Starting From Scratch

I have a client with whom I've been working for an hour a week for several years now. The last month or so I've felt a distinct sea-change in what we're doing. To my surprise, we're moving further and further away from music-making and, in so doing, we are making more music. Weird, I know.

This client - let's call him James for now - has never really, looking back, been all THAT interested in the actual making of music. His attention span ranges from a few seconds to about a minute. But he enjoys my company, and he enjoys interacting with me. We've developed our own familiar games; for example, trying to match opening and closing our hands on the flat of a drum skin so we are perfectly matched, without resorting to a rhythm .. pretending to be soldiers drilling on the parade ground (with Boomwhacker rifles), or gorillas having a conversation, or pirates, or Amazonian Indians. stalking prey.

We have 'Talking Drumsticks', 'Count The Shaker Eggs' (as we pick them up with chopsticks), 'Echoes' (with Swanee whistle/bamboo flute or harmonica/accordion); we use puppets, hats and iPad sound effects. We knock on a thousand imaginary doors and ask "Who's there?" We balance drumsticks on our upper lips and become mustachioed sergeant-majors.

I daresay anyone watching us might think us quite bonkers. We move from game to game and evoke character after character almost seamlessly. We're in our own little world. I'd become worried that this wasn't the activity James's support workers and parents had engaged me for. But I no longer feel that way. Although we're not making recognisable pieces of music together (except occasionally), we are still using sounds to communicate and express ourselves and, in the spirit of "Every sound you make is musical" I now accept that what we are doing is indeed very valuable, even if I'm screeching like a banshee whilst imitating the sound of an ambulance siren.

SoundZen screen
Once I'd reassured myself about this, I must have relaxed. James, a very empathic young man, started to play the keyboard a lot more, in a musically more recognisable fashion, as well as the harmonica. We improvise with as many different instruments and sounds as possible to an iPad backing track (courtesy of SoundZen.) We're now in the process of developing a new game to add to our repertoire. I'm not sure how to describe it. It involves picture cards and corresponding sound effects; the casting of dice, picking of cards and moving of things around on an old Ludo board. We take turns. We identify colours, and numbers, and the names of things.

James always wins, and then we celebrate with raucous shouts and high-fives. It's great.

Our new game.