Music as a ‘reminiscence tool’


My grandfather would have been 90 on Saturday had he not passed away from complications caused by dementia, at the age of 89. We lost him gradually as his mind depleted like the slow undoing of a complex jigsaw.
Some days, he’d be bright as a button and we’d have renewed hope for some sort of hiatus. Other days, he recognised nobody, was unable to feed himself, had forgotten how to chew. One of the things he responded to continually throughout his illness, were songs from his youth and early adulthood, which seemed to act as prompts or keys to temporarily unlock parts of his memory.

 The use of music as a ‘reminiscence tool’ is widely recognised by professionals working to support people with Alzheimer’s, and research has been conducted to gain a better understanding and insight into the extent to which it can help.

In 2013 at the Society of Neuroscience Conference held in Chicago, Associate Professor Dr Jane Flinn from George Mason University, USA, presented findings from a study that concluded ‘people with dementia who took part in regular singing sessions showed improvements in their brain function.’1

Flinn’s study involved 45 people aged between 70-99 living with moderate to severe dementia. They were divided up into groups of singers and groups of listeners, attending three fifty minute singing sessions each week at their care home, over a period of four months. They were given a range of familiar material from shows, including Somewhere over the rainbow, The Sound of Music and When you wish upon a star.

What set this study apart wasn’t the evidence that listening to music improves well-being and imposes a state of calm, it was the marked difference between outcome for the participants who listened and those who actually sang throughout the course of the study. At the outset, patients were tested to determine their levels of cognitive ability and life satisfaction, and ratings were not dissimilar across the group. By the end of the study an obvious shift had occurred and in re-tests, the singers’ scores were significantly higher, suggesting that through regular singing, brain performance among dementia sufferers is enhanced.

Dr Flinn’s colleague, Linda Maguire who co-lead the study, summarized the findings as …”showing that participation in an active singing program for an extended period of time can improve cognition in patients with moderate to severe dementia..”2 Following the study, Dr Flinn suggested “that care homes that did not hold group singing sessions should consider them because they were cheap, entertaining and beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s”3

With more of us living longer there is increasing susceptibility to the cruel, debilitating dissolution of ones self and ones memory. In Australia a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every six minutes and it is estimated that a further 1.2 million people are involved in the care of somebody suffering from dementia.4 . Had we known to encourage my grandfather to participate in regular singing sessions from the onset of his disease, he may have been able to increase his defences and shore up his sea walls to keep the eroding waves of dementia at bay a little longer.

1:As cited in Dementia News for Alzhiemer’s Australia by Ian McDonald Dec 02 2013
2:The Independent Newspaper, Monday 11 November 2013
3:Ian Sample, Science Correspondent for The Guardian 13.11.13
4:Source: Alzheimer’s Australia

For information, advice and support about Alzheimer’s contact Alzheimer’s Australia.

To find a singing group near you, contact Community Music Victoria

Written by Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor


How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins

Runs for 4min & 45sec

A TedTalk: When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

All in a heart beat

Heatbeats match when we sing together

Did you know that when we sing in a group, our heartbeat adjusts to match those of the people we’re singing with?

The first time I heard this fact, I was amazed and in awe. I didn’t stop to think about how or why this happened, preferring instead to accept it as part of the magic in the universe that ‘just is’.

If the feel good factor and sense of transcendence experienced whilst singing collectively has its roots in a scientifically proven physical base, what else in the world is not as it seems?  Unicorns?  The bid for freedom made by socks in the wash?

But the more I thought about it, the more curious I became about the synchronisation of heartbeats and so, with a grudging reluctance, I decided to read about why, and even how, this occurs.

In 2013, Swedish musicologist Dr Bjorn Vickhoff and a team of researchers conducted a study called ‘Kroppens Partitur’ or ‘The Body’s Musical Score’ into the effect of music on our physiology and emotions. One of the findings was that when we sing in unison, our bodies – namely our hearts – respond in a very interesting way.

Vickhoff used a group of 15 high school choir members who were connected to pulse monitors and asked to sing a variety of material. The group started by humming together before moving on to a Swedish hymn “Härlig är Jorden” (Lovely is the Earth), and ended by chanting a slow mantra. Vickhoff and his team were able to see that as the choir sang in unison, their pulses began to match, speeding up and slowing down at the same time, and that this effect occurred very quickly across the group. The slow chants produced greater synchronicity than the humming and the hymn; perhaps because the group had been singing for a while by this point in the study, and so their intake and release of breath had been coinciding for longer.

As we sing, we begin to control our breath in the same way as yogis do during their practice, and the positive outcomes shared by both singing and yoga are a slowed down and less variable heart beat associated with the relief of stress and anxiety, and helpful in reducing blood pressure.

Vickhoff explains “When you sing the phrases, it is a form of guided breathing…”You exhale on the phrases and breathe in between the phrases. When you exhale, the heart slows downIn the case of controlled breathing, the heart rate or pulse decreases when breathing out during exhalation in order to then increase again when breathing in during inhalation. This is due to breathing out. Exhalation activates the vagus nerve that lowers the heart rate which slows down the heart…Our hypothesis is that song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out exhaling occurs on the song phrases and breathing in inhaling between these…

So by singing together with others, we benefit physiologically from a slower, more regular heartbeat, we become relaxed and receptive and we experience a sense of connection, returning to our normal place in the world feeling all the better for it. And much as one has to respect the amazing and scientific findings of Bjorn and his team, that’s still pretty magical, whichever way you look at it. And so is the sight of an odd sock-wearing unicorn.

Article by
Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor

Further reading: Frontiers in Psychology: Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers. 09 July, 2013:



Helping a Singer Match Pitches: Handy Hints for the Teacher

Sing It - CMVic Publication - Cover PageAn article from Sing It – A quarterly publication created by Community Music Victoria. 
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Most people can learn to match pitches if helped constructively. Some may need more assistance and experimentation than others. I don’t accept that there is a condition in some people of ‘tone deafness’, although where there is a physical injury to voice or hearing apparatus, it may not be possible to match pitches.

  1. Singing in a large group may help, but can also mask the problem or limit the singer to particular tunes or a particular group.
  2. I have discovered or learnt various things that will help the teacher who is helping a singer to match pitches (sometimes referred to as ‘singing in tune’). I would welcome feedback on these:
  3. Work with student/singer alone. Avoid group situations where family or peers act as an audience
  4. Work with a recording device if the student feels comfortable with this. They often discover extra ideas from listening to it later.
  5. Many will know this one. Experiment with slides, hoots, yells, growls, etc. Play with the sounds. There is no right or wrong in this exercise. Avoid the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – use ‘comfortable’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘matching’ as appropriate.
  6.  At first, the teacher can try matching pitches with the student rather than the other way around. If you don’t have the same registers (e.g. other sex) use an instrument to match the student’s pitches (piano is best even if you don’t play). This shows the student how ‘matching pitches’ feels. Later, get the student to match pitches with the teacher.
  7. •Once the student has started to match pitches with the teacher, find out which notes or area of notes (low, middle, high) they feel most comfortable with. Most recently I have worked with female students whose range focuses between middle C and F below it. (Later, in two cases, we have explored up to an octave in range).
  8. See if the student can distinguish between low and high areas of her/his own voice. There are tests but you can just ask the student to make what they hear as high or low notes in their own voice. (Men are usually weaker on this point).
  9. Extend the range gradually, using three or five note runs. It will also help if you can find songs in the student style of preference, first songs in their comfortable pitch area and later others.
  10. If the student is almost matching pitches but not quite, encourage them to slide their voices around in a small way until they match. Whatever method that helps is OK.
  11. Get the student to make positive affirmations about their voice (e.g.‘I am now discovering new areas of my voice’). The student rather than the teacher needs to do this, though the teacher may guide.
  12. Often people who sing off key are quick to pick up on technique.
    I have developed an abridged and adapted version of (classical)
    technique, which works well for beginning singers in all styles,
    especially relaxing the throat. Student’s confidence can increase
    quite a bit on this point, even if they are struggling to match specific pitches.

Further reading: Judy, Stephanie Making Music for The Joy Of It Wigglesworth, Leigh Post Graduate thesis on types of out-of –tune singers.

Article by Jill Scurfield
Singing Leader

Lose your troubles in the trance of making music – an interview with Pete Gavin


Pete Gavin wandered into the CMVic office (Melbourne, Australia) one Monday morning, with a few hours to spare and has been a valued member of the volunteer team since. Pete is a Ukemeister Extraordinaire from Bendigo where he leads Bendigo Uke Muster and The Uke Joint Jumpers who set a record in November 2013 for the ‘the most ukuleles playing on a poppet head’.  His earliest memory of community music making began at home, as it does for so many of us even if we’re not aware of this until we reflect back, “dancing around the lounge room” with his four older sisters and his younger brother.

Pete found his way into music making whilst he was still at school “One of my mates played guitar. That seemed cool, so I booked in to have some lessons and it stuck. It suited me.” While plenty of people take up the guitar at school, many will cast it aside as other things supersede that moment of interest and all too soon, the guitar is left to gather dust and sit forlornly in a corner. This obviously wasn’t so in Pete’s case, so how did he come to be so passionate about community music making and what is it about leading a group, which resonates so strongly with him?

“I’ve long wanted to share the amazing benefits of being able to lose your troubles in the trance of making music.
Being approached to guide the Bendigo uke group was a perfect fit. I never tire of seeing people discover that they too can make music.Ukulele: Great as a painkiller and an antidepressant. Only known side effects – joyous laughter and a sense of belonging.” Pete also speaks of seeing the light come on in people’s eyes as they grow in understanding and confidence.

We all look forward to catching up with Pete at CMVic on a Monday morning and this short interview came about as material for the CMVic blog, when we decided to ask him some random questions about himself which he was good enough to answer.
Whilst we knew that Pete is partial to good coffee, we’re now seeing him in a whole new light as his penchant for soup…. and chocolate has been revealed. (Stand by Cadbury’s!) But he’s far more likely to be found putting energy into promoting and sustaining his uke groups than cans of chocolate soup because he’s devised an effective method of facilitation and is clearly able to convey the magic of this simple instrument: “You need a number of them in order to sound good. The bigger the number, the more joyous the sound. Therefore you need friends and if you don’t have any you need to find some.”
As with so many interviews, we threw in a couple of daft toe-curling questions in an effort to be random and you know, a bit edgy, but they didn’t perturb Pete at all and he rose to the challenge admirably.  Eg: if you could choose one super power, which one would it be? He kept everything in context beautifully. His answer? “Perfect pitch or the ability to spell rythmn rythym … know what I mean…”
Pete’s answer to our final question provided further testimony to how community music making increases fulfillment. We asked him if he could make music with one person or band from any point in time, who would it/they be? To which he replied:
“Too hard….actually, you know what? I reckon I already do get a chance to play with the people I’d like to play with. Chief amongst the list, Pretty Miss Kitty and the rest of the Tequila Mockingbirds, James, Geoff, Steve, Del, Matisse and Mick the Filthy Gringo. Not to mention all the part time Mockers, too numerous to mention. The page isn’t long enough and besides, who knows when, where and with whom you’ll have the next amazing musical connection. The best moments are unexpected.”
We couldn’t have said it better.
Massive thanks to Pete Gavin for stepping up to the mark.
See here for more information about the Uke Joint Jumpers and Bendigo Uke Muster

Article by Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor

At CMVic, we’re not into beating about the bush, so if you’re wondering what a song swap is, well, it’s exactly that.

I told you we should have taken that last left for the CMVic song swap

One of the challenges faced by singing leaders is finding ways to source new material to keep things fresh and exciting not only for their groups, but for themselves. (Even Matt Preston must occasionally wonder what on earth to cook for dinner.) To overcome this, CMVic holds regular song swaps throughout the year offering singing leaders an opportunity

  • to come together and share favourite songs,
  • discuss any problems they may be facing, and
  • to try out new material in a safe supportive and friendly environment.

We can have our very own Song Swap right here! We’ve got some interesting things to share over here: Free Resources – send a song, and we’ll post here and share it with our fabulous community.

As well as extending repertoire, song swaps provide valuable time to check in and recharge with like-minded people and form the basis for new connections. In short, song swaps are soul food for anyone who loves a good sing. Visit our website for more information

Article by Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor

August 14, 2014 – We’re Going to Stay!

100 ukuleles playing “Should I stay or Should I go” -the Austin Ukulele Society (AUS), have also provided their presentation and music sheet for download.

Austin Ukulele Society (AUS)

August’s meeting, our biggest to date, had nearly 100 ukulele players singing and strumming a great tune by The Clash: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” The fast tempo and contagious rhythm energized our talented group who proved yet again what a wonderfully diverse instrument our beloved ukulele is, moving seamlessly from reggae to 80’s punk rock, to Tin Pan Alley tunes and Willie Nelson country.

You can download the lyrics and chords for “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” or download a copy of the presentation (what we project up on the wall for all to follow along).

A huge thank you to those who shared a tune they’re working on – you all sounded great, and we look forward to hearing more at the Rattle Inn on Tuesday, August 19, and at future meetings. 🙂

Vince, Phillip and Kevin, Janet
Erin, Ryan, and Michael
We’re looking…

View original post 29 more words

What do we want a Blog for, anyway?

Why blog?For ages, we eschewed social media at CMVic. We were almost afraid it would alienate us from each other; that we would sit at home screen gazing in increased isolation and forsake hooking up to make music. Because we prefer not to rush, but to relish things slowly in life (read funding shortfall, folks) the reality dawned on us only gradually that there was a whole online community thing happening under our very noses that wasn’t going away any time soon, which we’d be bonkers to let pass us by and that contrary to our initial perception, heaps of goodness, connectivity, and learning was coming from it.

Having accepted that this phenomenon had potential to be a great tool and not the cruel master we’d once feared, CMVic moved to embrace social media. Actually, ‘embrace’ might be slightly emphatic, it was more of a luke warm hug to begin with (even my grandparents beat CMVic to starting a Facebook page) but then another amazing realisation occurred: In terms of developing networks, communicating and resource sharing, the social media landscape in some ways, is an online echo of the very essence that drives us.

Hang on to your hats, world! Having gained momentum we quickly found our feet, collecting account names and logins all over the place to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter among others and now, finally, we are blogging. We’ve propelled ourselves into the blogosphere, such a great word and synonymous – to me anyway – with the sound and feel of walking in wellies through mud.

Working as we do to promote and facilitate connections through music making, we have dreams that our blog will enable us to extend the CMVic network beyond Victoria, beyond Australia to a worldwide community of music makers, leaders and activists, and help us to promote the uniqueness of what we do here in our home state, as leaders, pioneers and supporters in the field of community music.

To connect with an audience of bloggers and followers who are like-minded people, to read and share their articles and to hear of their projects, philosophies and dreams for sustaining and growing the future of music making, whether they’re from just around the corner or somewhere around the globe is a magical and empowering thing. The CMVic blog is our glass against the wall to listen in to what’s going on out there, and it’s our tin can on a piece of string for telling everyone all of the great things that we do and what we’re all about.

Deb Carveth
Online Editor Aug 2014

Singing Glow

**Image by, this blog is in response to ‘Quiet Thursday – Story Prompt’

I look at this photograph and try to conjure a story. I am mindful that if we post this, that folk coming to read it may be wondering why I am looking at photographs of crumpets and not cornets.

But there is something really lovely about this image and it draws me in. The time of day in which it’s set is nebulous. There is a lack of natural light and the darkness and shadows; the pause in eating, food momentarily set aside, suggests a winding down, a reverence. There is no perceivable sense of rush, nothing to move on to, this is a moment being savoured in serenity and solitude. It suggests a moment following an event.

It implies something else, an activity or an episode in time, which has happened outside of the image that has led to this point. For now, I’m imagining it was an evening of song. This evokes recognition in me of the way I feel after I’ve been singing all evening.

Singing seems to open up new realms of possibility. It taps into a part of my mind which is free from responsibility or worry. It is like entering a meditative state of personal enlightenment, like going into a different room. And it leaves me with a warm glow like the one cast across the plate in the image.

I often return home following an evening of singing feeling too elated to go straight to sleep, and slightly removed from reality. Quite often, the house will grow silent around me, and I will find myself the only one awake, calm but on a natural high.

We would love to know what everyone else’s post singing snapshot would look like. I can’t be the only person in the world left feeling excitable and restless with a mind too stimulated to settle straight away, even if that same mind has tried to convince me that I am too zapped to even contemplate leaving the house, earlier in the evening.

That’s enough about me. We want to hear from you too, so what is your personal post-singing snapshot? If you feel inclined to share it, conjure up your own moment in time and leave us a comment…

Deb Carveth
CMVic Online Editor

Community Music Victoria – Website

We can all make music

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