Using music-adapted technology to explore Bruscia’s clinical techniques introduced in autism research: Pilot study


  • Ashley Kurkjian  Independent Scholar, Canada
  • Kathleen Skinner Grand River Hospital, Canada
  • Heidi Ahonen Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada



autism, Bruscia’s clinical improvisational techniques, improvisation, music therapy


This pilot research investigated eight most commonly used Bruscia’s (1987) clinical improvisation techniques utilised in music therapy with autistic clients: imitating, reflecting, synchronising, extending, symbolising, holding, incorporating, and rhythmic grounding (Skinner, Kurkjian & Ahonen, 2020). The techniques were explored with research participants (music students), by isolating and implementing each technique in eight short improvisations. Improvisations were recorded using LogicPro connected to MalletKAT instruments. Improvisations were analysed using music-adapted technology, the MIDI Toolbox designed for MATLAB, a multi-paradigm numerical computing environment and proprietary programming language developed by MathWorks, and the Music Therapy Toolbox (MTTB) (Erkkilä, Lartillot, Luck, Riikkila & Toiviainen, 2004). In addition, participants provided their subjective experience of each improvisation in a questionnaire format. The research questions included: 1) How will Bruscia’s eight fundamental clinical improvisation techniques be represented in MATLAB/MTTB in terms of both individual ways of playing and musical relationships? 2) How will the use of each isolated improvisation technique impact the participant’s experience of musical connection, influence, and expression? Through the combination of musical analysis and qualitative thematic analysis, insights relating to the effective implementation and purposeful use of imitation, synchronisation, holding, and rhythmic grounding were realised. The musical data generated from MATLAB/MTTB demonstrated how researchers implemented the techniques and trends in the participant’s playing. In addition, the questionnaires provided insights into how each technique influenced the participant’s ability to express and connect, as well as their perception of the researchers’ musical influence. These results may be used to inform both music therapists and future related research.

Author Biographies

Ashley Kurkjian , Independent Scholar, Canada

Ashley Kurkjian is an accredited music therapist and qualifying registered psychotherapist. She currently works in private practice, providing music psychotherapy services in long-term care facilities through New Song Music Therapy (Greater Toronto Area) and speech-supported music therapy to children and adolescents through Move and Talk Therapy (Halton/Peel). []

Kathleen Skinner, Grand River Hospital, Canada

Kathleen Skinner is an accredited music therapist and qualifying registered psychotherapist. She owns a private practice in Guelph, Ontario, specialising in mental health work with teenagers and adults. In addition, Kathleen works at Grand River Hospital in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. []

Heidi Ahonen, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada

Heidi Ahonen, PhD, RP, MTA, FAMI, is Professor of Music Therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Director of the Manfred and Penny Conrad Institute for Music Therapy Research. []