PowerMusic Class Notes
What’s This All About?
This document is about ideas for PowerMusic, a unique music class taught by Music Care Inc for at-risk individuals. There’s no copyright on this material; feel free to copy or replicate at will!
Beyond “music appreciation” or “music theory” or “music therapy” or “entertainment” there is a music-based place for functional music…for self-care, self-empowerment and self-intervention. Generally, people know about music for relaxation, or dance music, or concert music (from symphonic to pop), but the notion of music as a tool is novel to most people.
For clarity, music therapy is practiced by credentialed – and in some states, licensed – professionals who have completed graduate degree education and supervised “residency” in the field. Music therapy is about a therapeutic one-on-one relationship between client and therapist; music care requires neither a therapist nor a therapeutic relationship.
PowerMusic introduces and strengthens the practice of music for actual physical, emotional and mental self-care.
There are several major objectives for any given PowerMusic class, including these:
- Introduce students to the connection between different types of music and the four primary emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear) that various types of music trigger in them (this could be different for different people!);
- Introduce students to the ways music can be used to support an emotion AND transform an emotion;
- Facilitate students’ ability to evaluate unfamiliar music in terms of it’s trigger effect on their individual emotions;
- Help students begin to use music as a vehicle for objective investigation of their own emotions, even if that means recognizing them accurately for the first time.
Any given class may focus on a single objective or more; provided at least one objective is covered, the class will have been a success.
PowerMusic is about the individual’s experience of music, not necessarily the “group” experience. The group dynamic evolves naturally through discussion and disagreement about individual response to music, but it usually stops short of any kind of therapeutic conversation or “sharing.” When and if that happens (and it will), we welcome it without comment or judgment beyond appreciation for the speaker.
In Music Care, there are no wrong answers, only answers that work individually for each student. This is because the “best” music for any particular person is the music that person loves best. While there are times when participants discover new music they can use functionally, the class isn’t about “music appreciation” so much as “music understanding” as that understanding relates to physiology – your specific physiology. That means there are as many “correct” answers as there are human beings, which makes things interesting.
That said, participants are specifically encouraged to go beyond “like/dislike” responses to music. Some of the best classes can happen when students are given permission to hear music that is difficult for them to take, and it takes extra care and lots of encouragement to get at the core of underlying dislike, even if that’s different for everyone in the class! There have been some very interesting discussions about musical and cultural diversity in classes on “new” music, especially when students trust one another to freely express their feelings without judgment.
Therefore, it’s probably the biggest single responsibility of the instructor to skillfully guide the students’ approach to a navigation of music that strikes a strong “dislike” chord. Just as with strong “like” response, the beauty of visceral “dislike” is that it opens a clear path to understanding one’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual responses to the music and why they happen as they do. That’s a powerful class tool.
A good music-playing device is essential, particularly one that can play content from the Internet in real time. External speakers are necessary. A professional sound system is best.
Hand drums are always a good idea if available.
It’s always a great idea to have thought/feeling-provoking questions ready, and fortunately music lends itself to several of them. It’s not always easy for people to come up with one or more specific emotions contained in a tune, but you can guide listeners into a more somatic experience of music with these types of questions:
- When you hear this music, close your eyes: what do you see?
- When you hear this music, what do you taste?
- When you hear this music, what do you remember?
- When you hear this music, what do you smell?
- When you hear this music, what do you feel in your hands or skin touching? (This is tricky: could be clothing, or holding your child’s or significant other’s hand, or eating an apple – which crosses several questions!)
Any question that evokes a more sentient, physical experience that connects the listener more deeply to the music is a good one! Try some of your own to see what works best.
Basic Class Ideas
These basic ideas help build awareness of how music works on the human physiology.
Drop the Needle
A playlist of not more than 60 minutes of music of various genres is always a good place to start. Invite students to describe their individual responses to each song as you play a bit of it, using one or more of the basic objectives above as guidelines. If appropriate, challenge students to provide the tangible reasons for those responses (lyrics, sounds, rhythm, etc) as they are experienced in the body/mind.
Same as drop the needle, except that the students pick the music to use. This requires an Internet connection and a good music app such as Spotify or iTunes or YouTube (some popular artists don’t provide content to Spotify or Pandora etc).
PowerMusic drumming is done to a pre-selected playlist. This gives students the opportunity to engage with unfamiliar (and familiar!) music as a performer, since they will drum along to the beats in the music that’s in use. Curating a playlist is key: it ought to have a range of tempi, style and genre, with a satisfying musical arc over whatever time is available (usually 60 minutes). Hand drums are a great way to participate in this type of “drum circle” but hands on the table (or knees / beatbox) also works, as does coordinated marching/walking or other rhythmic physical activity.
Improvised rap sounds more difficult than it is. Almost anyone can say their name or a short sentence with a sense of rhythm, and that’s usually enough to get the freestyle started. Encouraging more complex and longer sentences – without a requirement for rhyme! – has been a great way to engage students in the process of making musical language. Background rhythm tracks are available for free on SoundCloud, or students can go raw and just pound their knees or slap the table for a beat.
Intermediate Class Ideas
A more in-depth dive into specific aspects of music and how each one “works” on us.
Examination of Rhythm
In this class, we review differing types of beats for their physiological effect on listeners. To stimulate response and discussion, participants are encouraged to engage their other senses – sight, taste, touch, feel, spiritual awareness – in imaginative ways to explore their responses to various rhythms. It’s best to conduct this class with beats generated by a synth or drum machine, although some basic beats are available online, ranging from several types of heartbeats to complex rhythm tracks.
Examination of Melody
In this class, we review differing types of melodies for their physiological effect on listeners. As always, to stimulate response and discussion, participants are encouraged to engage their other senses – sight, taste, touch, feel, spiritual awareness – in imaginative ways to explore their responses to various melodies. It’s best to conduct this class with melodies played on a piano keyboard or other melodic instrument, starting with a single note and building to more complexity. Often, class members participate in creating the direction of the melodic line using simple directions: up, down, hold. Rhythm is added to the created melodic line if the available instrument or equipment supports it; getting participants clapping along can be used.
Examination of Song
Combining melody and rhythm leads to song, with or without lyrics. It can be useful to examine both kinds in the same way that rhythm and melody are examined.
It’s a bit tricky to do this exercise in a class since everyone’s favorite music is generally not the same, especially when used functionally, so encouraging this distinction openly for everyone is an important part of the lesson. Generally, people are fine to acknowledge their differences on this point once permission is given and supported by the instructor.
Real Life Issues and Functional Playlists
This class can be taught without any sort of music player or equipment. It starts with students’ concerns: what real-life issues are causing distress for the class members? A list of eight or ten issues shared by participants is enough to get started. For each item in the list, the approach goes like this:
- What core emotion(s) that animate(s) the issue (joy, sadness, anger, fear)?
- What three or four tunes support the core emotion(s)? It’s vital to have a nailed-down short playlist to encourage the complete experience/feeling of the underlying core emotion(s), and that the songs are in the best possible order (NOT random!).
- Listen to the playlist! Notice how hearing the music internally (no audio source needed) also has the same physiological effect as if the music were playing audibly. Three to four short songs are usually enough to have a satisfying emotional experience of the underlying emotion(s).
- If a change in affect is wanted (sad->happy, angry->calm, etc) add a single additional “corner” tune to evoke and support the desired feeling. Play THAT tune mentally and notice the change it brings.
Repeat this process for as many issues as can be covered well. The repetition is good practice for real life. Help students recognize the change in physical affect that comes over each one as they use “their” playlists and reach the musical “corner.”
Some Final Thoughts
There is a lot of clinical interest in music as a therapeutic tool, and several entire industries have grown up around this concept, from formal music therapy and vocal psychotherapy to what’s been called the “new age” music movement, featuring “recreational music making” using chanting and drumming. There’s also a vast library of “music and meaning” available to anyone. Therefore, this little DRAFT isn’t meant to be definitive, although it is novel and innovative.
The difference with PowerMusic is that it’s meant to be collaborative, crowd-sourced, and not licensed nor restricted only to certified instructors. If those kinds of restrictions were placed on it, how would it grow, evolve, or change to meet new demands and opportunities? We feel a strong commitment to and alliance with the many music teachers, musicians, listeners, critics, and clinical professionals who have been exploring ways to connect more deeply to music since the first holler or drum beat sounded eons ago, and want to encourage a deeper exploration and understanding that is open and available to anyone.
You are free to take these concepts and use them on your own, or seek the advice and counsel of anyone you trust who’s familiar with the more advanced understanding you want. It’s an individual experience in many ways, although we also hope that the collective, shared experience of powerful music with the understanding you gain by this practice will become a practical enjoyable part of your self-care.
Good listening –