Monday, 13 May 2013

Music: passion and therapy

AJ, who has volunteered at the mental health charity Ponthafren Association in North Powys for many years, talks to us at Powys Mental Health about the regular weekly music therapy session he set up in 2005.

When does the music therapy take place at Ponthafren in Newtown?

On Thursday nights, between 5 – 6.30pm, the sounds of the music therapy group at Ponthafren emerge. Up to 6 – 8 members attend weekly, from a guitar player – myself – who writes and composes songs and runs the group, to a member who plays bass guitar and several other instruments such as keyboards. One musician makes his own instruments. He made a three stringed guitar out of a cigar box. It’s electric and he plays lead guitar on it. He also plays a banjo and a mandolin. We play electric for three weeks, and acoustic for the next three, and alternate the two.
Anyone who is interested can turn up on the day – it is not regimented, they can turn up and leave when they want.

Why did you set up the music therapy session originally?

Because I was a musician and I thought it would be a good idea to pass on some of my talents to other people. I don’t teach guitar in music therapy, but if anyone wanted it taught I would outside the session. It also helps my mental health. I suffer from depression, anxiety and stress and for 1.5 hours of my life I’m doing something I enjoy and my brain works in a different way. I can ask someone for three music chords and I can put that into a song and compose words out of my head. I can ask for a subject, someone can give me a subject, and I can sing a song about it off cuff. People will stand in amazement because this song has just come out of my head. I am asked how I do it but I have no idea. That takes me away from everyday stresses and strains, which is why I volunteer.

What actually happens during the session?

We start at 5pm. For part of it, this is where the other people come into it, I will play a song first and I will shout the chords out and the others will play along with me although they don’t know what I will play. They follow me – look at my fingers and follow the chords and get the song.
For the second part – I have “copy songs” that people know and they will follow me as I sing them and also play them on their instruments. Mainly - it’s fun. If somebody comes and plays completely out of tune – so what. They will get it in the end, they are there and they will enjoy themselves.

What is the reaction of those who attend the music therapy?

I am told by people that music makes you feel better than loads of pills.
I have actually taught someone from scratch – he’s been learning guitar for a year, he now comes to the music therapy groups and joins in and he also sings his own songs which he has created himself. It has opened a fantastic door for him because his family are musicians and he was always left on the sidelines. Now they have invited him in. He also suffers from mental helath problems and it has helped him tremendously.
People say after the 1.5 hours – "thank you!" I get texts from people who have just been, saying – "I feel great, I really enjoyed that." What more do you need?

Thank you, AJ, for talking to us! And if you want to tell us about your experiences of music, and how it has impacted on your mental health, please either add a comment or get in touch - we'd love to hear from you.


  1. Thank you AJ and Jackie. I really enjoyed reading about this and feel that I understand much more about the music session. Brilliant.

  2. Yes, great article AJ. Music is so much of a healer isn't it? I don't play myself but couldn't do without listening to it. I'm in awe of those that can play and create songs. Wonderful.

  3. All the contents you mentioned in post is too good and can be very useful. I will keep it in mind, thanks for sharing the information keep updating, looking forward for more posts. Thanks

  4. I work upstairs in Ponthafren and often hear the session going on, and I've chatted to people at the centre who attend with AJ, they are very grateful to have this opportunity and thoroughly enjoy it :-)

    1. Hi Caroline

      Great to hear from someone on the spot that AJ's music sessions continue to inspire and entertain!

      Thanks for commenting