Thinking Through Improvisation
Photo of the authors Haire and MacDonald


music therapy
arts-based research
thinking through improvisation

How to Cite

Haire, N., & MacDonald, R. (2021). Thinking Through Improvisation. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 21(2).


As part of a larger research study investigating humour in music therapy with persons with dementia, this article details how music therapists perceive, embody and experience humour in their practice. Three focus groups with music therapists ( N = 9) were organised and resulting data analysed through arts-based reflexive methods.

Building on Schenstead’s (2012) articulation of arts-based reflexivity, two distinct and overlapping forms of thinking through improvisation are highlighted; self-reflexivity and collaborative-reflexivity. Finlay’s (2011) phenomenological lifeworld-oriented questions are used to explicate dimensions of experiences of humour and frame broad thematic reflections. Particular correspondence between improvisation as a way of being and humour in music therapy are explored performatively through a group improvisation involving the first author.

The findings from this synthesis offer insight into how music therapists conceive of humour in their work as supportive of relational bonding, and also experience humour as distancing and defensive behaviour. Along with the perceived risks of humour in relational therapeutic work, an intricate balance between playfulness and professionalism surfaced as part of a music therapy identity. Improvisation, while seemingly taken for granted as a part of spontaneous humour, is also problematised through the perceived seriousness of learning how to improvise as a music therapist aligning with a psychodynamic approach. The consequences of these findings are discussed in relation to music therapy pedagogy and practice along with methodological implications of thinking through improvisation.

Copyright (c) 2021 Nicky Haire

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