for finding effective sedative music.  You can read many of my suggestions about finding and using music for relaxation in related posts here.

Once you have chosen some sedative music that you would like to use, there are ways to increase the symbiotic effectiveness of voiced dialogue and music when used together.  Some of the different approaches to using scripts or verbal guidance to facilitate relaxation are: simple stretch routines, guided progressive muscle relaxation, structured breathing and describing simple imagery.  No matter what your verbal instructions entail, there are some strategies you can use to connect the verbal dialogue more strongly to the music stimulus.  This will be easier with some music selections, but the following suggestions may still be useful in concept even when they are not possible with a certain song selection.  

1. Using ascending and descending musical ideas - Some music may have repetitive up and down motion, either in volume, melody or even patterned chord changes.  These ideas are very useful in structuring stretching routines and breathing.  Enya's song, "Watermark" always reminds me of this up and down motion.

2. Breathing - I like to encourage participants in relaxation to find their own natural rhythm of breathing.  Everyone has a different respiration rate, especially at the beginning of a relaxation session.  I am happy if the participants are simply becoming more aware of their own bodies, so I think it is important sometimes not to force breathing into a certain time frame or count sequence.  When I verbally facilitate relaxation, I will often come back to instructions about breathing as one song fades into another.  This helps to maintain focus during the short lack of musical stimulus.

3. Descending arpeggios - There is something about a descending melodic line that cues people to relax.  This is even more profound if the motif is repetitive.  Use this downward idea to pattern your voice and vocal tone so that as the relaxation session progresses, your voice is gradually getting lower in tone and slowing down.  I also really like it when a repetitive background of descending tones supports a solo instrument on a more varied melody line.  This melody helps the participants maintain interest and focus in the music as long as it is not too distracting. 

4. Phrasing - As a facilitator, you really need to know your music stimulus.  It is very important to try and match the start of a verbal phrase or imagery idea to the musical phrasing.  Sometimes you can even introduce a new part of the relaxation sequence (i.e., muscle group in progressive muscle relaxation) or new imagery idea with a new melodic theme or instrumentation in the music.  

5. Cadence - The music can be your guide for the tempo of your speech as well as the rise and fall of your syllables.  Allow your speaking to match and blend with the rhythm (or lack of rhythm, in some cases) of the music.  

6. Take a break! - One of the most difficult things to do as the verbal facilitator is to stop talking!  I think that this concept and the challenge to talk more slowly than you think you are talking are two very important things to remember.  Sometime during the guided relaxation it may be appropriate to allow the participants to simply relax and listen to the music for one or two minutes.  As the facilitator, these two minutes can seem like two hours!  This is a natural feeling until you get used to it and give yourself permission to be quiet for a bit.  One way to help is to find a place in the music that might lend itself to this concept.  Perhaps a section of the music with a new motif or an instrumental break or bridge can be the natural place to stop talking for a minute and encourage the participants to enjoy the moment and try to remember how they feel being relaxed.

Facilitating a relaxation session with music is an important skill for music therapists.  It does take practice and some attention to detail, but is incredibly useful in a variety of clinical settings.               

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