Sensitivity To Non-Verbal Responses
Playing Untuned Percussion
Deciding When To Play Percussion Instruments
Most frail or disabled people are cared for by members of their family who know something of their past history. If the disabled person has previously shown particular musical ability or interest, the carer will usually seek to continue providing suitable musical experiences, although they may lack confidence in their own musical knowledge and skills. Where a strong musical interest has not been identified, carers may not be aware of the satisfaction and well-being to be gained by both parties from exploring musical activities.
We believe that we each have creative musical potential which often lies hidden, even from ourselves. So, we seek to provide resources that facilitate self-discovery and development of the musician within.
We can often see examples of unsuspected creative ability manifesting itself in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. The losing of inhibitions, frequently associated with the onset of the disease, creates many problems but it may also have a positive side! In the privacy of their own home, carer and cared-for need have no embarrassment about trying new things and making the errors that always accompany new learning.
In the eagerness to involve someone who is severely disabled, it is easy to fall into the trap of indiscriminate 'hand over hand' playing, making all the decisions about how and when to play. Often, such 'playing' consists of maintaining a continuous beat. Although well-intentioned, this is unrewarding for the person being 'assisted' in this way and, in some instances, it may even be resented.
In Living My Song workshops, we have observed, time and again, the stimulation and engagement that are the result of facilitators working to elicit, even tiny and infrequent, intentioned participation. If there is great sensitivity to non-verbal signals indicating when a profoundly-disabled person is 'tuned-in' to the activity, tiny movements can be amplified by 'hand-over-hand' playing whilst allowing the disabled participant to make a personal response to the musical and social stimuli.
When a degree of brain-damage is associated with a disability, the sufferer may drift in and out of contact with reality and, in the course of a session, emotional responses may change many times over. It is important to respect the refusal of a proffered instrument, etc., but that shouldn't prevent us from offering again, later, when we may elicit a quite different response.
Claves ( rhythm sticks) come in pairs and these are ideal to share. In cases of extreme disability, one rhythm stick can be placed in the hand of the disabled person, who will feel the rhythmic vibrations when it is tapped by the carer's stick.
Finger Cymbals also come in pairs and can be used in a similar way. Each cymbal has an elastic loop designed to be slotted over a finger.
However, playing in which a disabled person is a purely passive partner should be avoided, if possible. S/he will gain far more satisfaction from deciding when to play, even though playing is sparse and lacking in rhythmic interest. Later, we will suggest ways to capitalise on limited physical participation.
...Taking Turns: Verse/Refrain
Songs with a chorus/refrain are an early example: solo verses alternate with a refrain, in which everyone joins in.
...Taking Turns: Contrasting Dynamics
Often a piece has loud sections sandwiching or alternating with quieter sections.
...Taking Turns: Contrasting Rhythms
Sometimes tunes are built by contrasting alternating rhythmic patterns. A disabled player will probably not be able to reproduce the rhythmic pattern accurately but can listen out for the change of pattern, starting and stopping accordingly.
Players with greater rhythmic control may be able to play rhythmic patterns. If so, there will be lots of scope for imitating and inventing rhythms for turn-taking activities.
When introducing a new piece for turn-taking, first play or listen to it, discussing or commenting on what happens in the music. If you have a choice of percussion sounds available, choose which would be most effective played in each section. Then, you can each have your 'moment of glory' accompanying your section with the appropriate instrument. This gives the disabled player more sense of ownership of the performance.
...to be continued