Turn the Beat Around: Person Centred Practice by Matthew Laurie

Matthew Laurie is the music mentor for Turn The Beat Around, The Courtyard’s participatory arts artist training programme.  During 2018 four musicians will facilitate 120 sessions in 12 care homes, receiving mentoring and training from Matthew over the course of the project.  Matthew will also be delivering four public training session on Musical Interaction. 

Music is an almost universal interest for human beings and naturally some care homes already book live music entertainment.  What, therefore, is the value of the participatory arts offered by our Turn the Beat Around project and what special skills can participatory artists bring to residential care settings?  The next few blog posts will offer my answer to this question.

Person Centred Practice

Participatory arts facilitators are skilled at working ‘from the person’, responding to the participant’s needs and behaviour with the aim of being as inclusive as possible.  Rather than leading an activity with one level of engagement (for example teaching a set rhythm or song which forces people to either learn the rhythm or fail), the facilitator will draw on his or her experience and improvise an appropriate activity in response to the in-the-moment interests of the group or individual.  By working in this way the facilitator makes considered offers and invitations (rather than demands and instructions) to the participants who are then more likely to engage having made a self-motivated decision to take part.

The following video resulted from work that took place in a residential mental health unit in Scunthorpe.  I visited the ward with a dance artist for 6 months and interviewed the staff at the end of the project.  The patients had severe needs and staff often had difficulty engaging the participants but staff noted that the artist ‘had a way to get everyone involved’.  One of the nurses also noted that the approach is ‘not forced, people choose to do it because they want to do it’.


To put this into the context I can offer a comparison between person-centred participatory arts and a typical strategy for an entertainer – a set list of songs the order of which was determined prior to the session.  This method is a perfectly normal example of how a performer playing a gig to the public might work but we must recognise that the context in residential care is not the same.  At a public gig, the audience is composed of people who may have seen an advert for the performer or heard about the gig from a friend and have then made a self-motivated decision to attend and listen to the performer’s choice of music.  In residential care however this is not necessarily the case.  The participants are a closed group of people with different interests and, although a musician might be able to make a good guess as to what people will like, the more severe the participants needs, the more unpredictable the in-the-moment needs and behaviours of the individuals and group will be.  Participatory artists and musicians are skilled at responding to this unpredictability, viewing the participants behaviours and interests as legitimate contributions to the session and then improvising creative activities to celebrate each person for who they are and offering opportunities for creative self-expression.

In the context of older people’s care, the VIPS principles of Person Centred Dementia Care (Brooker 2004) offers a useful frame work for thinking about this person centred practice.

  • We value older people and people with dementia take their experiences seriously, regardless of age and cognitive impairment.
  • We treat people as individuals, appreciating how their personality, life history, health status and social environment along with cognitive impairment shape their experience of dementia.
  • We recognise that each person’s experience has its own psychological validity, and make efforts to understand their perspective.
  • We recognise that relationships are important to older people and people with dementia, and understand that they need for a supportive social environment which compensates for disabilities and fosters well-being.

To be continued…

If you are interested in learning more about person-centred practice and musical interactions why not come along to our training.