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Got to Rock: Musical World of the Smooth Criminals


Jesse Rathgeber, Ph.D. Music Education Program, Arizona State University

Background:
The Smooth Criminals are a music therapy rock band comprised of five
young adult members diagnosed with developmental disabilities and four
adult members who are either music therapists, interns, or volunteers. The
band rehearses weekly for one hour at a music therapy clinic in a space
equipped with guitars, an electric bass, keyboards, a drum set, amplifiers,
and a P.A. system. Young adult members select and perform all musical
repertoire. Adults members facilitate song learning and performing as well
as play and sing during rehearsals and concerts. The musical focus of the
group is on creating idiosyncratic workable covers built on the specific
abilities of young adult members.

Findings:
Lets try this - Facilitating Musicking (Q1)

Young adult members choose all repertoire.


Young adults rotate instruments from song to song to develop basic competencies.
All members make adaptations to instruments, techniques, and song arrangement to
suit their individual abilities and needs.
Adult members use a color code and color stickers to identify frets, keys, and drums.
Adult members set up digital technologies as accommodations for young adults.
Adults scaffold song getting (Campbell, 1995) and ear playing (Green, 2008).

Community Music Therapy:


The Smooth Criminals operate within a clinical context informed by
community music therapy. Community music therapy is a therapeutic
approach that is:
characterized by collaborative and context-sensitive music-making
[focusing] upon giving voice to the relatively disadvantaged in any context.
The participants interest in and love for music is essential, but the shared
music-making also relates to concerns for health, human development, and
equity . . . [focusing] on the relationships betweenindividuals experiences
and the possible creation of musical community. (Stige, Andsell, Elefant, &
Pavlicevi, 2010, p. 5, italics in original)
sensitive to cultures and contexts, speaks more of acts of solidarity and
social change. It tells stories of music as building identities, as a means to
empower and install agency. A community music therapy talks about how
to humanize communities and institutions, it is concerned with health
promotion and mutual caring. (Ruud, 2004, p. 12)

Methodology:
Research Design: Case study, ethnographic techniques
Role of Researcher: Participant observer
Research Questions:
1. What are the musical practices of the young adult members of the
Smooth Criminals and how do the adult members facilitate these
practices?
2. What are the affordances of the bands practices for young adult
members?
3. What are the constraints of the bands practices for young adult
members?

Young adult members are afforded agency to accept and reject adult-created adaptations.
Also, young adult members are empowered by being able to make choices regarding
repertoire selection, performance interpretation, adaptations to instruments, instrumental
techniques, and the individual musical parts they play.

Oh boy, our band! - Community and Mutual Care (Q2)


The band setting affords young adult band members an informal space to engage with
peers that share diagnosed differences and with adults. Members develop a community
through music making and through social activities that encourage mutual caring.
Additionally, the band allows young adult members to collect valuable cultural capital
which may help in challenging peer and community assumptions of their abilities.

Im a Bronie! - Identity Construction (Q2)


Young adult members are given time and space for self-disclosure, identity play, and
identity self-construction. In concerts, members display their self-constructed musical and
personal identities in ways that can defy community conceptions of what it means to be
disabled or to be a person with a development disability.

Try again, start with what. - Communication (Q2)


Adult members model and scaffold verbal communication strategies. Yet, music making
becomes another way for young adult members to communicate their feelings and to
connect with others in a manner which might otherwise be difficult for them to relay
verbally.

Constraints (Q3)

Data Generation:
30 one-hour video recorded rehearsals
Semi-structured interviews with adults
Hot-potato and informal interviews with young adults
Video recordings of two of the groups concerts
Field notes and research memos
Transcriptions of selected observations/performances

The community music therapy informed practices did not specifically address young
adult members musical skill and technical development.

Data Analysis:
Data were coded and categorized using descriptive and axial approaches
(Saldaa, 2013) related to each research question (Q).

Adult members assumptions of the abilities and tastes of young adult members
occasionally caused miscommunication, misunderstandings, and the proffering of
unhelpful adaptive strategies to young adult members.

Membership is only open to young adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities so


young adult members had no chances to engage with non-diagnosed peers.
Available instruments and instrumental proficiencies of adult members limited the
types of musical genres available for young adult members to explore.