Music was found to enhance cognitive functioning, reduce
stress, decrease anxiety and burnout, say researchers.
University of Kentucky are learning ways to enhance
their personal relationships and relieve anxiety all while advancing their
skills on the piano. Through the new recreational outreach music making program
mUsiKcare, UK School of Music faculty aim to enhance student training, wellness
and community engagement through weekly piano classes.
Musical participation has been shown to provide both musical and non-musical
benefits. Studies suggest that music can enhance cognitive functioning, reduce
stress and provide valuable social support. Musical participation has also been
shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety and even decrease burnout.
In light of the health benefits of recreational music making, Lori Gooding,
director of UK Music Therapy; Vicki McVay, director of the UK Piano Preparatory
Program, and Olivia Yinger, assistant professor of music therapy, have
developed mUsiKcare with the financial support of a $35,000 grant from AARP to
evaluate the impacts of the piano classes on socialization.
"The research tells us that being actively engaged in music making can
improve people's health. It suggests that making music can alter our response
to stress, and may even improve memory as we age," said Gooding, noting
2005 research by Dr. Barry Bittman, of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, and 2013
research presented at the International Alzheimer's Association Conference by
Erin Abner on behalf of UK researchers from UK's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging
and Music Therapy program. "One of the things we wanted to incorporate in
this class is socialization, because we know that being part of a group is
important for their overall health and well-being. It is important cognitively
and it is important socially. It's something we wanted to actively engage them
in and is why we chose to have piano classes and not individual piano
The 10-week piano-based workshop emphasizes musical learning, group support and
quality of life enhancement. Currently open to individuals ages 50 and over,
the program utilizes technology, wellness strategies and learning methods
geared specifically toward adult learners. Classes are one hour in length and
limited to six people per class based on the piano equipment utilized in the
Librarian and Professor Reinette Jones, of UK Libraries, was among the first
class of students in mUsiKcare who found the group lesson atmosphere very
appealing. "What I like about it here is that there are other people
playing at the same time, at about the same level, and it's not all focused on
me. And we have fun, I like the aspect of having fun, and playing for your own
personal pleasure. I love it."
And while the classes are open to beginners, participants get to enjoy their
progress at an advanced rate. Set up for success with the aid of Yamaha CVP
clavinova digital pianos, students hear what they are playing accompanied by an
orchestra of sounds which helps fill in lapses in the performances until the
player becomes more skilled. They can also follow lights on the keyboard, which
will help them follow along with a new song.
"The program is multi-faceted and meets the expressive needs of the older
adult learner. From the first day participants are 'hands-on' and actively
learning by doing while enjoying the beautiful music they are making."
Classes begin with relaxation exercises and include not only lessons in
learning to play the piano, but music theory lessons, drum circle participation,
moments for improvisation, and the opportunity to accompany others on an
instrument, skills that aren't often learned at such an early stage in music
"They are learning and developing fundamental skills in music theory,
they're getting aural theory, as well as traditional rudiments of theory. They
are 'doing' everything from scales, to harmony, to rhythmic work. The program
definitely encompasses music theory but it does so simultaneously (i.e. by
connecting the familiar to the new) and actively (which minimizes memorization,
etc.)," said McVay.
Playing music is also helping individuals with other physical and mental skills
in addition to expanding a talent. "We know that staying actively engaged
is one of the keys to cognitive health as we age. Music making pulls from
sensory, motor and multimodal integrative regions of the brain. Playing an
instrument requires reading notation, fine motor skills, memorization...it truly
places unique demands on the brain," said Gooding, noting the 2010 research
of Catherine Y. Wan and Gottfried Schlaug published in The Neuroscientist.
"Playing an instrument also gives students the opportunity to disconnect
from life stressors and relieve anxiety."
In addition to helping fill out the sound, the equipment and class also can
accommodate those with impaired vision and other physical disabilities. Gooding
and McVay hope to see the program and the curriculum they are developing to
eventually target not only advanced older adult learners but even classes of
caretakers, disabled veterans and children with physical impairments through
modifications to lessons and the addition of other musical therapy programming
for ill family members to participate in during class time.
"The technology allows us to focus on specific skill sets. We have ways to
utilize the technology to guide them. Say a student didn't have one of their
hands, or missing fingers or vision problems, or are maybe in a wheelchair, it
allows us to manipulate the instrument to meet the student where they are and
be successful--to enjoy making music with a community of learners, doers, and
explorers," McVay said.
Gooding agreed the technology helps a myriad of different kinds of learners.
"This equipment is truly a blessing when it comes to having needs in terms
of playing an instrument. Because it has the ability to present the information
in more than one mode, so you can hear it, you can see it, you can physically
do that, that's going to increase the chances of you actually learning and
learning more effectively."
As for finding the value in the class for caretakers, student Deb Martin, a
retired neo-natal clinical nurse at Kentucky Children's Hospital, is already
recognizing the benefits. "It is a stress reliever. I'm a long distance
caregiver for my mother, which is a tough thing, so this is a nice outlet for
UK students will also benefit from mUsiKcare by both aiding in teaching and
studying the group class dynamics. Music education, music performance and music
therapy students will all get to participate. They will get to see how
different people learn and what are the most effective and appropriate ways
they can help students reach their goals.