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MM#33 – It Takes Two to Communicate

A quick visit to Wikipedia describes “communication as the process of transferring information from a sender to a receiver with the use of a medium in which the communicated information is understood by both sender and receiver.”

Communication therefore requires that all parties understand the common language that is exchanged.

When Michael was three years old he seemed to move alone in his world.  He would turn, lightly skip, and run around his house without no apparent acknowledgement of the people around him.  However when he would pass something shiny – a pan or a toy with cymbals –  he would often stop, look for long periods of time and sometimes strike the “thing” before him.  When I began to bring a timbred instrument with a similar tone texture to the pan and cymbals he began to shift his gaze to some “thing” new.

Once a child is referred to a music therapy program, in this case due to lack of communication, the music therapist develops a treatment plan that moves towards making contact with the child. The therapist plays a melodic instrument (piano, guitar, accordian) and the client is presented a related instrument – perhaps something shiny – like a glockenspiel. The therapist leads the improvisation using a simple harmony scheme and rubato (moving with the child’s speed).  The child moves sometimes fast and sometimes slow. Over time the therapist begins to recognize the child’s ability to anticipate where the music is going and the child begins to recognize that there is a human force behind the instrument they are responding to.  The child is demonstrating that they have the desire to interact – therefore they have the ability to communicate.

The music therapist takes into consideration the musical world of the client:

  • Preference for music style –  ie. band, singer etc (“personalized music”)
  • Preference for sound colour (instrument)
  • Preference for other musical parameters (rhythm, melody, dynamics)
  • The effect that the different parameters evoke
  • Level of musical development
  • Total level of development of the child

In music therapy communication could be a single tone on a chime or an irregular rhythm on a drum…but when does this tone or rhythm become communication – when, as Wikipedia states, the communicated information is understood by both sender and receiver.


“Music Speaks” Blog: 50 Musical Motivators for 2011 (MMs) aims to Help you Relax, Reflect and Remember what you Value Most