One of my favorite songs right now is an arrangement/medley of I'm Yours and Somewhere Over the Rainbow sung by the acappella group, Straight No Chaser. It is a bouncy arrangement and keeps me smiling as well as increasing my energy level.
When I look back over my music preferences over the years, they share several elements in common. The first is the lyrics. I am genuinely affected by lyrics. There is something about words that stick with me. The second is a melodic and harmonic structure that accentuates the lyrics presented.
For me, music needs to be a complete entity. You cannot separate the music from the words. It is not something that can be done. Music is a combination of notes, counterpoint, chordal support, and words that convey a message. I am not a big fan of music without words.
I had a wild hair a while ago about the importance of tempo in music preference. It stemmed from several interactions that I had with several clients during music therapy treatment sessions. One client was a woman who was in late stage dementia. I was acting as the music therapy supervisor for a beginning music therapy student. I have limited experience with music therapy with older persons, so was enjoying the opportunity to watch as the process of music therapy was started with this client. I had noticed that she had good days and bad days - defined by me as her level of active participation in the music interventions presented. Some days she would drowse during her sessions. Other times she would look at us and make statements. The statements were often not related directly to what was presented, but we were able to adapt our experience to accommodate her communications.
On one particular day, her student music therapist was using the keyboard during an intervention. The rhythm function was playing, providing the SMT with a steady beat for her singing and improvisation - a tool for the SMT to assist her in her rhythmic awareness. The tempo of interventions varied and so did the level of interaction from the client. During a rhythm instrument application that did not require a set tempo, I asked the SMT if I could experiment with the tempi. She generously gave me permission, and I started to fiddle with the tempo.
I discovered that the client interacted with her therapist when the tempo was set at a metronome marking of 80 beats per minute. She would sit up, make eye contact, and engage in verbal communication with her therapist. If the tempo changed either up or down by 5bpm, she would slump in her chair, close her eyes, and cease all verbalizations. We tested this over several sessions before concluding that her preferred tempo was 80bpm.
Now, I started developing a theory. If one client had such a reaction and response to one tempo, would other clients demonstrate similar changes in behavior?
I took the idea back to my full-time position as a music therapist for children and youth with developmental and psychiatric concerns. In my work with persons with autism, I have found that they often respond to certain songs differently than other songs. I started to pay attention to the tempi of the songs that elicited different behaviors. I found that they all appeared to have a tempo preference.
I have not been able to quantify this observation, but I am interested in looking at this concept more thoroughly in the near future. I am trying to figure out how to test this theory with my groups of clients. This is my plan for the near future.
I am looking forward to finding if my current students also have preferred tempi. We shall see.