by Pamela Holm
How we feel and how comfortable we are in our skin is reflected in both our singing and speaking voice. Have you noticed how you can tell if someone is stressed or joyful as soon as you hear their voice over the phone or in person? The same is so for music.
Listen to a song: how was the composer feeling when they wrote the music? Were they working through the loss of a lover or at ease with their life? How do you feel when you listen to the music? Where in your body do you feel it? Is there a tensing up or a relaxing and letting go that happens when you listen? What does it make you want to do: dance, cry, sing or storm? Try listening to a piece of instrumental classical music. Without words, the colors of the instruments’ voices and textures of rhythms help to convey emotions.
Several relationships are happening. The first is an internal one within the composer as s/he takes an experience of life and creates music out of it. Next is between the composer and the performance artist. The performer chooses the song because they can relate to the story and feelings in some way. As the listener, we are in relationship with both the composer and the performer, though generally we do not distinguish between the two.
What is in a song? What kind of story are the words telling you? Listening to the music, we hear the beat. Is it fast or slow? Does it relax or invigorate you? We hear a melody. Is it in a major (happy) or minor (sad) key? Some people refer to major keys as sending our attention or energy outward, and minor keys as bringing us inward, as if to ponder something. Then we have harmony. What kinds of chords are used: are they simple and clear or more complex as used in jazz and some twentieth century classical? Are the sounds generally congenial and harmonious or are they clashy or chaotic? How do you feel when you hear them?
I worked with a child whose life had been engulfed with chaos and tension. In exploring an autoharp, he discovered the difference between the musical chaos of the open strings and the consonance or harmony that happened when the strings were used to make a chord. His joy in discovering he could use the instrument to have a pleasing conversation with me as I sang was wonderful. I sensed that in his lifetime moments like that had been extremely rare. This experience was a turning point in his relationships with himself and the world.
Music therapy is about helping people to find their inner harmony through creating or listening to music and the therapeutic relationship. Music offers wonderful opportunities to explore emotions and life experiences, whether centered on discussions of song lyrics, giving musical voice to a feeling through percussion instruments, the physical sensations in the body as sound supports the releasing of blocks, or the simple joy of singing and playing together.
Originally published on Pamela’s Music Therapy website, DeepSoulSinging.com, September 14, 2013.