Guest Author Destiny Henn; on her experience with the Jamstik in Music Therapy

         I first learned about music therapy when I was a junior in high school, and I pretty much committed to it on the spot. Music therapy is currently considered an alternative therapy that uses music as a tool to assist people physically, cognitively, behaviorally, psychosocially, and spiritually.

         Music had already become an extremely important part of my life and I effortlessly began accepting music as a viable means of helping others.

Music therapy with Jamstik

         Although the field is gradually coming into the public eye through inspiring cases such as congresswoman Gabby Gifford's public recovery, many people are still unfamiliar or have misconceptions about the field.

         When someone tells you that they're going to school to study engineering or biology, the conversation usually ends there; we can even accept titles like physical therapy, occupational therapy, or psychology without much questioning. Inevitably, every music therapy student and professionals need to be ready to answer the question, "what is music therapy?" I have repeatedly found myself in situations where I was caught off guard and didn’t have an adequate answer to offer. Feeling flustered, I mustered up some inadequate explanation to describe such a phenomenal field of study, and yet again failed to put into words exactly why I believe so strongly in the power of music.

      Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program (American Music Therapy Association definition, 2005). In other words, in most applications of music therapy, the aim is to use music as a tool to reach a goal that is non-musical, which has lasting effects after the musical prompts are removed.

         The client’s needs are addressed with music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music. Aspects of music such as rhythm and pitch can be used therapeutically for things such as rehabilitation of motor skills. It's important to understand that this is a highly individualistic and improvisational field. The same methods might not work with every client due to their distinctive conditions, and clients won't always respond in similar ways. Music therapists use their creativity and improvisation to adapt songs and instruments to the needs of each client. 

         The Jamstik is an innovative electronic instrument that has serious potential to be an asset in the arsenal of a music therapist.

         I first heard of the Jamstik through music therapist and professional guitar player, Peter Meyer MT-BC. He proposed that we obtain a couple in order to do research on its practicality and functionality of design in a clinical setting. The ground-breaking invention of this accessible, portable, and adaptive instrument was naturally a magnet to music therapists.

         One of the features of the Jamstik that might be particularly interesting to music therapists is its ability to play in any tuning, with any capo setting, with the click of a button. The sound produced can be set to emulate many different guitar tones, as well as a plethora of other instruments. The app JamTutor provides a visualization of where the fingers are on the frets and strings of the guitar, and where they should be to create chords and pentatonic scales. The app also has guitar lessons in the form of a “Rockband-esque” style of playing.

         Another great feature for adaptive use is the setting on the Garageband app that allows for every note on the Jamstik to play notes in a specific chosen scale. For example, if you wanted to play a minor blues improvisation only the notes in a minor blues scale would be put onto the Jamstik. The therapist could easily use it as a tool for accompaniment, relaxation, or allow the client play it for a variety of goals. Although guitar proficiency is a very important skill for a music therapist, I support the use of this practical instrument because it lends itself to players of any skill level. This device is also conveniently wireless and easily syncs with iPhones and iPads.

         Looking to Jamstik’s future with music therapy, I hope to see more adaptive ways of playing music that can be utilized in a therapeutic setting. With growing popularity, there’s a great chance that the company could be producing apps specifically for therapeutic purposes.

         I see this tool being used to work with clients on fine motor skills goals, improving hand/eye coordination, promoting physical rehabilitation, or even understanding cause and effect between the fingers and the sounds.

         The Jamstik could potentially be used to alleviate pain and act as a distraction in a hospital setting; the portability would be a colossal asset to music therapists who work in hospital settings.

         I have a lot of curiosity concerning how this tool would be accepted among an autistic population. Autistic individuals tend to struggle with communicating in social situations, but often excel at music and technology. One will hear of an autistic child who is considered a prodigy on the piano, or who can figure out how a computer program works faster than he or she can read or write. I would like to see therapists find a way that the Jamstik can be used in an interactive way to promote social skills and a relationship with the therapist, while also working on cognitive and motor skills.

         Being an undergraduate student at Augsburg College, I recently started to use the Jamstik for a pilot research study on improvisation and mood using students as participants. With a pre and post evaluation using the Quick Mood Scale, which had the students assess their current mood states on a scale of 1-5, I used a paired samples t-test to find a statistically significant positive change in wide awake/drowsy, relaxed/anxious, cheerful/depressed, and friendly/aggressive categories. The results of the study indicate that the Jamstik performs well as a tool of improvisation, which increased the overall mood-state of most participants. Improvisation as an intervention has been associated with increased self-expression, attention span, a decrease of stress and anxiety, promoted relaxation techniques, and a viable outlet for observing feelings. In the future, Meyer and I hope to complete mood research using the Jamstik in a psychiatric setting.

         The Jamstik was accepted tremendously among the music therapy students, and I can only believe that the popularity will continue to grow in music therapy communities.

         The possibilities that I have dreamed up are only the tip of the iceberg for ways that music therapists could creatively use this tool. I can absolutely see the Jamstik being adopted into the field of music therapy for its practicality, portability, affordability, adaptability, and its potential to lend itself to a variety of interventions.


- Destiny Henn is an undergraduate student studying Music Therapy at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. She comes from a musical family and enjoys playing guitar, sitar, and finding new ways to make a positive impact through music.  

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