A Not-New Reminder.

Writing can feel limiting for me.

I often compare my ideas for writing to other people’s. Then I toss my idea because they’ve already done it. You see, my struggle with writing is that of comparison to others. My observing mind overpowers my analytical mind. “I see that someone else has written about that subject in their blog so I should write about something else.” “This melody sounds like that song’s melody, I better change it.” Expression. expression. expression.

Why is that we as people are so critical of our own work and more accepting of someone else’s? Why is it that I scrap the melody of a song I’ve written because it is too similar to another song I’ve heard? Why do I scratch out a blog idea because someone else has already written about it? Why? Well…the same reason why our clients sometimes refuse to express their ideas in their own way. It is a vulnerable place. Expression makes us vulnerable. Expression is a window through the persona to the Self. When you express yourself, you express your Self. Why wouldn’t you feel indifferent about expressing yourself to a therapist whom you have just met? I am reminded, in my own struggle for creative expression, of how hard it must be for a non-musician receiving music therapy to open up in treatment. It’s hard and we need reminders in times of frustration. Maybe you’ve tried everything you know to do and a client still doesn’t reciprocate. Maybe a client is abrasive when cued verbally to engage. Maybe its time to take a step back and remember that for us music therapists and musicians, creative expression is second-nature (sometimes first!). For clients, it may be a difficult path with many bends and forks. Be patient and let the music fill the space and guide that person to trust. Trust the process.

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New Musics…

You know that feeling you get when you absolutely cannot find the right thing to listen to and just before you decide to read or do something else, you find a new song? Maybe you discover you actually like a genre you once before didn’t particularly like? Well let me say that that moment, as taxing as it can be on my nerves really feels good to work through. Patience. John Cage said,

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

This has always spoken to me on more levels than in just music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things from which one will never find anything of substance, but those are things that typically have such an already established perception you can’t ever seem to find anything about it you like. (especially if there are moral differences.) But I am not talking about those ordeals. I tend to be quick to make assumptions about music I choose to listen to on a personal basis, just from being aware of the generation of folks who like the music. Let’s take my recently found appreciation for the genre of “dubstep”.

Initially, I did not give the genre a chance, as it was my assumption that the genre itself was simply built upon remixes of “cookie-cutter” pop songs of which I typically do not listen. I appreciate and enjoy music that is made organically and not electronically. I use the word organically loosely as I certainly appreciate distorted guitars and the occasional keytar solo. Until recently, I had only listened to just the beginning of a few dubstep songs and it only confirmed my assumption that dubstep was recycled billboard pop songs. However, with my recent subscription to Spotify, my library of music has grown…significantly…infinitesimally, rather. A friend of mine had an electronic playlist, including some electronic artists that I am familiar with and own albums by. On this playlist, there were dubstep tracks that I did not realize I was listening to until it was too late…I was already sucked into the genre I before avoided. There are correlations between this genre and other genres that I appreciate. Granted, many dubstep artists have created music containing lyrics that I do not care for, so I am still picky in that regard, however, a great majority of the songs I have found, are quite enjoyable. It is very reminiscent of some great 80’s music with a slight heavy metal twist, in regards to “the beat dropping” rather heavily. (for a lack of a better way of putting it)

So my challenge to you, is to try a new genre. It is never an issue for me to learn music outside of the genres I prefer when it is a client who requested the music. I absolutely put my personal preference aside to learn music that can help my client benefit to the fullest, so this challenge is for your own personal music listening experiences. Can you think of a genre that you avoid for whatever reason? Maybe you find it boring or maybe you just never gave it a shot before. I was reminded of the Cage quote through giving dubstep a try. What will his quote inspire you to try?

Avoiding Burnout.

Most days I come in to work knowing what to expect, in reference to environment, client behavior, songs I may use, staff member conversations, etc.. I think this is true for most people who have maintained the same job for an extended period. I think there is something in this comfortable frame of mind and space that allows us to burnout.

About 5 or 6 months ago, I was directly in the middle of burnout. I didn’t feel like my interventions were the best my residents and clients could get from me, I felt there was more repetition in interventions than there should have been, I didn’t feel like I was learning enough new music to bring in every week/month/session depending on the group/individual, something was missing and it felt like there was too much of the same. What causes burnout? I know that my colleagues have written about burnout, and maybe in this same way, in their own blogs, but I haven’t explored this in my writing. Let’s start from the beginning with that comfortable frame of mind I mentioned before.

When you know what to expect from your day everyday, even the events that take place that are, at first, unusual begin to become the norm (so-to-speak). You’re flowing through the motions. Sometimes this is a good feeling, and you know what I mean. When you’re really tucked into the groove and work seems like a breeze and everything is going great, your clients are progressing toward their goals, everyone at work is actually working as a team, etc…this is all a great way to be in the groove. What happens when you fall into this groove-of-expectation and things aren’t as positive? Maybe you’re feeling not-so up-to-par. Everything feels the same. Its burnout. The difference between being in the “awesome groove of super productiveness” and the “kind-of everyday is the same groove of just productive enough” is burnout.

So, to keep myself far, far away from burnout and keep myself in the land of being in the “awesome groove of super productiveness”, I stay self-aware. How? I breathe…and when I breathe, I take in all the wonderful things around me that I may not be paying attention to because of paperwork, or a co-worker talking to me about personal things, or a resident just can’t get the hang of the tone chimes, etc. I take in new music when I am self-aware and breathing. I take in new literature. Whatever feels positive and is productive, I take it in. Don’t cut yourself short of living a life away from your work. If you really feel like you SHOULD be reading more research literature when you’re in burnout-mode, try reading something for your own recreational purposes before you read the research article, textbook, blog, etc. Part of the reason you’re in burnout-mode is because you’ve lost the balance between work and play…and part of the reason you feel like you should be reading more research is because reading new research can be play as well.

Even though I love getting in my new copies of The Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives, sometimes I have to make time for recreational reading. I have to make myself read something else. Variety is an equally important key to avoiding burnout.

Variety + Breathing = proactive approach to avoiding burnout.