Research might feel like it is reserved to a certain type of people, somehow expert and already very knowledgeable. At least that is how I felt, that I did not have the necessary qualities or expertise to do music therapy research. I did not feel a real connection with research. I saw it as complicated and aloolf from real life and people. It is only when I read about the democratization of knowledge that Paolo Freire (1970) introduced in the 70’s that I started to think that research and knowledge are accessible to all.
My first step to get acquainted with research in my doctoral studies was to read Music Therapy Research (Wheeler, 2005). I discovered a world of possibilities, philosophic orientations, approaches, and methods. Wheeler prefaces her book in an inviting way by saying:
Reading this book may open up new ways of looking at research and at life. That is because there are ways in which research and life parallel one another–just as there many ways to do research, there are also various ways to look at life. Much of how one chooses to do research reflects one’s beliefs and the choices that one makes about life. This extends to questions of what we mean by truth, whether it is possible to be objectified, and what knowledge we find to be meaningful. (2005, p. xi)
Carolyn Kenny (2004) has contributed to research as well. She designed a wheel of possible inquiry subjects that depicts a large spectrum of research that opens up perspectives for music therapists (see Figure 1.1).
Qualitative inquiry has provided suitable approaches for music therapists to translate or express research findings. It seems, however, that there is still room for innovative research methods that could address music therapist researchers’ questions. It is natural for music therapists, who are immersed daily in music, to use their sensitivity, intuition, musicality, and combining it with their clinical knowledge and experience. ABR is an example of a qualitative research method that has similarities with music therapy grounds. As Eisner (2008) discusses, we approach human beings’ experiences as we experience the qualitative world through our sensory system.
ABR is an opportunity to closely reflect on what is happening in the music therapy experience without corrupting its essence or distorting its meaning through verbal over-analysis in linear and verbal language. The music therapists who contributed to ABR, Austin and Forinash (2005), define that method as
Arts-based inquiry is a research method in which the arts play a primary role in any or all of the steps of the research method. Arts forms such as poetry, music, visual art, drama, and dance are essential to the research process itself and central in formulating the research question, generating data, analyzing data, and presenting the research results. (p. 458)
ABR attempts to democratize knowledge. For Knowles and Cole (2008), one of the strengths of arts-informed research is accessibility and the recognition of individuals as “knowledge makers engaged in the act of knowledge advancement” (p. 60). They push forward their agenda to act on the political and legislative realms to improve society.
Few music therapists have used ABR as a research method. Austin (1997), Arnason (1998), and Rykov (2006) have opened the path for ABR; not to forget that Kenny (1987) was a precursor of ABR. She used the phenomenology free phantasie variations (Husserl, 1965) to extract essential elements for her research. Her dissertation resulted in a theoretical and practical music therapy theory known as the field of play.
My doctoral research fulfilled my curiosity and desire to know more about certain aspects of music therapy. I equally had a chance to work with apprentice music therapists through participatory action research. We collectively co-created a pool of knowledge that was waiting to be harvested. I encourage all music therapists to pursue their passion through research which will benefit the profession. Moreover we have a wealth of innovative resources to offer to the researchers’ community.
This article draws excerpts from my thesis: Mentoring music therapists for peace and social justice through community music therapy: an arts-based study.
Arnason, D. (1998). The experience of music therapists in an improvisational music therapy group (Doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1998). Dissertation Abstracts International, 59(09), 3386.
Austin, D. (1997, June). Grace Street: A qualitative study of Alcoholics Anonymous. Paper presentated at the annual conference of the American Association of Music Therapy, Monticello, NY.
Eisner, E. (2008). Art and knowledge. In G. Knowles & A. Coles (Eds.), Handbook of the arts in qualitative research (pp. 3-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Husserl, E. (1965). Phenomenology and the crisis of philosophy. New York: Harper and Row.
Kenny, C. B. (1987). The field of play: A theoretical study of music therapy process. Dissertation Abstracts International, 48(12), 3067A.
Kenny, C. B. (2004). The wheel of inquiry. Class notes. PhD in Leadership and Change. Antioch University, OH.
Knowles, G., & Coles, A. (2008). Handbook of the arts in qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rykov, M. H. (2006). Music at a time like this: Music therapy cancer support groups. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto, Canada.
Wheeler, B. L. (Ed.). (2005). Music therapy research (2nd ed.). Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Vaillancourt (2009). The Joy of Research!. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colvaillancourt270709