Everybody has music in them that wants to come out, and we can ALL make music together because music is a common language that everybody is born to speak. I swear it’s true!

This weekend I graduated from a 4-year training program with the most wonderful organization in the world (just saying), Music for People. I’ve been learning a fabulous set of skills – how to lead groups of people (any group; musicians along with non-musicians using any combination of instruments and / or voice) to play spontaneous, improvised music together.

It’s hard to explain this music improvisation stuff to people who haven’t experienced it. Non-musicians think it will be too hard or that it’s out of their realm. Musicians think it will be awkward, or that even though they’re experienced, that improvisation is a special technique for jazz players. You don’t “get it” so you don’t try it, but when you’re there in the room and this magic thing is happening, and you’re part of this beautiful, playful musical experience, it all makes sense.

Because it was my graduation, my husband and daughter joined me this weekend, and participated in the workshops. They finally got it!

After years of trying to explain what I do at Music for People, my husband, after experiencing it himself, started making the connections that my words couldn’t make for him. He’s a therapist, and the parallels, the metaphors and the power contained within the experience of music improvisation jumped out at him – he can use this in his therapy groups. Music making, in its simplest form, really is something that everyone can do, and is incredibly powerful, affirming, and a pathway for connection between people and between the separated parts of our psyche. And it’s fun.

What Are These Metaphors?
Making sound and music together in an atmosphere of non-judgement is a visceral metaphor for being cooperatively creative in other parts of our life.

Say we all sing just one long note at the same time – just whatever note pops out – no planning ahead – so each person’s note will probably be different from everyone else’s…

And actually, let’s not even use the word “sing” since “singing” is so laden with judgement and stress for many people. Let’s just say, “let out one long, loud sound – don’t worry what that sound is – just stick with whatever one long sound pops out and don’t adjust it to make it sound like anyone else’s sound.” The sounds might clash. The notes might not sound pretty or harmonious. But our task is just to stick with our sound until our breath runs out and to listen like crazy. And to appreciate! We do this five or ten times. Afterwards we all go, “Wow!” You might be surprised at the power and beauty you’ll hear in each combination of notes and tones. Who knew?!

The metaphors are all the more powerful because they’re not only being made in our brains; they’re being experienced in our bodies and in our community. In the air that vibrates between us…

• It’s ok to disagree (make a clashy sound).
• Disagreement has it’s own special beauty.
• Even in chaos and disagreement (all the mixed up, unplanned sounds we’re making) there are harmonies and togetherness, if we look for it.
• It’s ok to take a chance to let your voice out in a strong, powerful way.
• You can let your sound out, yet listen to other people’s sounds at the same time – conversation at it’s finest!
• Intentionally entering a zone of non-judgment is freeing – you can bring this to work, to your parenting, to your relationships with friends, to your attitude towards your own self-criticism.
• You can choose to take breaks from judgement anytime. It gets easier with practice, and when we do it with music, we’re practicing it!
• There are many ways to communicate besides with words.
• Tuning into the vibration of our own voice feels really good. It’s centering, and reminds us of how good it is, even when in a group of people, to be tuned into the feeling of being our true selves.

We also do it with Rhythm…
We create interlocking patterns of sound with drums, shakers, xylophones, garbage cans – whatever we’ve got.

We use our voices, simple percussion instruments, and all our musical skills and instruments if we have them. Bottom line: we can always tap our foot or clap our hands – there is always a way to participate. We bring whoever we are in the moment to the circle, and share. Magic happens.

The World Needs This!
This kind of improvised music making is exciting and fun, and it invokes better connections between people, and between all the parts of ourselves to make us more whole human beings. It’s as scary for some people as jumping out of a plane, but that is part of the joy and adventure!

So, my husband says, “This would be cool to use in therapy groups”, and many therapists do use these techniques in mental health settings.

This stuff is amazing in a business or organizational setting where people need to communicate well, share ideas, and effectively get things done together as a group. Sales teams, teaching staff, boards of directors… it just makes sense. It works in nursing homes, preschools, and with kids of all ages. The world can always use more music – heck, why on earth would any group that hangs out together not make music?! Just my humble opinion.

The analogies in music making are endless and the experience of coming together through music is incredibly powerful and becomes something that an individual or a group can reference long after, when they are back to the business of daily life.

Good stuff. Get it?


Nancy Salwen teaches early childhood music, leads music improvisation workshops for team building and staff development, and teaches singing to non-singers through her program, “Fear of Singing: Learn to Sing Even If You Think You Can’t Carry a Tune. She is a certified Music Together Teacher and Music for People facilitator. To learn more or participate in one of her events or programs, or to discuss designing your own program, email her or call 603-357-4693.