11Jul/17

Guitar Learning & Benefits

Instrument Spotlight: Guitar

by Ryan Wallace – AMI Guitar Faculty

Who doesn’t love the guitar?
Guitar is the second most popular instrument to play, coming in right after piano. Why are these two instruments so loved by many musicians? It’s all about the versatility. Not only can you play them as solo instruments, but it is also easy to accompany yourself or others as a singer, or on a different instrument. But why start with guitar? It is a fantastic way to play your music anywhere you want without having to lug a huge instrument to the campfire, park, or any place the musical urge takes you. There are few pleasures in life quite like playing the guitar for a group of friends around a campfire at night or playing outside in the grass while the sun shines on you. It’s enough to make anyone feel like they are not only expressing themselves creatively, but also seeing life through a lens of ultimate satisfaction that few people get to truly experience. It’s an amazing way to feel at peace with yourself and the world, to build self-confidence, and to light a fire in yourself that is both invigorating and oddly healing at the same time.

Play Anything.
The guitar, along with the piano, is possibly the most versatile of all instruments. Whether you like classical music, folk music, rock, pop, metal, electronic, country, jazz, blues, or anything in between, the guitar fits in without a second glance. It can be played solo or to accompany a singer or other instrumentalist. Taking guitar lessons is not about just learning to play your favorite song, but preparing you to play whatever music you may find yourself wanting to play tomorrow, or ten years from now.

What can we expect from lessons?
Aside from learning the fundamentals of music and performance, guitar lessons are about learning to play the instrument, not just repeating memorized passages on it. However, learning your favorite songs is a great way to start doing that and keeps both kids and adults excited about playing and enjoying lessons! From that base, we can start exploring more complex music, and open up worlds of music that we often aren’t even aware exist since we don’t hear them on the radio. Coupled with learning songs, lessons will help establish good technique that will carry you in good stead as you advance through more difficult music. The world of music is nearly unlimited, and we don’t want to be held back by the narrow view we have of it at a young age.

Technique… what’s that?
Technique is often a scary word for us, and it can be synonymous with boring, frustrating, and any number of other unpleasant words. But technique doesn’t need to be scary! It’s simply learning how to play with the least amount of effort. Learning good technique early in our musical lives teaches us how to approach the instrument in a way that will allow us to advance as far as we like, rather than be held back by songs that are “too hard”. Different styles of music will demand more or less from us technically, but they all share the same basic principles. For instance:

Hand position
Good hand position can take a passage from seemingly impossible to one that simply requires a little extra practice. The longer we play with poor hand position, the harder it is to retrain our hands down the road. It also increases the likelihood of injury if we aren’t careful, so training early is welcome and beneficial.

Finger shape
Whether it’s our left hand fretting or our right hand picking, the shape and angle of our fingers on the strings can have a huge impact in both the sound of our playing and the fluidity of our motion. Whether we’re going for fast and flashy, or sensitive and beautiful, the guitar only makes the sounds our fingers tell it to make.

What can music lessons do for me?
Aside from the joy of learning to play music, there is nearly endless research on the benefits that studying and playing music have on our brain and our lives. Playing music also encourages creativity and expression, and working with others in bands and camps teaches teamwork and creates powerful bonds with others.

Music is a wonderful way to bring creativity and beauty into our world, while making for an incredibly rewarding journey. The feeling of mastering a song you once thought impossible or playing a show with friends that highlights a night for the audience is something that everyone should experience.

12May/17

Music Supports Mental Health: NAMI Mental Health Awareness Month

As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, we examine the benefits of musical study to supporting mental health. The relationship between health and music has been studied for centuries. As early as 1918, James Frederick Rogers stated in Music as Medicine that “the means employed in this art always have been of two kinds: first, those appealing to the senses, and, through these doorways of the nervous system, by accompanying changes of consciousness […which] usually goes by the name of mental treatment.” (Rogers, 365) He discusses the benefits of music on physical health as well, but our focus will remain with psychological benefits this month. He notes that art has an impact on consciousness because it appeals to our senses and therefore shapes the way we experience the world. When experiencing music as an audience, our response is shaped primarily by what we see and hear. When practicing music performance, however, we also affect our tactile sensations. Grounding techniques used to treat responses like panic rely heavily on sensation, and learning to focus on what you feel as you use your instrument can help to quiet responses to other stimuli.

Of course, statements like those from Rogers have supported the development of Music Therapy as a current treatment method, and music therapists around the world work to help patients recover from significant events and assist with hospice.

Gary Ansdell and Tia DeNora performed a study on musical pathways, and one of their study participants shared her thoughts on her experience with music:

Sophie: “Music and music therapy has been the support and driving force of my treatment and continuing recovery. The continuity, unconscious nurturing and support to my confidence and mental health has been a key to where I am now. It has bridged and supported every step to enable me to progress—in a way that no other therapy has managed in such an all-inclusive way.” (MacDonald, Kreutz, Mitchell, 101)

Research is an excellent support for any idea, but personal testimony allows us to connect with a real application of research and to see how an individual like us has been able to improve her life through the presence of music. Sophie’s observations reflect the holistic way music can aid mental health maintenance and progress. While she experienced these benefits through music therapy as a patient, there are other ways to gain the same holistic wellness through music without a prescription. For those of us simply studying music as part of an educational program or extracurricular activity, there are benefits to every day wellness in each lesson and practice session.

Singers, brass players, and wind players all learn early in their training that breath is the foundation of technique and performance. All musicians are aware of breath as it relates to the time signature of a piece, and conductors of ensembles frequently use it to indicate entrances. Have you ever been anxious or upset and been reminded to take a deep breath? Nancy Zi introduces Chi Yi breathing techniques in The Art of Breathing with the reminder that “In the process of disciplining and controlling breathing, you direct your mental attention inward, thus minimizing or even eliminating external distractions.” (Zi, 25) Music students learn to control their breath and focus when tacking performance anxiety and redirection of nervous energy to musical engagement, which helps to alleviate emotional distress and anxiety as much as the tactile sensations of playing instruments can. Adults often hear “leave it at the door” in reference to outside stressors in the workplace. We all know the “why.” We want to be focused on our work to maximize our productivity and impact. Additionally, workplace and classroom stressors can interfere with success, and we must find ways to combat all of these stressors. Musical study offers us a “how” that equally applies to the workplace and the classroom.

Our mental health is impacted by pressures to succeed, and perfection as a goal can have a detrimental effect on wellness. David Bayles and Ted Orland discuss how art forms like music positively impact our relationship with perfectionism in Art and Fear. We know that concentration on the sensations of music making provides grounding. Bayles and Orland add that “For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.” (Bayles&Orland, 31) Music and other arts allow participants to embrace process and imperfection, alleviating societal and personal pressures through shifting focus to the ever important “how” in another way. Through learning to acquire and refine musical skills, we learn that giving our attention to the methods and process through which we produce our work is the key to producing a quality result while alleviating the pressures of result oriented environments.

If you’re the employee who frequently brings work home or the parent of a student struggling to cope with school stress, assigning some of that “worry time” to music lessons and practice could help you to regain and maintain wellness. This month, devote that time and energy to self care, and your mental health will thank you.

Sources:

– MacDonald, Kreutz, and Mitchell. Music, Health, and Wellbeing. Oxford, 2012.

– Rogers, James Frederick. “Music as Medicine”. The Musical Quarterly. Vol 4. No. 3. Pg. 365-375. Oxford,1918.

– Zi, Nancy. The Art of Breathing. Vivi, 1994.

– Bayles and Orland. Art and Fear. Image Continuum Press, 2001.

08Mar/17

Bringing Music to Our Schools: AMI Mini Campus for Public/Private Schools

By Kaitlin Fron, AMI Voice Teacher & Program Coordinator

With the start of Music In Our Schools Month, educators and legislators are once again discussing the importance of having a music program as part of traditional education. In most schools, music is seen as an elective rather than a part of core academic curriculum if it is even offered at all. Some schools no longer have music teachers or programs, as music and other electives have been first on the chopping block when budget cuts require downsizing. Neryl Jeanneret notes that “It is interesting that even where there are specialist music teachers in primary schools, other concerns surface. For example, the specialist only sees a group of children, perhaps, once a week, for a short period and music is seen as isolated from the general curriculum as the generalist teacher frequently passes total responsibility for music to the specialist (Askew, 1993)” (Jeanneret, 93). It is strange that music should have such a lack of emphasis in educational settings, especially given the tremendous amount of research which supports the positive influence of musical study on students’ abilities to excel in “core” subjects like mathematics and language arts. In a country where educational resources are limited, what can we do?

At American Music Institute, we want music to be a part of every child’s education. That’s why we have our Mini Campus Program. AMI Mini Campus enables our faculty to work with area schools to create or supplement music programs, according to the needs of the school. We can teach it all- from the basics like Music Appreciation, Orchestra, Choir, and Band to more specialized courses like Genre studies (Jazz, Classical, Broadway), Music Theory, Music History, or Private Lessons on campus. For schools with existing music programs, we can create clinics and workshops to give students a chance to work with our professional faculty members. This program is tailored to each school community and can offer courses during school hours or as part of an After School Care program. Our Mini Campus Program is important to us because it provides an opportunity for communities to come together to support arts education and to enhance the educational opportunities of area students regardless of what cuts the school systems have to make.

Music in schools means that students have an opportunity to practice learning in a way that engages all learning styles and requires physical and mental coordination. When your child studies music regularly, he or she will experience benefits in many other subjects.

Music and Math: It may seem strange to compare performance art to mathematics, but music is very mathematical! Musical compositions are divided into measures by number of beats, so students learn to count and group beats from the onset of their musical education. Kathryn Vaughn asserts that since music improves spatial-temporal reasoning, it also improves student comprehension of mathematical processes which require the same type of reasoning (Vaughn, 149). Her evaluation of many studies and experiments on the correlation between music education and mathematical performance found that the best improvements came from the addition of musical education to a mathematical education built on similar spatial-temporal reasoning concepts (Vaughn, 158). This means that ideally, math and music teachers can work together to create lesson plans that will enable the best student success.

Music and Language Arts (and Foreign Language): The correlation between music and language arts is more readily seen since both subjects fall under the broader category of “Humanities” or “Arts.” While the structure of music is inherently mathematical, it also mirrors language in the use of larger forms and phrases. Janet D. Harris states that “The cause of some reading problems may be due to a deficiency which affects not only the child’s reading, but his other work as well. There are many areas in which activities used in music and reading can prove invaluable to both” (Harris, 29). She discusses the benefits of Ear Training (pitch matching and phrase memory) in improving a child’s ability to learn language patterns and sounds and notes that learning music requires the development of reasoning skills which improve the ability to comprehend and evaluate language when reading (Harris, 30). Learning to read and understand musical phrases facilitates learning to read and the ability to comprehend grammatical phrases.

Musical study also carries benefits to historical and scientific education built on the benefits already discussed, making it a critical part of regular education. With so many extracurricular activity choices, it helps to have music as a part of standard curriculum, whether during or after school hours. AMI is proud to help make this opportunity accessible to as many schools as possible. How can you guarantee consistent music education at your school?

The best way to make your voice heard at your school is to be active in attending PTA meetings and to talk with your teachers. Introduce your PTA organization, music teacher, and principal to the AMI Mini Campus Program and encourage your school’s participation. Invite your AMI teacher to your music class with your school music teacher’s permission. Talk to your friends and family about how music education has improved your child’s learning experience. Help your child to create his or her own experiment or study on the benefits of learning music for their next science fair. We make a difference when we speak up and celebrate successes!

We wish you a wonderful and eventful Music In Our Schools Month.

To have AMI create a program for your school and for more information, please visit the AMI Mini Campus Program page and/or contact AMI at ami@amimusic.org / 630-850-8505.

Sources:
Jeanneret, Neryl. The National Review of Music in Schools and the Endless Debate about Music in Primary Schools [online]. Australian Journal of Music Education, No. 1, 2006: 93-97. Availability: ISSN: 0004-9484. [cited 06 Mar 17].

Music and Mathematics: Modest Support for the Oft-Claimed Relationship
Kathryn Vaughn The Journal of Aesthetic Education Vol. 34, No. 3/4, Special Issue: The Arts and Academic Achievement: What the Evidence Shows (Autumn – Winter, 2000), pp. 149-166

Music and Language Reading
Janet D. Harris Music Educators Journal
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Nov. – Dec., 1947), pp. 29-30