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Music therapy – The story of stroke victim Joy who learned how to play jazz



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell

From Therapy to Community – Stuart Wood, Rachel Verney and Jessica Atkinson

Joy, an elderly vigorous lady recovering from stroke, was to prove that composition, performance and instrumental learning could be important in the Community Music Therapy Process.

Joy had joined the programme early on, having begun in individual music therapy. She had two aims: getting movement back into her right hand, and learning the piano. As she progressed, they became one: making good music.

This was not without its difficulties, of course. She tended to focus on the physical effects of her stroke, and became frustrated with her body when her hands did not do exactly what she felt she 'had told them'. Would we find a way to let the process of music therapy happen, without worrying about the end product?

At times when she least expected it, Joy would play with such ease of movement that she would laugh out loud with delight. She discovered that when she simply listened to what she was playing, her body was more free. She began to listen to herself less judgementally, enjoying her new musical abilities, and moving on from her obstacles. She described how. 'I always feel better after this, even when it's hard for me. I'm amazed that I've become a musician.' Her other therapists noticed that music was becoming a major motivation in her rehabilitation, and a source of hope in her wider life. She took her therapy seriously, and considered it to be central in her adjustment to her new life.

When she moved into a group, Joy was apprehensive about the possible comparisons between her own abilities and those of others. In the emerging structure of group music therapy she realised that it could actually help her join a group of equals again. From a beginning of chaotic, rowdy music, the group started to give all its members a chance to shine, or sometimes take a low profile and to work together.

Joy could not have imagined that at the Christmas event she would be joining the Friday Group to perform a jazz piano piece she had written herself.  Nor could she have predicted that she would recognise and play fluidly a C major or A minor scale with her 'bad hand'. These achievements would have seemed out of reach to her. For most people, notions of practice, composition and performance are inseparable from music. Joy's commitment to her music therapy work took us naturally into some of these areas.

She became able to construct and remember melodies, making great progress in her cognitive skills after her stroke. Her growing abilities to be flexible with her music and co-ordinate her movement gave her enormous confidence. It was natural for her to share these developments with her husband family and friends. Soon she was playing musical games with her grandchildren, and teaching her friends about the music they heard at concerts. It was with a buzz of nervous delight that Joy completed the programme by performing her jazz piano piece in a room packed with supportive listeners.

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Listening to beating sounds
Listening to music


Music therapy