Familiar vs. Novelty

It’s taken me awhile but after living here for a little over a year I feel like I can officially call myself an Atlantan. I’ve embraced the ya’lls, the unpredictable weather, and most importantly the traffic! Podcasts have become my life line in my on-going love-hate relationship with GA-400 & I-285. Recently while listening to one of my favorite podcasts I encountered an interesting piece of advice on the topic of forming new habits. The advice was something to the effect of: To form lasting behaviors we must know what suits our habits to our nature. In a nutshell: know yourself. The first step in that process begins with deciphering whether you’re a familiar-lover or novelty-lover. Immediately I was intrigued.

For those who know me well it’s obvious which realm I fall into, I’m a familiar lover. I LOVE routine. I get up every morning at the same time, I eat the same foods, re-read my favorite books, hang out at the same places…and the list goes on.

Gretchen Rubin, writer and author of the book The Happiness Project states, “For familiar lovers a habit becomes easier as it becomes more familiar.” The more we include something within our daily routine the less intimidating it is and the seemingly difficult becomes automatic. But not everyone is in this camp. What about those who feel stagnant or stale doing the same things over and over again? Hello, novelty lover! A novelty lover embraces habits more readily when they seem new and well, less habit-like. Shaking things up in their routine helps them stay engaged to tackle the tasks at hand.

As I thought about these concepts within my own daily life I began to think about how this awareness relates to creating new habits for others….say, my music therapy clients? Which clients are familiar-lovers? Which are novelty-lovers? And furthermore, how do I individualize their treatment so that they achieve maximum potential in their treatment goals?

To answer this question we refer to the basics. Music 101: Musical Characteristics. Music is based on form. I once heard musical form described as entering a house to be explored: you walk through the front door and there are many different rooms to explore, all different in shape, size and purpose. At the foundation you have repetition and contrast (familiar & novelty). For instance, music may start with a repeating rhythm that provides structure, a framework. Subtle nuisances from the addition of other instruments, vocalizations or changes in this repeating rhythm create novelty. Which brings us to the concept of freedom within form. Music, in its very definition, consists of both the familiar and novelty existing simultaneously to create something interesting, pleasurable and well…fun!

The work of a music therapist is finding that sweet spot. This takes knowing our clients, their preferences and their needs, We achieve that understanding through our partnership with client’s parents, interactions with the clients themselves and through the musical experiences we share during sessions. But it doesn’t just stop there. A music therapist utilizes client’s preferences for the familiar or novel to design musical experiences that are unique to their needs. In this way, music provides opportunities for new learning and growth.

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