Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of the Arts


John J. Cali School of Music

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Brian Abrams

Committee Member

Rika Ikuno

Committee Member

Andrew Rossetti


Individualism and collectivism are described in various domains, and those are often referred to describe people’s cultural characteristics. Those characteristics are also deeply related to how to perceive ‘self’ in a cultural context. As a presupposition, America is often regarded as an individualistic society, and Japan is often regarded as a collectivistic society. From a music therapy perspective, sound reflects our inner world. Based on these concepts, this study was designed to investigate if there were any culturally-related characteristics in the sound of group music improvisation in America and Japan, and any connectedness regarding self-expression and interrelationship.

The purpose of this thesis was to understand the differences in constructions of improvised music, between a group of Japanese people and a group of American people. To explore this question, a qualitative multi-group comparative study of group improvisation with percussion instruments, by an American group and a Japanese group, were conducted in each country. Both groups consisted of five females, who were not music therapy students and music therapists, in the age range between 20 to 40. Each group improvisation was audio recorded and micro-analyzed by using Individual Profile Assessment (IPA) and RepGrid, which is a computer-generated program. A combination of these tools allowed researchers to explore in-depth data of each sound. Interviews of each group’s participants about their experiences post sessions were used as supplemental data.

Processed in-depth sound data was interpreted to explore underlying meanings of group sound dynamics. In the process, musical elements were personified based on characterized meta-components. Based on the personified elements, stories of each segment were created, overarching themes of each group across segments were investigated. The American group’s musical improvisation suggested struggling with the conformity, and authority, and establishing independence. In contrast, the Japanese group’s musical improvisation suggested the honoring of structures and achieving harmony and less emphasis on managing independence.

From the verbal data of interviews of the participants, each of the groups’ notions about self-expression and interrelationships were extracted. Some of the American group’s self-expression were associated with freedom and enjoyment without a leader and rule. Some of the American group’s interrelationship were associated with recognition of separated individuals and sound. In contrast, some of the Japanese group’s self-expression were associated with presence of others besides self. Some of the Japanese group’s interrelationships were associated with a relationship with a leader presence.

Some associations between in-depth data and participants’ verbal data were found within each group. The American group showed co-existing movements of creating and resisting structures and maintaining separated self in the group. In contrast, the Japanese group showed a creation of a leader and authority figure and a process of achieving harmony within the structures. The participants’ experiences, which were found from the verbal data, might be influenced by the dynamics which was revealed in the in-depth data.

With concepts of Triandis’s (1995) vertical/horizontal and individualism/collectivism, the results of in-depth data suggested a spectrum of concept of self-characteristics in each group. The American group’s results were associated with vertical and horizontal individualisms and vertical collectivism, and the Japanese group’s results were associated with vertical and horizontal collectivisms and horizontal individualism.

Themes in this study were culture, self-expression, and interrelationship in musical improvisations, of which each field was very complex. To study these themes, knowledge of various domains and viewpoints is needed, as well as cultural sensitivity. This study was just a beginning. Yet, I surely believe that the data of this study is valuable and worthy for future studies.

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