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Weve Got to Rock:

Musical World of the Smooth Criminals


Jesse Rathgeber, Ph.D. Music Education Program

Background:
The Smooth Criminals are a music therapy rock band that has been playing
together for three years. The group is comprised of five young adult (YA)
members who are diagnosed as having developmental disorders and five adults
members who are music therapists, interns, or volunteers. The focus of the
group is to foster social and communication skills among its members while
providing them a group musical experience. The group practices weekly for
one hour at a music therapy clinic. The YA members select and perform their
musical repertoire and the adults help them play instruments and learn the parts
of songs. Adult members also play and sing in support roles.

Methodology:
Research Design: Ethnography
Role of Researcher: Participant Observer
Research Questions:
1) What are the musical practices of the group?
2) What does the experience of being in the group mean to its
participants?
Data Collection:
- 25 one-hour video recorded observations
- Semi-structured interviews with adults
- Hot-potato interviews with young adults
- A video recording of one of the groups concerts
- Field notes and research memos
- Transcriptions of selected observations/performances
Analysis: Data were analyzed for emergent themes

Theme: Practices Theme: Identity


Adults scaffold song getting (Campbell, 1995) Setting as a space for YA identity formation
YA members coached each other Instruments as ways to imitate famous musicians
Adults provide adapted instruments and Social settings allowed YA members to share
arrangements elements of their identities
YA members developed practice competencies Musical preferences as symbols of identity
(Forns, Lindberg, & Sernhede, 1995, p. 232) Songs as locus of playing with provisional
selves (Ibara, 1999)

Theme: Social Bonds Theme: Communication


Band practices as a place to forge friendships Adults facilitated peer communication
The band as a social unit Adults modeled communication strategies
The families of band members formed strong YA members increased verbal communication
bonds and created a community around the group. with other YA members
Playing music as dialogue