We are in week seven of our eight-week recreational music making piano classes. This has been such a great experience. We launched four classes. Three were targeted at adults and one for upper elementary to young teens. Two of the adult classes were scheduled during the afternoon hours.
Last week, our new RMM program was given a nice article in a regional newspaper. The article was well-written and gave a great description of our program, but the headline bothered me a lot. "In the Key of Fun" read the headline with a subtitle "...aiming at a wider audience by making [piano lessons] fun."
It left me with the question, "So traditional piano lessons aren't fun?"
I'm sure I used the word "fun" in the interview and am therefore the reason for that headline, but I also remember using the word "joy" many times, yet that wasn't highlighted in the story. Why is it that we crave "fun" but are mistaking a momentary emotion like "fun" or "happy" be what we are looking for when deep inside, we crave release, freedom, relaxation, all of which I feel are better encapsulated in the simple word, "joy."
Recreational Music Making has some distinctives that I am going to highlight today.
Musical expression is one of these and the greatest benefit of musical expression is a general sense of accomplishment. This improves life, builds self-esteem, increases confidence, and gives us joy.
A 2003 study by Barry Bittman, MD that was published in Focus on Caregiving showed that patients who participated in an RMM program were able to decrease the need for doctor visits due to stress. A 1998 study by Frederick Tims, Chair of Music Therapy at Michigan State University showed that elderly participants in RMM programs had increased levels of human growth hormone. Masatada Wachi published a study in the Medical Science Monitor 2007 showing workers who participated in RMM programs had less burnout. RMM has enabled companies to have less employee turnover and has proven to be an excellent team building exercise.
Those of us who are musicians understand this "joy" and this "fun." We know it is much deeper than just fun, but it helps to see actual studies that show specific benefits and improvements in those participating in a Recreational Music Making program.
That is one of the primary reasons that as we launch this new program, three of the four sessions are for adults. We know the benefit is there and hope this new class contributes to the better wellness of people in our community.
Today’s blog is unique for me in that rather than a post where I can write based on my own and my students’ experiences, I am writing on a subject I am at the beginning of my discovery and experimentation. My hope in writing in these early stages will help me to learn more from these early experiences and to encourage others to make discoveries and share them as they may help me develop my own classes to be more effective and enjoyable.
Today, I will focus on three questions:
The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation website (nammfoundation.org) shares several great reasons for studying and teaching music. It has been scientifically proven that studying and playing music is a benefit to people of all ages. Babies, toddlers, school-aged, working adults, and seniors have all shown a wide variety of benefits to playing and being immersed in music at their own level.
Playing an instrument enables children to do better in school and life and teens find music as their “social glue.” Adults find playing music reduces levels of stress and becomes an emotional outlet. Seniors find music making enables them to better manage diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson and they see their own self-esteem increase.
RMM is more about the experience of music-making than the outcome. Classes focus on individual process without the pressure of performance in front of others. As part of a class, even the smallest contribution adds to the whole and this experience is enjoyable and rewarding.
RMM is simply another way to learn music. It isn’t a better or a lesser way. It has a different way of reaching the same goal: to better our lives by playing music. Students who have taken traditional piano lessons for some time but are “hitting the wall” and ready to quit may find RMM just what they need to reignite their passion. Adults who always wished they could play--some who have taken lessons before and others who have never taken--should find RMM classes a great way to experience playing the piano and making music. Some RMM students may continue on semester after semester for years and others may transfer to traditional piano lessons or even using RMM as a start to another instrument altogether. RMM works together with traditional piano lessons and provides additional ways for a person to get all of the benefits of playing an instrument.
RMM can be for virtually anyone. Classes are taken together in a classroom with several electric pianos. The pressure is low and the enjoyment is high. The commitment is short 8-week mini-semesters. While having a piano or keyboard at home would be a benefit and allow the student to play and have this enjoyment at home, having an instrument to practice on is not required--in fact, practicing on one’s own is not required. This is a big distinction from traditional piano lessons.
Texas news author and columnist Dayle Shockley wrote, “Music is a gift that lasts a lifetime. While not everyone possesses the natural talent for playing well, the way I see it, a little music is better than no music at all.”