Music can help in two main ways, the first of which is as a theme or activity for interactions. Musical themes can ranges from singing together or copying sounds to taking turns playing a drum or tapping a table. Musical instruments make good focus objects for intensive interaction because they offer obvious opportunities for interaction while engagement with the instrument usually results in satisfying sound from the shake, tap, strum with which it was played.
Well facilitated musical activities are good games with exciting tension and resolution. Engaging in these games (as is the case with any good interactive game) encourages participants to use fundamental communication skills as they engage with other people and anticipate what might be coming next. A common feature of traditional musical activities and songs for example is the presence of burst-pause sequences e.g. leaving the last word of the end of a song or nursery rhyme so that a child will feel compelled to sing it. One way to view these songs and rhymes could be as more sophisticated and formulated versions of the natural spontaneous play that occurs between mother and infant in the first year of life.
This begins to lead onto the second and, I believe, more fundamental reason why an understanding of music can be useful in our intensive interaction practice. My understanding and opinion is that music is communication and I would therefore venture to turn that around and to say that communication is music. While this may sound a little abstract, what I mean is that communication can be thought of in terms of musical structure and that this can help in developing interactions.
For example, a composer will take a musical theme or tune and develop the theme over the course of the composition. The theme will not repeat again and again in an identical way but will keep some some of the same notes while others will change. This can be compared to a conversation where the theme of the discussion develops over time.
In a discussion, somebody may start by asking a question which will then be answered by another person. A good answer will relate to the question and develop the theme of conversation. If the answer does not relate to the question the interaction is likely to falter and the same result is likely if the answer does not develop the theme. Another example is to think of two people playing throw and catch. After throwing and catching the ball in the same way the two players may feel like throwing the ball higher, or bouncing it or moving further away from each other before throwing again. The players are instinctively developing the theme because they wish for the interaction to sustain but they are looking for newness and some more excitement and interest. If however one of the players threw the ball far away, over a hedge for example, then the theme may break and the interaction will stop.
Another musical metaphor that relates to intensive interaction is to think of a person’s behaviour as their song. As a musician, if I want join in with another musician who is already playing I would first learn what they were playing and then join in by playing the same thing before adding some extra notes or another verse for example. In order for them to enjoy my company it is likely that I would need to keep to their theme while the new notes that I add, if done sensitively, would ideally develop the music in the same way as a good discussion. To extend the discussion metaphor, I see what the musician is playing as a question and I wonder how I am going to answer while keeping to the theme.
In intensive interaction our initial approach (or answer) may often be to respond to our partner’s behaviour and join in with what they are doing, perhaps engaging in a simple turn taking sequence or by copying. As a musician then, I like to think of my partner’s behaviour as their music or song, and that the aim of intensive interaction is to learn their song and sing it with them.
For more information on theme development see these posts here and here.
To learn more about musical interaction and intensive interaction, I deliver training at Woolley Wood School.