Musicking with Makey Makey

Melbourne, Australia-based music therapists, Asami Koike and Matt Lewin, are using Makey Makeys in a pioneering new community music initiative, to aid the recovery of those dealing with mental illness.

There can be no disputing the therapeutic qualities of music -- for listeners. But the ability to create music and use it as a means of self expression largely rests with skilled musicians… right?

This is a perception that Matt Lewin and Asami Koike, music therapy grad students at the University of Melbourne, want to change.

While working in mental health services, the pair noticed that although their patients were keen to engage with music in therapy sessions, many were held back by the idea that they needed to ‘be good’ at playing an instrument.

“Historically, music was an activity where people came together and joined in,” says Matt. “Nowadays, musicians are considered experts. This creates a barrier for others. But when performance and expertise are taken out of the equation, making music becomes much more open and free.”

Central to Matt and Asami’s therapeutic approach is the idea of ‘musicking’ -- a term used to describe making music with non-traditional instruments in a communal context.

“Community music is an open, supportive, and healthy activity,” Asami explains. “In this kind of environment, therapists and patients can ‘musick’ together on a more level playing field.”

The duo began to explore the creative potential of a number of non-traditional instruments, and were introduced to Makey Makey by a friend working in music education.

“We watched a number of Makey Makey videos and thought what an an incredible tool it would be in the music therapist’s kit bag,” says Matt. “Plus we both love audio technology and totally geeking out!”

Matt and Asami have been using Makey Makeys in their therapy programs ever since. They’ve experimented with origami and art materials, using sound software like Ableton Live and Scratch.

“The best way of facilitating interaction is to have a selection of sounds; so that the patient feels empowered to express themselves and to choose a sound that represents how they feel,” explains Asami. “With non-traditional instruments, there are no rules, and no mistakes. Using Makey Makey in therapy helps to create a sense of equality, creativity, and collaboration between patient and therapist. Often the instruments created are completely new and unique.”

Empowering patients is crucial in mental health services. Rather than labelling those in therapy as ‘unwell’. therapeutic activities that promote participation give patients the confidence to take a more active role in their own recovery.

As well as mental health recovery programs, Matt and Asami have also trialled their approach at a primary (elementary) school.

“Our aim was to give kids that hadn’t had music lessons chances to have cool music experiences,” Matt explains. “We set it up in the playground at lunchtime, connected a vegetable to it and the kids loved it. They were totally excited by it.”

Asami will soon be bringing the Makey Makey musicking experience to a drop-in centre for young people experiencing homelessness.

When Matt and Asami graduate (in December), their focus will be on developing a number of different music therapy programs to bolster their private practice. Their approach seems to be getting the right attention. Earlier this year they were invited to present their research to the Australian Music Therapy Association at a conference in Sydney.

“We got a positive response from therapists at the conference, who were really inspired by the possibilities,” says Asami. “Many were keen to give us their ideas, and wanted to discuss using Makey Makeys in their own work.”

Matt agrees. “By drawing attention to Makey Makey within the music therapy community, we hope that others will experiment, and that new and innovative ways of supporting healthy music engagement will emerge,” he says. “We’ll certainly continue to use it in our future work.”

Best of luck guys! Keep up the excellent work.
Check out a video of their presentation to the Australian Music Therapy Association here.