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Songwriting: Methods, Techniques and Clinical Applications for Music Therapy Clinicians, Educators and Students

br2006_065Baker, Felicity & Tony Wigram (Eds.)(2005). Songwriting: Methods, Techniques and Clinical Applications for Music Therapy Clinicians, Educators and Students. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 285 pages.

In Songwriting, Felicity Baker, head of the music therapy program at the University of Queensland, Australia collaborates with Tony Wigram, author of Improvisation and editor of other such essential books, to bring us yet another valuable contribution to the field of music therapy. Practically oriented, instructive, inclusive and forthright, this book focuses on techniques for writing songs with clients and is geared chiefly toward music therapy clinicians, students and educators. This methods book attempts to explore and emphasize the value of songwriting within a therapeutic context and, ultimately, to define the methods and techniques used, both for teaching purposes and for the analysis and explanation of clinical processes and outcomes. This welcome effort to fully recognize the inherent value of songwriting and to systematically standardize its uses in the field was long overdue, as music therapists have long incorporated songwriting in their clinical repertoire of methods. As Wigram summarizes, “Songs always will be a natural container for the thoughts, feelings, emotions, personality characteristics, dreams and fantasies of people from all age ranges and, as such, provide a natural musical medium for the therapeutic process”( p.264).

Baker and Wigram elaborate on and attempt to concretize this central and eminent music therapy method by presenting a variety of applications of songwriting as therapy within diverse clinical and non-clinical populations within different cultures ranging from the US to Australia and Europe. Contributed by experienced music therapy clinicians and researchers, the case studies provide “…numerous examples of how music therapists have become masters of appropriating popular culture in order to help clients formulate, ventilate, express and communicate some of their deepest wishes and thoughts” (p.10). These clinical examples include songwriting with children within a psychiatric setting (contributed by Amelia Oldfield), emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children and adolescents (by Emma Davies), challenged teenagers (by Philippa Derrington), women who have suffered abuse as children (by Toni Day), adults with mental health problems (by Randi Rolvsjord), clients who have undergone traumatic brain surgery (by Felicity Baker, Jeanette Kennelly and Jeanette Tamplin) or have suffered traumatic brain injury (by Felicity Baker), children with malignant blood disease (by Trygve Aasgaard), oncology and hospice patients (by Emma O’Brien), bereaved adolescents (by Robert Krout) and multicultural client groups within clinical settings (by Cheryl Dileo and Lucanne Magill). The book examines the rationale for using songwriting as a therapeutic tool. It systematically explores songwriting’s various applications, as well as the value of different techniques for this range of clientele, in accordance with their age group and specific needs.

The case studies make for a straightforward read, as they are intelligible and structured according to a precise format that includes: an overview of the role of songwriting for the specific populations described, its relevance for the therapeutic process and goals, methodological orientation, a detailed account of the songwriting methods and techniques employed in each case and examples from clinical practice. The songwriting techniques presented include structured, unstructured and semi-structured methods. The case studies also include notated examples of songs complete with music and lyrics, making the methods described explicit.

Songwriting opens with a foreword by Even Ruud and a useful introduction in which Wigram and Baker define the role and value of songs, draw on accounts of songwriting as a method in therapy, describe their objectives in writing the book and summarize the forthcoming chapters. The book then presents the eleven aforementioned case studies and culminates in a summary, in which Wigram examines the similarities and differences in style, method and technique of the diverse approaches discussed in the earlier chapters. He considers the relevance of an approach’s style to the needs of the distinct populations and attempts to draw conclusions for a practical working model that can act as a framework for songwriting in music therapy.

Reading this book undoubtedly strengthens one’s confidence in the procedure of songwriting with the client and in its overall effectiveness as a method of facilitating therapy. As a music therapist who, like so many others in this field, integrates songwriting in her clinical work, I feel that I derived much theoretical and practical information from Songwriting. The text clarifies the distinctive therapeutic value of creating songs with clients and sustains the reader’s attention with a variety of incisive clinical examples that demonstrate the large variety of songwriting approaches in existence. I especially recommend this book as a prescribed text for courses in music therapy methods. As the editors themselves stress, both trainers and students of music therapy seem to lack concrete examples of reliable, specific therapeutic techniques that they can incorporate in their clinical repertoire of intervention. This book fills that void. As a methods book, I found it to be efficient, informative and interesting both to the student and to the practicing music therapist, with a refreshing variety of techniques that may enrich the songwriting repertoire of even the most experienced clinician.

That said, those in search of a deeper analysis of the psychodynamic processes involved in the application of songwriting methods and techniques to clinical practice will be hard-pressed to find such an analysis among the case studies presented in this book. For example, it would have been helpful and interesting to learn more of the difficulties and resistances therapists encountered while attempting to promote the songwriting process with various patients. It would have been useful to know at what stage of the process these problems arose, plausible reasons for their emergence and how the therapists attempted to circumvent them.

In this reader’s opinion, Songwriting largely achieves what it sets out to accomplish: the clear and systematic definition of various songwriting methods through clinical experience. This book is an important and relevant contribution at this stage in music therapy’s development. It does indeed seem likely that Baker and Wigram’s effort will prove fundamental to the education of music therapists, evidence-based practice and clinical governance, and hopefully it will provide a basis for future research in the field.

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