Simple Blues Songwriting

Writing songs is easy! One especially simple technique builds on the 12-bar blues pattern: I-I-I-I – IV-IV-I-I – V-IV-I-I.

The blues can accompany anything, such as an interactive hello song: “Hello Erin, how are you today?” can be sung over I-I-I-I; “Alright now hello Erin, is anything new today?” over IV-IV-I-I; and “Well it’s really good to see you, I’m glad you’re here today!” atop the concluding V-IV-I-I. You can sing, or help your clients

You can also sing, or help your clients create, their own song. Start with one phrase, repeat it, and sing an answer. That’s it! This AAB pattern matches the blues progression. For example, here’s a little blues tune: “Sometimes I feel a little lonely. Sometimes, I feel a little lonely. But when I do, I call my friends and family.” This approach to songwriting is a lot of fun because it allows so much room for creativity. It’s fun to see clients discover how easy and rewarding the process can be. The simple AAB structure can be used to present an issue and address it. It can mirror dialogue between a child and their parent. How else will you use the blues? Let us know what else you innovate!

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Songwriting in Music Therapy Practice

Jones, J.D. (2006). Songs composed for use in music therapy: A survey of original songwriting practices of music therapists. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(2), 94-110.

Songwriting is a powerful yet flexible technique. Among many purposes and applications, music therapists write original material to personalize sessions, teach non-musical material or behaviors, and engage in the therapeutic process. MT-BCs help clients write songs to express personal feelings or perspectives, participate in a healthy way and to be part of a group project, or reminisce and contribute to their lasting legacy.

Extant literature has researched the extra-musical benefits of singing songs, listening to music, and discussing lyrics, as well the clinical efficacy of songwriting. “Songwriting has been documented as effective in achieving a number of clinical goals, including increasing verbal communication (Edwards, 1998), increasing socialization and interaction among group members (Hilliard, 2001), identifying and improving self-concept and self-esteem (Edgerton, 1990; Freed, 1987) increasing the expression of feelings (Cordobes, 1997; Kennelly, 2001; O’Callaghan, 1996), increasing a sense of cohesion among group members (Cordobes, 1997; Freed, 1987), and increasing coping skills, such as problem solving (Edgerton, 1990). Process songwriting is an effective technique for both individual and group therapy, and is a preferred intervention by certain clients (Gallagher & Steele, 2002)” (Jones, 2006, p. 96).

Writing a song can be done using many different methods. Original lyrics “piggybacked” to a familiar melody, or perhaps melodies can be built from client improvisations and verbal contributions. Songs can be prepared by the therapist in advance in order to target specific client goals. Instructional songs can be used to teach appropriate behaviors or to teach task analysis of daily living skills. Social stories can be sung in song and/or set to musical accompaniment. In addition to using these songwriting strategies supported by research, therapists will innovate new methods and applications. Songwriting is an exciting technique teeming with creative opportunities.

Jennifer Jones (2006) wanted to learn more about songwriting in music therapy practice. This post has summarized some of her literature review, and the following information is presented based on her survey: Seventy-three percent of 302 respondents acknowledged inclusion of original music in their work. Music therapists tended to report that songwriting was generally easy or almost always easy, and though participants learned through school and internship programs, songwriting skills were most frequently reported to be developed on their own, on the job. The most highly rated compositional choice was musical similarity to client preferences.

MT-BCs serving early childhood, schools, and individuals with developmental disabilities were much more likely to write songs than therapists working in older adult and mental health settings. Goals areas addressed through songwriting included emotional-expression (42 respondents), cognitive-academic-learning (37), behavioral-attentional-task-directed (25), social-communication goals (25), multiple goal categories marked (25), speech-communication (23), social-interaction (19), physical-movement (15), creativity goals (4), no response (4), and spirituality goals (2). No respondents reported using songwriting for musical goals. In descending order of rated frequency, music therapists decided to write songs because original material can be individualized, is novel and stimulating, renews creativity, strengthens the therapeutic relationship, offers a break from routine, and sometimes just because identifying an applicable composed song is time-consuming.

Cordobes, T.K. (1997). Group songwriting as a method for developing group cohesion for HIV-seropositive adult patients with depression. Journal of Music Therapy, 34, 46-67.

Edgerton, C.D. (1990). Creative group songwriting. Music Therapy Perspectives, 8,15-19.

Edwards, J. (1998). Music therapy for children with severe burns. Music Therapy Perspectives, 16, 21-26.

Freed, B.S. (1987). Songwriting with the chemically dependent. Music Therapy Perspectives, 4, 13-18.

Gallagher, L.M., & Steele, A.L. (2002). Music therapy with offenders in a substance abuse/mental illness treatment program. Music Therapy Perspectives, 20, 117-122.

Hilliard, R. (2001). The use of cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of women with eating disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19, 109–113.

Jones, J.D. (2006). Songs composed for use in music therapy: A survey of original songwriting practices of music therapists. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(2), 94-110.

Kennelly, J. (2001). Music therapy in the bone marrow transplant unit: Providing emotional support during adolescence. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19, 104-108.

O’Callaghan, C.C. (1996). Lyrical themes in songs written by palliative care patients. Journal of Music Therapy, 33, 74-92.

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