Self-Help Music Therapy

Understanding Your Needs

What makes you happy? For some, it is cooking for others. For some others, it is playing a musical instrument. For still others, it is composing poetry. There is no one answer to this question. One of the things we can do to help ourselves through difficult times, is to practice self-care – or in the case of music, perhaps self-soothing.

Music To Soothe

There are a number of things I do to help myself relax, or to change my focus from things that aren’t currently helpful. Sometimes, I pick up my guitar and strum. Sometimes, I go for a long walk, where I can hear the wildlife, breathe deeply and see the beauty around me. Sometimes – like today – I pick up my darbuka (Middle East and North African drum) and play. As I focus on the beat and try to improve, my mind goes to a place that is different than anything else I know. In some ways, it is like meditation, but it is not calm and rather than watching ideas arise and fall away without my grasping them (in meditation), I can run with the feelings that are taking place inside of me.

Lee Jordan with darbuka
Lee Jordan with darbuka

What Will Work For You

Some people find what works by trial and error. Some have friends who introduce them to something and then it is realised how therapeutic the focus is. Drumming for me was something that started when I lived in a beautiful, wee town at the base of a World Heritage Area in New South Wales, Australia. There were many internationals living in this town and there was a drumming circle around a roaring fire on the monthly full moon. It was a special experience to share. You might have some idea of what will work for you – why not explore? While we all need help from time to time, ultimately our mental health is our own responsibility. Perhaps music will help you get through some of life’s challenges.

Music Therapy for Coping with Grief

If you have suffered enough in life, you will look for ways to cope that are different from the efforts that haven’t worked for you in the past. For some, going to a counsellor is a new experience that they never would have tried before substantial suffering. People attempt many different things to cope and this includes when feeling overwhelmed by grief.

Grief Coping Strategies

Some people write letters to those they have lost. Some create or renew ceremonies to remember the person lost. Some want to speak to lost loved ones. There are many things possible. Some sing. While I have never sung to a lost loved one (yet), I have certainly spoken to them. One of the many things I love about Narrative Therapy is Re-membering – an attempt to re-integrate the lost person into our lives, rather than attempting to “move on” without them.

Singing to Those Lost

While this may seem a novel approach to grieving, actually it is not. We have screamed, sang, cried, wailed and expressed ourselves verbally in grief since before we were human. Other mammals do this too – a mother cow will bellow for her calf for days, for instance. OK, so we have sang for a long time, but is there any research behind it?

Research into Singing as Grief Therapy

Is it researched? The short answer is “yes”. Providing only one example, a screenshot from an article about teens grieving through music follows. Googling this article will take you down many paths, if you wish to pursue this topic further.

Grief Therapy Through Song
Grief Therapy Through Song

Grieving Through Song

Music therapy for grief can follow the grieving process (as mentioned in the research cited above), or it can be part of a ceremony, such as Re-membering in Narrative Therapy. What works for you can be determined through your own self-help efforts, or can become part of therapy.

Other Therapeutic Uses for Song

Who of us hasn’t listened to music when we were sad – or perhaps become sad by listening to music? Once, I had an especially terrible week where everything that could have gone wrong seemed to. I found myself alone, as my son was staying with his mum. A gloom settled over me that I hadn’t felt in the many years since the end of my marriage. I needed something, so I picked up my guitar and sang to myself. It was incredibly therapeutic and helped me settle my mind. One of the goals of counselling is to learn coping strategies and I realised that I had learned self-soothing, as I sang and played that cold night.

Saying What Needs to be Said

If you are deep in grief at the moment, you may want to hold off watching the video below until you are in a better place. This video touched me deeply, both as a son and father – and also because I lost one of my best friends within days of first seeing this video online. James is singing to his terminally ill father, who is sitting by his side. A very powerful way to use song in the grieving process!

The Last Day of 2019

My son has just put away the Christmas tree and finished vacuuming the floor. The sun is shining and we are going to the gym and for a walk, before buying the last minute treats for New Year’s Eve. We generally do karaoke on NYE, but not sure about this year. Definitely time to pull out the darbukas! I have just finished replacing the drum heads, so the sound is fantastic! My son also has his own, much larger drum, so we are ready to play . . .

Wellington New Year's Eve drumming
Wellington New Year’s Eve drumming

The holidays took added meaning for me once I was a single parent. I understood that tradition would be important to my son and we have developed a number of things that we do together at significant times. We tend to feel that life is thrust upon us, but sometimes it is possible to realise that you create your own life. You can make the traditions that are important to you. The meaning might be initially inherited, but you either continue this meaning in yourself, or you go your own way and make your own life. It is yours for the making!

Rhythm to Soothe and Settle

View this post on Instagram

Saturday morning #darbuka! #Wellington

A post shared by Gerald Lee Jordan (@geraldleejordan) on

Drumming helps to soothe my mind. I get into the rhythm and time seems to stop. I focus on the movement of my hands, the sound of the drum, how “perfect” my striking for a given note was and the contact my hand makes with the drum. It gives me a focus that rarely happens outside of sitting meditation. What else gives me this focus?

Some years ago, I began to chant OM. This was a year or so after I had begun mindfulness meditation. Sometimes, I had trouble sitting and sometimes I wanted to experience the tranquility of meditation while not in a seated position. So, I looked into chanting as part of my meditative practice. There are lots of audio options out there! I didn’t like the background music – I wanted just the chanting.

One of the options I found which helped me was this YouTube video:

What did I experience from chanting and listening to chanting? One thing I noticed was that my mind slowed down a bit – especially after listening for extended periods. Another thing I noticed was the sense of contentment that I received from sitting meditation, I could also get from chanting.

If you don’t know if you want to chant, why not just try to sit with the sound of someone else chanting, like on the YouTube video I referenced above? There are many ways to calm the mind. Not everyone reacts the same to all of these options, but when you find something that fits, you wonder how you got by before you started meditating, chanting or drumming.

That your evolving narratives will bring you strength and joy!

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns

Group Narrative Therapy Drumming

I have been further considering the campfire analogy for group Narrative Therapy work. As the images swirl through my head, I get moments of greater clarity. During one of these moments, I remembered my darbukas! The image of drummers around the campfire is a very natural one – along with people dancing to the beat. I have ordered new drum heads for both of my darbukas and will practice learning to play them over the holiday season and months to follow!

Looking forward to helping to create an environment for group Narrative Therapy to evolve and grow!