Master in Music Therapy (feat. Jodie O’brien)

This interview is with an old friend Jodie who has just completed her Masters in Music Therapy. In this, she shares her transition from a Bachelor of Music to a Masters of Music Therapy, the challenges she faced as well as all the in-betweens.

Scroll down for the transcription or click this youtube link for the audio version:

Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

My musical projects at the moment are all surrounded by my music therapy profession and my new business which I have just started Major music therapy. To be a music therapist we are required to be constantly playing instruments which include the guitar piano, percussion instruments as well as the saxophone that I use as well in therapy and the flute, and we are constantly singing with our clients as well. This is my experience as what I am doing as a professional musician through my profession as a registered music therapist.

Can you share approximately when you started your masters in music therapy?

I started studying my masters in creative music therapy at the start of 2017 at Western Sydney University on Kingswood campus which is in Penrith in Sydney. As soon as I completed my bachelor of music which included a year of Honors which I investigated and researched the mental health and well being of community musicians playing in hospitals and in prisons, I then went on the following year to study my masters in music therapy.

What were the biggest challenges when you faced when you started your masters in music therapy?

The two biggest challenges I would say would be learning guitar and being able to sing. These were two areas that I didn’t spend a lot of time on during my undergraduate when I was doing jazz saxophone. Guitar and singing were two areas that I didn’t spend a lot of time on. I needed to be able to quickly learn guitar and sing in a range of different styles for different age groups all the way from babies up to age care as well. This meant I had to spend a lot of hours practicing so I wasn’t left behind and could keep up with the level required to be a registered music therapist during my study.

What sparked your interest in music therapy?

My interest in Music Therapy was sparked by reading Oliver Sacks book Musicaphilia. He wrote about how music affected people in many different ways including with stroke survivors. I read this book as part of my year twelve music extension assignment and I investigated the connections between music in the brain and how music therapy was involved in that. This was an area since then that I always wanted to pursue, and I was lucky to be able to spend some time during my placement working with stroke survivors in Neurorehabilitation

What advice would you give to musicians wishing to pursue a masters in music therapy upon completion of their bachelor in music?

Music therapy is such a wonderful profession to be a part of. We get to work with so many different people and it’s a very rewarding career. My advice would be to look at some music therapy literature prior to auditioning to music therapy that way you have a bit of an understanding of what would be involved and the different areas that we can work in. I would also suggest to practice as much as you can. Practice your singing, practice guitar, practice piano. That way when you’re starting the course, you’re not playing catch up and you are able to give your clients as much as possible through music therapy sessions

Are there any scholarships you would encourage musicians to apply for with regards to pursuing a masters in music research?

There are a lot of difference between studying a jazz performance degree and doing a masters in music therapy. Through the jazz performance, we are working towards being the best musician possible for our sake and then to provide this to our audiences. This means we are spending many hours in a practice room trying to better our talent and our ability for the purpose of being a performer and an entertainer. Through masters in music therapy, our goals and our purpose of music therapy are to help our clients have a better health and well being. This means that all of our musical ability that we have is for the purpose of our client to gain more in music therapy and to be able to be flexible and be able to improvise and change in the moment. Through this, we’ll work on both the phycological aspects of how our clients perceive the music we are playing and how this can help them or this may be changed and improved to help them have a better relationship in therapy and have a better way of achieving their goals. These goals can be through physical movements such as a being able to hold a beater in their hand, play the drum, being able to move their arm, being able to walk and then they can also extend to being able to speak, learning to hear, being able to communicate with other people and socially interact, and also just to have a better way of life outside of the therapy room. What we do in music therapy in a session is aiming to translate into their everyday life outside of music therapy.

Can you please share what you found to be the biggest differences between studying jazz performance, and doing your masters in music therapy?

The big differences were to be able to use music in a therapeutic purpose and being able to relate to the client. So the way that I manage and studied these different techniques and methods were to be reading literature about what music therapist have done for the therapeutic benefit of the client. So reading literature specifically related to age care, if I was working in an aged care facility with people with dementia, literature relating to music therapy with Parkinson’s disease, literature relating to music therapy in hearing impairments, in childrens hospitals and then in cancer and oncology wards and in palliative care. So reading literature about how this is being done the past and the difference success they’ve had was then able to translate to my experience doing these in clinical placements. This was a little bit different from how I studied in jazz performance, were I didn’t read all of that much literature but it’s more what we did in classes and in our lessons ti be a better performer, whereas in music therapy a lot of it is what we can gain and learn ourselves through reading and then applying that through our clinical placement experiences.

Were these differences easily managed or did you have to readjust the way you studied in order to be effective?

I would definitely say that a big plus from studying jazz performance would be my improvisation. Through music therapy we are required to respond to our clients in the moment and this includes being able to improvise a song or improvise in a genre or mood portrayed or sense of mood through our music so having experience jazz performance in my undergraduate degree, I was more confident to be able to improvise within a session. Another aspect would be my knowledge of chord progressions and harmony. This was a big part of jazz music and in our study in jazz, therefore when I was learning songs and a large number of songs, I was able to think of them through chord progressions and being able to transpose songs in the moment based on what is needed for our clients.

Were any skills you gained from majoring in jazz used during your studies in music therapy (eg: improvisation, transcribing etc)?

Transcribing was also an important technique. If a client starts singing of playing in a key or plays the melody, being able to respond to that without having to think too much about the key that they’re playing in, being able to hear it, was a definite advantage.

Did you enroll for any classes or online courses in regards to music therapy before you applied for your masters degree?

I didn’t apply and participate in any classes specifically related to music therapy.  My knowledge came from the readings that I had done myself individually through my own research. During my masters in music therapy though I did enrol in two online courses, and they’re called Mooks (Massive Open Onlive Courses). The first one was by the University of Tasmania and it was about understanding dementia. At the time I was doing a placement in an aged care facility and I was working with people with varying levels of dementia so this course helped me understand dementia a little bit more and the ways that I would be able to interact and help these people. The second one was through the University of Melbourne and it was entitled how music can change your life. So this course looked and explored the different meanings of music and the different ways it can be used to impact the way of life that we are living.

I’m aware you were working on your singing and guitar as part of your skillset as a musician. Can you share how this relates to your studies in music therapy?

I was working on my singing and my guitar as part of my skill set prior to moving down to Sydney to study music therapy. The two instruments that I use the most in music therapy session would be my voice and my guitar. The guitar is an instrument that’s easily versatile to play in a number of different styles and it’s also very transportable. We can take it into different rooms in a hospital, I can take it around an aged care facility, I can sit on a ground with a group of clients holding my guitar. Whereas the piano is an instrument that is more challenging to move around and to wheel a keyboard around as well. So the guitar is an instrument that I use the most in music therapy to play with all my clients however, we can use just our voice in a session. I can put my instrument and my guitar to the side and use my voice to interact with the clients and to sing with them in many different ways. Music in the brain is processed and shares the same pathways as language, therefore using our voice through music is very beneficial to help people learn and to help them develop their therapeutic goals

Are you still working as a performing musician or is your focus primarily on music therapy these days?

My focus is primarily on music therapy however I have recently just started doing some more performances and gigs as a musician using my saxophone. So this is an area that I would like to continue however my primary focus is on music therapy.

Has spending so much time devoted to music therapy changed the way you approach music composition or simply listening to music?

Studying music therapy has definitely changed the way that I listen to music. Prior to studying music therapy, I didn’t really listen for the purpose of the song and to the lyrics, I would sometimes sing along to songs or I would make up my own words without realising it. However now that the way I use music in therapy is very important and the songs that I choose for clients is always a purpose and meaningful, the way I listen to music in my downtime has changed to a bit more of analytical view. I analyse the harmonies the sounds that they are making and I also analyse the purpose and the meaning of the song as I would if I was working with clients in a session.

Can you please share if you have any plans for the future with your new qualification?

I do have some plans to be working as a registered music therapist starting this year which is exciting. I just started my own music therapy business which is called Major Music Therapy and I intend to build the presence of music therapy here on the Brisbane North Side. It’s something that I’m very passionate about as music therapy we can help so many different people in different areas and of different abilities and ages. This means that we can help all the way from newborn babies, connecting with their parents, and then all the way out to people in aged care facilities with dementia or adults with Parkinson’s disease. We can help people with disabilities including children and adults and we can help people in many different areas. This includes after helping stroke survives walk or speak or use their arms again. Helping people to hear, and it’s such an honour to be able to work with so many different people and hopefully help them have a better way of life.

Any extra comments of insights you wish to share?

Thank you Isaac for inviting me to do this interview with you, and to share a little bit about what I do as a music therapist and how my profession has changed from studying jazz performance to recently graduating and now becoming a registered music therapist.

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