How can musicians make music with people with dementia?: an investigation of musician-led musical practices for those living with dementia

Delgado, I. (2020) How can musicians make music with people with dementia?: an investigation of musician-led musical practices for those living with dementia. Masters thesis, Royal College of Music.

Abstract

Recent studies demonstrate that music can significantly contribute to improving the overall quality of life of people living with dementia. However, precise information regarding the how to practically use music in order to successfully achieve its benefits is scarce. This project’s main research question explores what and how music practices can be employed in music workshops for people with dementia. Four related questions are studied: (1) why song-writing is the focus of Turtle Song and what makes it a powerful practice; (2) what skill-set musicians should have to work in this field; (3) whether workshops should focus on a single music practice or a broad variety of them; and (4) how experiencing a project like Turtle Song impacts young musicians. All this was explored through participation in Turtle Song - a music project for people with dementia. Conclusions are supported by empirical data collected during Turtle Song: a session diary (supported by observation and audio-recordings) and interviews with the musicians involved. Key findings are that (1) song-writing can be extremely beneficial for people with dementia as it is a very complete activity - involving brainstorming, recalling memories, discussing lyrics, singing - therefore activating several cognitive and non-cognitive skills; (2) human skills such as compassion and attentiveness are crucial to work in this field but skills such as leadership and adaptability are also fundamental; (3) variety of music practices allows diversity and enjoyment but having a general structure can provide an important sense of familiarity; (4) directly experiencing music workshops for dementia can significantly increase musicians’ interest and confidence to successfully lead workshops. This work culminates in a guide-like model of a workshop session. The guide describes how to employ specific music practices in that context, being a valuable tool for musicians interested in successfully engaging with people living with dementia.

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