A 20 HOUR COURSE FOR CREDIT, BASED ON
Empowerment Through Improvisation
An Instructional Guide to George Grant’s DRUM TALK
By MAUREEN HEARNS, PROFESSOR OF MUSIC THERAPY
When everyone was fully engaged in the activity, there was such a powerful sense of oneness – of interconnectedness – kind of like being collectively swallowed. There was also a sense of equality. There were no “stars”, no divas. It felt more like sharing.
After a few minutes I became so caught up in the sounds and pulse of our music that I no longer planned what to say next. It just happened. And not all the syllables I used were the ones I had learned. There was a mixture of chant and glissando with syncopation and varying inflection. It became almost trancelike.
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Drum Talk is different than anything I’ve ever done or experienced. I’ll admit that at first it seemed a little strange only because I didn’t really understand how it worked or what the purpose of it was. It was something entirely different than reading notes, or singing on tune. It was something outside of the box, outside of the rules and regulations. There was no messing up really, and whatever came out of your mouth wasn’t wrong because you were free to say or sing what you wanted. There were no wrong notes to sing, or wrong vowel sounds to make, and because of that I felt a sense of freedom, and release from the pressure of messing up, or having to stay within certain bounds. I felt like it was hard for me to really get into it at first though, because I was still bound by the fear of doing it wrong. I didn’t feel comfortable, and it was placing me way out of the norm. I felt more confident with Drum Talk after I lead the group because of the positive feedback that I got from them.
When we started to practice the spontaneous chords at first, it was so hard for us to let go of this musical theory that has been engrained in our minds. Everyone in our group notice a significant change once we decided to stop thinking so hard about “getting it right,” and just to listen and sing. We had to coach each other to do this and we wrote it down on our papers, “don’t think, just sing, dissonance is okay.” Once we practiced together and started to feel more confident and comfortable, it became therapeutic for all of us. The surprising thing to us was that it sounded so much better when we would just listen to each other and sign whatever came out. We would sit in L’s living room on the floor and practice with our eyes closed, and we all notice how relaxing it was for us. It got to the point where it wasn’t my brain that was doing the singing, and I didn’t think of the pitch that I was going to sing before I sang it. It just came out and I would have no idea how it was going to sound until it came out. I loved it!
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The Support/Expansion paradigm really sums up the whole experience. Life is really about flying and being grounded, both musically and in life. At times you need to be the soloist and at times you need to be the support for somebody else. The paradigm makes so much sense to life, you always have to know what part you are playing and how to do it well. As a professional I will mostly play the part of being the support for the clients while they are the Expansion. If you look around the world all relationships deal with Support and Expansion, something so simple, yet so profound. Drum Talk is a wonderful tool for learning about music, but then also for learning about life.
Being put in a situation where things are new to me gave me the ability to have empathy for the clients I’ve worked with this semester and other semesters.
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I was really interested to watch as everyone, in turn, stepped out of their comfort zone and became vulnerable to the group. The members of my group are all fairly close friends, and I am amazed at the things they seem to communicate through Drum Talk that I didn’t know about them. A certain member of my group really intrigues me because out of all the members in the group, this person is the one that I think I know the best. As I watch this person in Drum Talk, I realize that there is a side to her that she doesn’t allow too many people to see. I just love to watch her as she warms up and lets herself be herself.
In the beginning, I was so afraid to make a mistake or mess up the flow of things, but now I realize that mistakes don’t happen. I find Drum Talk therapeutic because I am able to get away from a world crazed for perfection and step into something that I can be good at just because I’m me.
I continued to get more and more frustrated as the sound turned from a group sound into an individual’s idea for a “perfect performance.” Every one in the group had a different idea of a “perfect performance,” so each person was playing their heart out without regards to the group sound. The tension almost exploded as one member of the group tried to coach the other members on the “correct way to play.”
Although this experience was not pleasant and was very frustrating, I learned an important concept that I think will really effect my career as a therapist. I learned that music therapy is NOT about performance. … I felt that I needed to play up to someone else’s expectations, and that when I was playing, it was not coming from me, but was a reflection of the “perfect performance.” I become shy and scared to play, for fear I would play it the “wrong way,” until I realized what was happening and tried to combat the feelings within myself. I decided that I would play, sing, or chant how I thought would add to the group sound and quit worrying about what others would say. As I started to do this, I felt incredibly vulnerable, but kept at it. Others seemed to follow in that same suit and the last fifteen minutes seemed to work really well.
I relate failure to connect with the music to a concept learned in Psychology of Music called performance anxiety. It is defined as focus on the self and not the music.
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I am so grateful I took this course this semester. I had to the opportunity to observe the union of music education and music therapy. I had been reading some general article about music education and I thought how wonderful it would be if the academic world could understand the therapeutic advantages of music and how it could minimize so many of the behavioral problem in the schools today.
When I began this class, I was so intimidated by everyone because most of them were in the program and seemed to know so much more than I do about music. As I continued in the course, I observed by peers and learned that many of them had their own insecurities.
I’ve been blocked by a fear that I won’t be able to improve the levels of my skills or learn the theory. As I experienced this course, I realized they are just fears.
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I felt most vulnerable while doing spontaneous chords. The first few times I was hesitant to join in sometimes because I’d come in with an odd note. Some of the other girls shared the same feelings so we all decided to not worry about what it sounded like for a while but just to let loose and go with whatever came out. It was so interesting because the moment we did that everything fit and we sang as one. Working as a group like that and knowing that I wasn’t the only self-conscious one really helped me.
It has been a real eye opener (or rather, ear opener) to think about listening to what’s going on around me before I add something to the group. I really like what Mr. Grant said in our last meeting, that it’s more about listening than doing so much. We need to relate to our surroundings. I’ve found that one of my favorite ways of doing that is either filling in when another voice rests, taking a rest simultaneously with another voice, or echoing small portions of another voice.
The support/expansion paradigm is a wonderful system. Whatever role I play, I feel like I am part of a group and am doing something important.
The most important personal musicianship skill that I’ve developed has by far been the ability to listen to what is going on around me. I still have a long way to go before I can say I’m where I want to be, but I’m working at it. It’s interesting that this thought of creating my own part based off what’s going on around me had never occurred to me.
Surprisingly, all my feelings of vulnerability of any degree were gone in these last meetings. I was actually very excited in our last class meeting to have the opportunity to do the expansion part of the pyramid and improvise singing lyrics. Even though the class is full of incredibly talented singers and musicians and I’ve never considered myself to have a very impressive solo voice, I felt free. Any cares of what others thought were gone as I took the opportunity to express myself in a very rare way.
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I also found it very cool how every group had their own interpretation of how to use Drum Talk and turn it into a song. Each group sounded completely different and distinct from the others.
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I noticed at the beginning of the class, everyone was really stiff and hesitant to try Drum Talk. By the end of the class we had people laughing, dancing, and singing in groups. It was okay to make mistakes because we were all learning. You have the chance to explore and lose yourself in talking through the drum.
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I felt vulnerable and scared and didn’t want to put myself out there again. Improvisation in front of peers is always a huge risk. My weak areas were evident from day one and I was not very confident. I realized that when I felt constrained or limited or in a situation with too much structure, I felt a lot of pressure and I didn’t perform well, as opposed to having less structure and flexibility. Windows opened for me especially when I had the opportunity to do some vocal improvisation with B. I knew I could improvise, but I didn’t realize I could “let it loose” at such a level as we did with each other. It was so liberating to experience that and to hear my voice making such unique sounds, and even somewhat strange sounds, but it was as if I was beginning to know a part of me that had not previously been discovered.
I feel there are many ways in which the information in this course can be applied in clinical settings.
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The support that I received from my group members gave me so much confidence in myself and my abilities. We made each other sound better together then we would have sounded alone. It’s fun to support people with them knowing it. It gives them a chance to fly higher.
We also became very comfortable as friends and I love that the Drum Talk setting almost demanded that of us. We were required to build relationships of trust with each other so that would could be effective in our Drum Talk exercises and project.
Therapeutically, Drum Talk was great. I can see how it could do the same thing between clients and therapists as it did between the members of my group. It creates a very warm supportive environment. Also, it forces us to come out of our comfort zones a little and grow in our strengths and weaknesses.
The setting was very non-threatening and that really helped me to experiment more because I could make mistakes and no one criticized me for it. That is a rare thing in the music world.
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I’ve now realized that it is SO much more than just drumming or chanting random syllables. The improvisation side of it really allows for free expression and self-acceptance. Before this semester the very idea of improvisation scared me to death and left me feeling incompetent and unprofessional as a musician. I feel like the ability has always been suppressed within me and that it has finally be able to surface in a comfortable safe environment where I knew what to do.
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As a group we really wanted to focus on our voices and improvisation. Not all of us however feel that our voice is a very strong instrument. The voice is so personal and very vulnerable. It is a person’s own instrument, attached to them. A judgment passed on one’s own voice is like a judgment passed on their soul.
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I have always had super intimidation problem with improvisation, and yet I feel that Drum Talk, for me, has created a risk-free improvisation environment.
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I like how even though Drum Talk has boundaries and structure, there is so much possibility for freedom of expression within those boundaries. The thing that I am learning about Drum Talk is that it is simply a matter of familiarity and practice; anyone can do it.
At some of my practicum sites I have come in contact with clients who are so apprehensive about playing an instrument. They make statements about how they are not musical or how they were never good at a certain instrument. I love how this specific method breaks down playing a drum, or other instrument into a small verbal task. This gives the client the chance to slowly work their way into playing the instrument. I like that Drum Talk makes a musical instrument out of your voice.
A person’s personality is often clearly shown through the way they apply their Drum Talk techniques. Some stick to the standard Drum Talk words. Others sing. Some are loud, some are quiet. Some are quick to volunteer to lead and others begin to look ill when they realize it is their turn. This is so interesting, especially being a music therapy major and being constantly interested in personal expression through music, and how that relates to other areas of their lives.
I think one of the most valuable things that I have learned this semester is how to be aware of all of the different group dynamics. This skill will be very useful to me when doing any type of group intervention, especially those using group improvisation.
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I’ll admit, I was very intimidated as I joined in and did thing on my own. I have never had a problem being in front of people, but I did then. … After a while, we were all having a blast, working together to create music. I love how Drum Talk helps people learn to work together a lot better.
Learning about ourselves usually requires experience. Through that experience, we can grow and become so much more than we were. I have had that chance to grow because of Drum Talk. I am truly a different person because of all the experience I was able to have while participating in this class.
My family and friends consider me to be an outgoing person. I love to be around and interact with people as much as possible. I have been like this all my life. Going into this class, I had no real concerns. After the first five minutes, my opinion changed. It was exciting, but a little intimidating at the same time. When the first class was over, I couldn’t believe that those feelings were still occurring. I was insecure about it all because it was so new and different from anything I had ever experienced. It was almost hard for me to say those nonsense Drum Talk words and it scared me to imagine improvising with them in front of everyone. This really bothered me because usually I didn’t care about doing things in front of other people. I assumed these silly feelings would disappear in a few days or a week, after I practiced a little. This assumption was wrong. That comfortable feeling didn’t come until a few weeks before the class ended. But, the amazing thing is that it did come. I have gained so much confidence from this class, it is really hard to believe. I now have the desire to teach other about Drum Talk, because I want them to experience all that I have.
Music has always been in my life. Through Drum Talk, I have been able to increase that connection with music even more. I was able to really reach deep inside myself and explore so many areas of music that I never knew were possible. I have gained a love for improvisation.
I have been so lucky to experience Drum Talk. I had no idea when I was really getting into, and I am so glad I took this class. Learning so much about myself and gaining confidence is priceless. Drum Talk can help so many other populations, besides the ones mentioned. Music is amazing the way it can help and heal people. I am looking forward to learn more about Music Therapy and some day being able to call myself a Music Therapist. It is truly amazing field of work.
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Having an open mind free of fear and pre-concepts is absolute essential in a world of healing and health with music; in a field that relies so heavily on improvisation in all its forms.
I’m not only learning a good deal about team work and communication, and experiences such as groupthink, but also improving skills such as problem solving, cooperation and compromise, and the benefits of positive reinforcement and yes, even just plain listening, something most people have not learned to develop real well.
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I remember a few times when the class was performing together, being completely in awe because such a large group, doing a number of different things with no predetermined plan, become very unified.
I realize that music therapy is all about “being in the moment,” and it still scares me. But I’ll get there. I feel like this class is dragging me by the hair to get there, and I think it’s a really good thing.
Quite frankly, this class scared me to death. I look back on the first class period, and I can remember very sweaty hands. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the twelve more hours of Drum Talk and improvisation.
I grew up learning classical piano and taking classical voice lessons. In my training in both areas, I was never given the opportunity to stray from the ink to play what I wanted. I always felt like I was able to express my feelings through the music anyway, and I feel that I learned how to make the pieces I played “my own.” But I have never had the chance to explore what else was inside. When I learned that Drum Talk was a lot about improvisation, I was mortified. The idea of learning “how to” improvise musically was so intimidating, especially in front of so many great musicians. I really enjoyed participating in the groups, but dreaded leading them. Having many opportunities to play the leader, and to even improvise vocally on my own, I have learned that there is a lot inside that is good, and worth putting “out there.” Looking back at my first experience therapeutically, I can see how improvisation can really help a person to “let it out.” Once I was able to let my guard down, I felt very free, and it felt very good. I still have a lot of inhibitions, but I feel that I have taken a great big step in the right direction.
Overall, this class was a great learning experience for me. I learned how to “let go.” I know that I still have to work on that, but I can now tell myself that I can. During this semester, I have learned that I have more “walls” than I thought I had, and I still have feelings that I thought I had worked through. My feelings of vulnerability have helped me understand more of what a client will feel. I have felt what it is like to be in a safe environment, being free, and I want to help others experience that.
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It is neat to see it becoming something more than just random syllables thrown together. I like how the moments of silence really add to the piece as well. At first we kind of thought that more was better, but we’re beginning to weave the pieces together in ways that complement rather than contradict each other.
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I now listen to my percussion class with a new ear. I can actually start to begin thinking Drum Talk words when I am drumming my rhythms and when I practice at home. I say it out loud and it helps me remember the rhythms so much better.