One for the self-employed

I just came across this great article written by an actor, about the housekeeping guru, Flylady. Basically, both are about how you deal with time and space as someone who works with periods of unstructured time. I’ve been subscribed to Flylady for a number of years now; it’s got my house clean, my PhD thesis finished, and my freelance music work more or less on track – even though on the surface it seems like it’s a system to help stay-at-home mothers.

Here’s a link to the article, which says it much better than me…

Event: ‘Learn about singing for the brain’

13th Oct, 2011, 2-4.30pm

Join me, the Occupational Therapy team from the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley, and Alzheimer Scotland, Renfrewshire, for an afternoon workshop to ‘Learn about singing for the brain’ at the University of the West of Scotland, Paisley.

The afternoon will include an example session, along with shared learning from group members about

– organising a group
– musical input
– feedback from group members

All welcome, especially carers, care professionals, people with memory problems, and anyone with an interest in using music with older people.

book here

Great Little Amp

I’m very much an acoustic, luddite musician, and a bit of a technophobe when it comes to amplification, however, I’ve been pondering the need for occasional extra volume for a while.

I was inspired while visiting my friend Stephen Sharpe of Drumfun in Inverness, Scotland, after seeing his set-up for schools workshops. Having an amp and microphone made all the difference for a group of about 35 children, and made it much easier for Steve to communicate.  He later mentioned that he also felt like he had more energy left at the end of the day, through not having to raise his voice so much. Already I could imagine how useful this would be at a variety of events – at outdoor festivals, with larger groups, or simply to play back some recorded music.

After a quick lesson in how to set one up, I was determined to go and get some kit of my own – the only other consideration I had was size and weight – not too much of either!

And then I found this:

ZT Lunchbox Acoustic Amp

ZT Lunchbox Acoustic Amp

And it’s perfect!! It’s tiny – and fits in a very prtable shoulder bag, yet packs an enormous punch, sound-wise. It’s got inputs for an instrument, a microphone, and an auxilliary input for other sound sources like ipods, etc. There’s all sorts of video (and technical) reviews out there on the web if you’re into that kind of thing, but from an ignorant newcomer’s perspective (mine!) I think it’s wonderful, and capable of doing everything from simply giving you a little extra vocal ‘boost’ in a workshop, to filling a room with sound

At the moment I’m considering whether it might also be a valuable tool when I’m working with older people, many of whom have hearing difficulties. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Here’s a link to the manufacturer’s website…

Moment of the day…

I’ve been going over to the other side of the country, to two nursing homes in Fife who have clubbed together to get some music happening around the units. It’s a long day, but extremely rewarding, particularly as the staff seem to get into it as much as the residents.

Now in Scotland, we can occasionally have quite a dark sense of humour, but in a good way. My ‘moment of the day’ came when a small group of us were singing ‘Daisy Daisy’ (by request) – and at the moment when we all sang “I’m half crazy….” , quite off their own bat, all the residents suddenly exchanged knowing looks, nods, and winks. Many of them do have dementia, and in a moment of over-sensitivity, one might not choose this song for fear of causing offence. What was wonderful about this particular episode was that it was the residents themselves sharing a joke about their condition in spite of it. It wasn’t a moment for sorrow, tragic irony, or sympathy – just appreciating a wry sense of humour that bubbled up in the moment.

Which reminds me of the time I once began the Fred Astaire song ‘Heaven… I’m in heaven…’ in a hospital ward, when a little voice suddenly piped up: “Not yet I’m not!”.

Beautiful Xylophone

I came across this while working on a project with the wonderful Musique et Sante, Paris. For over 20 years, they have been pioneering music work in hospitals of all kinds.

This xylophone is a delight to work with! Basically, it’s frameless – it rests on what looks like gas pipe tubing. What this means in practice is that it can be placed on a floor or table; walked all over by small people, and is virtually indestructible even by big ones. I’ve always found xylophones to be very sociable instruments, especially larger ones, as they allow several people to play together, using all the sides. It looks gorgeous as well!

I think you have to order them custom-made, and I don’t have my own yet, but I will one day!

Bobby McFerrin and the pentatonic scale

I know probably most people in the music emabling community have seen this a number of times, but it’s definitely worth reposting.

I love it because it demonstrates both how instinctive music is, and how far you can go with very little explanation indeed. Arthur Hull (midwife of the community drum circle movement) calls this ‘teaching without teaching’, and to me, it is the mark of a supremely skilled facilitator. Developing the ability to communicate in this way is also enormously helpful when it comes to working with any kind of group or individual who may have communication difficulty. The less words, and the more ‘doing’ you can do, so much the better!

Watch and enjoy…

Drumming and people with dementia – 5 tips

Music work with people with dementia is EXPLODING here in the Glasgow area – everybody wants some! Here’s a couple of things I’ve found useful over the years…..

  1. Modelling – not the Kate Moss/Naomi Campbell kind, but  leading clearly  by example really helps – people with dementia can often ‘mirror’ very readily – use this to your – and their – advantage!
  2. Try slowing things down a bit at times – you may find this reaches the people who seem to be ‘not there’ – we all have an inner rhythm (our ‘spontaneous motor tempo’), and as we get older, this slows down a lot. See how you can get to their world (and pace), rather than getting them to catch up to yours. Follow any initiative that somebody shows – see how you can match it and go with it….
  3. Try ‘visiting’ each person in turn, round the circle. Particularly with people who are participating less, approach gently and crouch on the floor in front of them. Play a frame drum gently with your fingertips, enjoy it yourself, and see if you can share it with the person so that your actions mirror each other. It’s very important to expect nothing in these situations, and to avoid ‘shoving’ a drum at somebody, but done sensitively, it can be amazing. Welcome whatever happens.
  4. Sing! Particularly (but not exclusively) older, well-known songs. Again, try slowing down the tempo. Different songs can also provide inspiration for different rhythms – e.g. ‘Daisy daisy’ drops folk into a lovely 3/4. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the words – going ‘la la la’ for a bit empowers everyone else who doesn’t know the words either!In my (30% drumming, 60% singing) workshop today, the song which had the best response wasn’t one I planned, but one that someone came up with the idea for. They suggested ‘New York, New York’, and together we fumbled our way through it, went through several key changes, missed bits out, and generally rearranged it, but we arrived at a show-stopping finish together, and it was most definitely a joint effort, with different group members remembering different bits – leading to an amazing sense of community achievement and togetherness. If you’re not perfect, it allows everyone else not to be perfect too. What a relief! This is not an excuse for sloppy, ill-thought-out leadership – just about being human with other human beings.
  5. ‘Shave and a haircut – two bits’ (otherwise known as ‘how’s yer father – all right!’) – is your rhythmic best friend, and always a good gag. It’s also a great way of spontaneously rounding off a groove, in a ‘teaching without teaching’ sort of way….try playing the first half on its own, with an expectant look…happy drumming!


Music making and happiness

Came across the ‘Action for Happiness’ website this week…

– although it’s not directly related to music making, I believe music making can be directly related to increased happiness!

In brief, they propose 10 things we could all do to be more happy. These are handily summarised by the acronym GREAT DREAMS, as follows:

Giving – do things for others;
Relating – connect with people;
Exercising – take care of your body;
Appreciating – notice the world around;
Trying out – keep learning new things;

Direction – have goals to look forward to;
Resilience – Find ways to bounce back;
Emotion – take a positive approach;
Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are;
Meaning – be part of something bigger.

They have a lovely set of posters (one for each stage) here.

Now, reading between the lines, it’s not hard to see how becoming involved in music making can tick many of these boxes – let’s try that list again…

Giving – can happen in small ways, such as helping to carry instruments, or set up; or in bigger ways, such as performing at a community event, or at a local retirement home.

Relating – is what drum circles do best. Participants learn to tune in and listen carefully to each other to create music together. The social interaction in the music also provides a good ‘rehearsal space’ for relating to each other when the music stops, meaning that music making is a great tool to help overcome social anxiety and shyness – and help us all to relate more!

Exercising – Drumming in particular offers upper body exercise, a focus on bilateral movement, and is great entry level exercise for people beginning to increase their physical activity.

Appreciating – Part of any group music making is learning to listen to, and value the contributions of others, and to develop a deeper awareness of the whole world of sound.

Trying out – For so many people, music making is a new or unfamiliar activity. Attending a well-facilitated workshop helps develop confidence in the face of challenge. Having succeeded at one ‘new thing’ that we may have been nervous about, we are then better prepared to go out and try others.

Direction –  Some of the members of my regular mental health group say that on a bad week, Thursdays are redeemed because it’s drumming day. It’s a regular point in the week to look forward to, even if everything else isn’t going so well. In another group, we had one of our biggest turn-outs of the year, on on of the stormiest nights! Other, more long term goals could be improving skills, making a recording, or working towards a performance or community event.

Resilience – Improvising music is great resilience practice! In order to even begin, we have to get used to the fact that we will make ‘mistakes’ along the way. Mistakes, rather than being disasters, can provide us with great learning on our way to figuring out for ourselves what works, and what doesn’t. If we play it safe, we’ll never grow. Again, the more we get used to making mistakes and learning from them in a musical environment, the easier it becomes in the wider world.

Emotion – need I say any more? One of the most overused stereotypes (which doesn’t mean it isn’t sort of true!) is of the cathartic release of ‘getting it all out’ on the drums…however, sensitive, quiet, relational drumming can be just as powerful. I’ve worked with a lot of great big guys in maximum security environments, and they always comment on how good it feels to drum softly together…

Acceptance – there is a place for everyone in music, whether it’s playing a simple pulse (the most important bit which keeps everyone else together), or something more fancy to spice things up. Every beat counts.

Meaning – group music making instantly opens up a feeling of being part of ‘something bigger’ – on it’s own, a simple rhythm or vocal part sounds just that – but when combined with the contributions of others, it forms something greater than any one individual could produce. It’s not just a metaphor  – it’s a direct experience.

So there you go – music making makes us happy!

happy grooving, (in the biggest sense of the word),



You only need 4 chords…

In this case, they’re E, B, C#m and A – otherwise known as the  I – V – vi – IV chord progression…

As a keen ukulele player (four strings = four fingers – what’s not to like?), I did a wee bit of research to find this progression in a more uke-friendly key, and here it is –


Now you can recreate the magic at home…


The Buddy Beat

This is by far my longest ongoing project – and I’m so proud of them!

The Buddy Beat’ is a community-based mental health drumming group, and was set up three years ago in partnership with NHS mental health occupational therapy services in Renfrewshire. Aimed at promoting social inclusion, the project has three levels of involvement: ward-based workshops; a weekly drumming group at a local arts centre, and wider community workshops. Longer-term group members also come out and assist me in some of my other work (and are getting invitations in their own right) – in drumming for conferences, mental health events, and drumming with people with a variety of special needs.

The group had been keen to put together a video to tell their story, as a way of encouraging others in their mental health journeys. Having been initially turned down for funding, they decided to raise their own money through holding a ‘sponsored drum’. They then employed a film maker who is also a mental health service user, and the resulting video is entirely produced by the group themselves. Their hope is that it will be useful to others, whether that’s musicians, health care providers, or people with mental health difficulties themselves.

They’d be delighted to receive any comments!