Researchers found that young men and women who shared musical experiences with their parents during childhood — and especially during adolescence — report having better relationships with their mums and dads as they enter young adulthood.
“If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them,” said study co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the UA Department of Communication.
“If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child’s perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood.”
Researchers surveyed a group of young adults, average age 21, about the frequency with which they engaged with their parents, as children, in activities such as listening to music together, attending concerts together or playing musical instruments together.
Read the full article written by Alexis Blue and published by the University of Arizona, here.
Feature photo: Markus Spisk; Violin and Flute: Micaela Parente on Unsplash
Can music actually make us smarter? Research suggests that from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, when auditory function is forming, babies begin their musical development. Their early adaptive exposure to sounds, including those familiar sounds of parents’ voices, enhance extraordinary processing skills.
Neuroscience teaches us that a child’s brain is plastic. By this, we mean it is malleable and has the ability to change. The first year of life, more than any other year, will see the most rapid change in brain size and function as all the sensory receptors activate. Intriguingly, neuro-imaging shows that music alone turns on large sectors of a child’s brain, opening crucial neural pathways that will become the highways and byways for every piece of information the process.
We’d all love to think our children will grow up intelligent, blissfully free from academic struggle. Truth is, the learning journey is speckled with challenges, and each child will have a unique intelligence and learner disposition. One thing we know is that parental involvement in cognitive stimulation from the earliest years will help form solid foundations that underpin a more successful schooling journey.
So, what can parents do to prepare young learners for school?
Sing like no one’s listening
Singing nursery rhymes to your child, however old fashioned you may think it is, will get them off to a flying start. Children become particularly responsive because reciprocal communication occurs as they begin to mimic you – pre-empting certain sounds, tones or words that they recognise. Using pitch and rhythm in the rhymes and lullabies we introduce to our children will begin to create neural stimulation that develops the brain’s auditory cortex, transforming their ability to communicate.
Bang on those pots and pans
While it may fray the nerves, banging on the pots and pans is a fantastic way to improve spatial reasoning. With background music blaring, children first develop the coordination required to hit the metallic targets, and as their sensory cortex develops, they begin to keep in time. Research shows that spatial reasoning, along with a sense of beat and rhythm (which invariably includes an aural and tactile sense of measure and counting) will enhance mathematical abilities.
Join a children’s music group
Early childhood music-based playgroups offer a unique learning context for children. The songs and activities employ beat patterns, movement, repeated chorus lines and echo singing to engage with young participants. The cerebellum at the base of our brains is responsible for movement and balance, and interestingly, is where emotional reactions to music form. Universally, early childhood educators use rhyme and song to teach children how language is constructed, and with good reason. Movement, foot tapping and dancing to a beat are also good ways of developing the brain’s motor cortex.
The ‘Mozart Effect’
There is a popular hypothesis that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. The “Mozart Effect” refers primarily to a landmark study in 1993, where participants listening to Mozart’s music (rather than to relaxation music or silence) achieved higher spatial-temporal results. Importantly, spatial-temporal reasoning is crucially active when children are performing science and maths tasks. Listening to music in any capacity induces endorphin production in the brain, causing improvement in mood and creative problem solving.
Learn an instrument
Many parents wonder when a child should start learning their first musical instrument. Importantly, instrumental tuition is not about producing the next Mozart or Delta Goodrem. Music lessons, for even the briefest of periods, are enjoyable and establish a life-long skill. It has also been noted that musicians’ brains develop a thickened pre-frontal cortex – their brains are actually bigger. And this is the area of the brain most crucially involved in memory. One thing researchers and music educators endorse is the amazing impact it has on the development of executive functions such as working memory, attention span and cognition.
Many schools are putting research into practice, and Queensland is leading the way with music taught in 87% of schools. Immersion music programs, where all students learn an instrument for a one-year minimum, have become commonplace. The results speak for themselves.
Psychologists from a Californian University conducted research on pre-school aged children, and proved that those who had weekly keyboard lessons improved their spatial-temporal skills 34% more than those who didn’t. The benefits did not stop there. Children developed fine motor skills, reading, auditory recognition, resilience, and increased their memory capacity. All of these benefits of instrumental tuition bode well for the classroom journey ahead.
Chelsea Harry is an Academic Researcher and Music Educator, University of the Sunshine Coast. Currently completing a Masters in Research with USC, Chelsea is a professional Musician and Classroom Educator of 20 years experience. Her research follows the journey of 6-8 year olds and the impact of instrumental music tuition on the brain and executive functions.
Chelsea also works as a conductor, cellist, pianist, music educator, musical director, primary classroom teacher and mum!
“… the fish in the river, the clouds in the sky,
the wattles and gum trees that grow up so high
the kookaburra singing so gaily and free
good morning to you and good morning to me…”
from the Good Morning song* by Woody Clark
Woody Clark dreams of a world where families find time to make music as they go about their lives together. Over the past fifteen years or more, Woody has been working to build a catalogue of songs and resources available to parents and carers to turn this vision into reality and help integrate the rich experience of intergenerational singing and playing into the familial tapestry of homes and lives across Australia.
For Woody, the value is in ‘creating music rather than consuming it’ and, where possible, within a familiar setting involving children, parents or carers, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins…
“Make music relevant and engaging and something that’s just part of the fabric of the household rather than something external to that, find the means to utilise it in your life in a way that will bring expression and joy, or whatever that might be.”
Woody’s own three kids have collaborated with him on musical projects, co-written songs for his album, and in recent years toured as part of the family band ‘Woody’s World’. This includes his parents, folk singer-songwriters Kate Townsend and Dave Clark. Woody’s World played at many regional festivals and events in 2016, including Adelaide Festival Centre, Melbourne Cabaret Festival and Ukulele Festivals, Pt Fairy Folk Festival and Mt Beauty Music Festival.
Woody remembers feeling surprised by the excitement of former classmates in recalling the novelty of a school teacher who would sing and play guitar to them during art classes. For Woody who grew up in a household where music-making was a normal and assumed part of daily life, this occurrence was familiar and common to him. He realised as an adult, the experience at school had evaporated from his memory as something unremarkable tends to.
Years later as a father and classroom teacher himself, Woody is using his experience and knowledge as a songwriter and musician to uphold the tradition set by his own background, advocating for the benefits and joys of the style of unplugged family music-making he’s enjoyed in his own life.
Woody’s tips for anyone who’s keen to encourage kids to make music are:
Model the behaviour and expose your kids to live music-making.
Have a guitar or ukulele sitting on the couch and build music into your day, for example sing a morning song*, or sing a song before you eat your food, or a bedtime song.
Make it fun! A lot of music education is serious and focuses on the classical side, so if you can show kids that learning and making music can be really fun and engaging too, you’re half way there.
“I’m not putting pressure on my kids to be musicians but if when they leave home, they can play instruments, have some appreciation of the language of music, it’s accessible for them and they can express themselves, then I’ll feel I’ve done my job in that regard.”
As a way to facilitate integrated music-making in the home, Woody runs 8 week ukulele classes teaching kids aged from 5-12 years and their grandparents, parents or guardians, to play the instrument together. In doing so, Woody’s observed the positive benefits and effects that intergenerational learning brings:
“The parents who model the behaviour, doing weekly practise with their kids really upskill in the ukulele, they come back the next week and they’re both excited; they can play that new chord or they can do the new strumming technique. By the end of the 8 weeks instead of the uke being a foreign object that they are wondering how to hold and tune, they are learning to speak that language.”
Next year Woody will take this course online, making it available as a learning resource for kids, parents and carers, everywhere. “It’ll be a kind of crash course in how to learn the basics and there’ll also be an opportunity to play along with Woody’s World during our live shows.” The course will provide footage recorded by Woody for all L-plate ukers to strum along to for practise in their own time. Woody describes it as ‘an integrated project, and a preparatory engagement experience.’
Woody has been working towards this point for a long time having coordinated a number of musical projects, including reKINDle, a response to the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 and he’s dedicated to continuing this momentum around family music making and taking it onwards: “I’ve been developing my ideas around family music participation for well over a decade. I am passionate about music and how it can connect families and communities and through my upbringing and my teaching and my work with my own kids, it feels like all these strands are coming together.”
Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria, and Woody Clark.
* Woody’s Good morning song is available online! Download the lyrics and mp3 here for freeeee! You can also download the chords and to complete the experience, there’s a colour-in poster to download, print off and complete as you learn the song.
Woody’s debut album is available from his website which includes wonderful family collaborations. Check it out here here. You can keep up to date with his activities on his Facebook Page
Listen and learn ‘Catch the leaves’ a song written by Woody’s daughter when she was 7 years old.
All-in ensembles: a mix of instruments, a mix of ages, a mix of skill levels with everybody welcome to squeeze up together and join in. They may be a whole heap of fun to be part of, but how does it feel to be the person standing in the middle, holding every thing together?
CMVic’s recent music camp featured a wonderful wealth of workshops for instruments and singers of diverse experience and skill levels. The all in ensemble, led by Lyndal Chambers, gave everyone the opportunity to come together and make music en glorious masse.
Imagine being the facilitator. You’re stood among a squeeze of accordions, a swathe of strings, a blast of horns, a strum of ukuleles, and a chorus of voices, all keen, all excited to be a part of this amazing thing, this swelling of sound, all packed into a room with a fairly low ceiling, and all looking at you … Where do you start things off and how do you keep it all going?
Even with a proven track record as a highly experienced music leader, facilitator and teacher, Lyndal admits the prospect of leading the 2016 CMVic ensemble made her nervous.
“I was incredibly anxious about being able to meet everybody’s needs. Usually working with a group of kids or adults, working with a group of say 25, you’re reasonably able to suss out the room and observe who needs what. You can physically run around and see who needs a simple B-flat part or the harmony in C part or whatever…you get an idea of what people need to get the most out of the experience and can sit them next to a relevant support person, but I was aware during the preparation that with so many people (100+) in the ensemble there was no way I was going to be able to do that.”
All Lyndal’s preparation payed off, and the ensemble at camp went with a swing on Saturday when everyone was full of beans and last thing on Sunday, too, when Lyndal pulled a fantastic second session out of the bag to end things on a high note.
So what were the processes and strategies used by Lyndal to prepare for the diverse needs of an all in ensemble? Here she shares some of the pointers and tips she put into play for planning things out and staying on track:
First things first, find a tune; find a song
Lyndal used ‘Caderas’ (a traditional Balafon band tune) and ‘Coffee Love’, a song by Leanne Murphy and Frank Prem in four parts which worked for the singers and across the ranges of the instrument families too.
“People played Coffee Love really well; you could hear all the quiet instruments, which was really great. And Caderas is a great tune… the accordions can play it, the horns can play it, and the strings can play it.”
Draw on your resources and be prepared to learn too
“Preparing for the ensemble, one really big piece of learning I had was about the overlap between singing groups and instrumental groups. The decision to use Coffee Love out of the new song book (Sing It) came to me like a bolt out of the blue, having sung it while recording for the book. I could apply the same process to learning Coffee Love as I would use with a singing group. Sing the part over and over and then apply that part to an instrumental group. This makes it a lot quicker for people to learn their part and it makes the transition to playing that part on an instrument easier having sung it through, so many times.”
Have section leaders in place
Having section leaders in place when leading a large group works well. “All of the weekend’s workshop leaders were sitting in the ensemble as well as all of the CMVic regulars and leaders who also understand the importance of listening and looking out for the people sitting around them. Seeing some people do this automatically in the ensemble was a great relief.”
Keep things simple
In addressing the diversity of skill level and experience in a large group, Lyndal recommends the key to success is in keeping things simple.
“Think about how simple you think it should be and then go one step simpler.”
Solos and Extensions
“Leave room for solos and extensions so the competent musicians aren’t left wondering at what point you’re going to move off three notes and are given opportunities, too.”
Provide a tune that has easy access
Coffee Love has two chords so Lyndal took her partner Strat’s ukulele and learnt those two chords from scratch. The process of doing this made her think that anyone else trying something for the first time would be able to join in with at least one chord or note of the tune. Lyndal also set the tempo and created a groove using clapping and dancing before starting on teaching the tune.
“I feel dancing is like singing. Everyone can do it and you can do it as much or as little as you like. It’s a real mixed ability thing.”
Keep the faith!
How do you stay focused and keep everything together leading a group that size and diverse?
“At no point did I feel I had to pull the whole thing back. I just felt really optimistic. You have to have faith in the group and remember that they’re going to be forgiving. If you have to stop to collect your thoughts, do it.”
Some good tips to remember are:
Have faith in the group: they will be forgiving.
If you have to think on your feet, that’s okay!
Be mindful of the fact that everyone in the room is barracking for you and again, it will be okay!
You will get to where you want to go and the group will cooperate and help you to get there.
Once everyone’s cracked the tune, extend the musical experience.
In the lead up to the weekend, Lyndal spent time considering the elements of music: tempo, rhythm, dynamics, pitch and timbre and how these could be explored in the context of the workshop, including:
Being able to do a solo
Being able to improvise
Playing slowly at times
“This was particularly helpful in the second session on Sunday because by then everyone knew the tunes and I was wondering how we could vary things and make it more musical.”
I threw it over to the group to answer these questions but at the back of my mind, I had those elements to fall back on to make it more interesting, more satisfying and to extend people’s musical experience.
Leading a large group of varied skill and experience levels makes you draw on your resources as a leader, whatever those are. In the preparation stages Lyndal drew on her expertise and experience in terms of how complicated to make the music and considering what the instruments were capable of doing. In the actual leading of the session she was thinking about ways to make things more satisfying and more musical, but as she says, there are different approaches to take and outcomes and direction will vary between leaders:
“I don’t think necessarily that you have to have the full palette of musical elements. My palette is just my palette, other people will have a full palette that’s a different palette.”
And so I think it’s about tapping into the people you’re working with. They bring skills and they bring cooperation.
Listen to the whole sound and listen to the needs of people who will let you know if things aren’t clear to them! For example, if the ukuleles can’t hear themselves or if somebody is confused by a chord, they’ll generally ask you.”
How does it sound? Take a listen here! And, above all, remember to enjoy the experience.
Article written by Deb Carveth with Lyndal Chambers
Sound recording by Stuart Ashburner at the CMVic Music Camp 2016, reproduced here with permission from Leanne Murphy and Frank Prem
The last rays of a Tuesday evening sun can often be glimpsed glinting off the brass horns, drums and other instruments of the Sunshine Street Band by the runners and dog walkers soaking up day’s end on Albion’s oval.
Every second week, the band throw open the doors of Albion Community House to allow strains of ska, jazz, whatever they’re currently playing to escape into the evening air and across this little patch of Melbourne’s West.
Peter Hinton, band founder and self professed freewheeling trombone player, sees the Sunshine Band as a ‘perfect gateway into playing in a group where different instruments are represented.’ Players of any acoustic instrument are welcome, with age and a lack of experience no barriers to joining. Some people follow dots, others play by ear.
As one of the inaugural bands in the StreetSounds project run by Community Music Victoria, the Sunshine Street Band is a real collective and has evolved to run as a collaborative model after a large dose of input, encouragement and mentoring in the early stages, from Lyndal Chambers, guest tutor Robert Jackson, Brian Strating and Katie Rose Fowler, who still plays with the band.
Peter considers the band an effective way to combat social isolation and improve connectedness between like minded people living in and around Sunshine: ‘It’s a very healthy thing to have a connection with your community..’
Hinton was the catalyst in getting the band started because he was keen to find somewhere for himself and his family – specifically his teenage daughter, to play music together with others and because there was ‘genuinely nothing else like that around where you could play music for the joy of it, where auditions and an expected level of experience didn’t apply..’
With some musical experience playing guitar with friends who then moved across town, Peter was keen for himself and his daughter to have the freedom to try new instruments and keep music going as an ‘outside of school type of thing’. After a spot of googling, and deciding that a local community band open to beginners would be the most rewarding thing to be part of, Peter discovered Community Music Victoria and picked up the phone.
His timing was perfect. Funding for StreetSounds had just been granted by the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust and the RE Ross Trust, and Lyndal Chambers was in place as project manager. Peter’s passion and palpable conviction of the need for a community band in Sunshine were the perfect sparks to ignite the project, and the Sunshine Street band, and the project, were launched.
‘Without Lyndal, this wouldn’t have started… she had all the contacts… Together with Strat she helped set the culture in the first couple of sessions .. they made it clear that you don’t have to be professional to be in a band, there were no wrong notes! It was all motivation and encouragement. And she found us the room too. (thanks to Brimbank Council).’
The band is evolving into a real collective in the way they choose what to play and the way they play it. ‘Katie knows which instruments play in which key which has really helped cos you need somebody like that… and we’ve found there are heaps of good reasons for all sharing the leader role, everyone has a say and when they have a say they feel more involved and connected. It also feels more sustainable and means that all the pressure isn’t just on one person.’
As the numbers increase, Peter says people are being drawn to the community vibe of the band. ‘There are some strong players coming in now from Sunshine West way, and you can tell from the way they play they like their music.’
As a band open to players of all abilities and musical tastes, Peter believes the key to participants getting the most enjoyment out of belonging to the Sunshine Street Band is to be open to trying different styles of music, be supportive of each other and ‘don’t expect too much, too fast… you have to make the commitment.’
From a personal perspective, Peter says that ‘being in the band and playing a brass instrument has opened up a new world for me… I’ve never done something like this before… It’s loosened up some inhibitions in me, you can feel constrained trying to play by the book and I was feeling musically detached, playing a bit of guitar but not socially, so being in the band is really important.’
The door to the Albion Community Centre is open for the duration of the band’s rehearsals every second Tuesday, and newcomers from absolute beginners to experienced players are always welcome: Drop in and try it out!
The Sunshine Street Band: Meets fortnightly at Albion Community House, 61a Selwyn St, Albion, VIC 3020 For dates and further information, go to www.cmvic.org.au
Article by Deb Carveth with Peter Hinton; feature photograph courtesy of Angela Casella
The benefits of music in childhood are multiple, impacting and well documented. Yet in spite of proven positive connections between music and early learning, and music and emotional development, mainstream education too often seems to view it as a peripheral extra, a luxury that can easily be dispensed of, and budget cuts in schools seem to hit music departments especially hard.
So it’s particularly great to read heart warming stories such as the one about Dennis Winbanks, from North Western Victoria, who travels over 550 kilometres each week to deliver music and music making opportunities to remote and geographically isolated students at schools in regional and rural Victoria.
The story, ‘Travelling music teacher going the distance for regional students’ by Sophie Malcolm, was featured on the ABC news website on Wednesday, and is a celebration of Dennis’s recognition of the value and importance of music and his desire to ensure kids living in these remote areas are exposed to the same kind of opportunities enjoyed by their peers living in the state’s larger towns.
Dennis teaches about 350 students in four different schools, arriving in a ute and towing a trailer full of instruments. It’s no wonder there’s a strong attendance on the days Dennis rolls up, with his musical cargo in tow.
As if its contents and the accompanying diversion from the usual school timetable weren’t magical enough, what Dennis delivers has the potential to transcend all that.
He brings not only the opportunity for these children to experience music in a way they may not get anywhere else in their lives, but the subsequent potential for personal enrichment and the development of new pathways: neurological, emotional, educational and creative. Go Dennis! Go music teachers, music group leaders and facilitators, everywhere!
Over the next ten months or so, Men’s Sheds across Victoria will reverberate with the sounds of sawing, chiselling, hammering, probably some whistling, possibly some cussing and – ultimately – with the rich warm sounds of a brand new marimba, built in-house. Well, shed…as part of Community Music Victoria’s 4m project, in conjunction with the Victorian Men’s Shed Association.
The 4m project ( short for making music, making marimbas) is facilitated by South Gippsland based musicians and educators, Dave Paxton and Ian Chambers. Dave and Ian are working to establish five new music groups in five different areas of Victoria with local men who will collaborate on the building and playing of marimbas. Those marimbas will then be available to the wider communities in which they’ve been built and connections will be encouraged between the marimba building group and local schools, neighbourhood learning centres, and community groups.
The marimbas can be shared and made available for festivals, gatherings, wherever they can be played and enjoyed, while the building skills, knowledge and know-how can be passed on and perpetuated as a lasting legacy of the project.
In true CMVic style, it is hoped the construction process will be catalytic in uniting and engaging people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in all of the stages from construction to completion, and beyond, and both Ian and Dave are keen to share the passion they feel for the instrument with new audiences who may not yet have explored their ability or desire to make music.
Ian has been using marimbas as a teaching tool for the past ten years and finds that everyone just gravitates to them. “Other instruments can be quite daunting to some people and marimbas offer a chance for them to participate in music making at their own level.” Dave agrees that the physicality of marimbas is intoxicating and “just grabs you, particularly the resonance and the accessibility.”
The 4m project is certainly in safe hands. Ian was born into a musical family where everyone played. For the past twenty years he has taught music in and around Gippsland with a stint in the Northern Territory for three years and plays in a band with his wife.
Dave worked as an itinerant gigging muso throughout his 20s, becoming a wooden boat builder in his 30s and now mashes up the two strands through community music making. Dave had a musical epiphany through his involvement with a singing group led by Jane Coker. Whilst he’d been playing music in the community for years it hadn’t been music making simply for the joy of it in such an egalitarian way and without an agenda.
One aspect of the 4m project which might be challenging is how to get a group of older men together to build and play an instrument if they have no background or experience of music making?
Easy, says Dave: “The technicality and tinkering aspect of marimba construction will hook in the older guys at the men’s shed and once they’ve built them they’ll have to play them and once they do that they’ll be hooked.” Ian and Dave will be on hand to guide them through the process of learning a tune or two, and, as Ian says “it’s about the material you offer especially if you accompany other instruments. There are great easy bass lines that older blokes would recognize straight away.”
While this will be a real buzz, for Dave and Ian it’s just one of the many potential, positive outcomes of the 4m project.
“Men who attend their local men’s shed are seeking company, they are keen to reach out and find a community and resonance, they are already looking to engage with others. One of the best aspects of the 4m project has to be the opportunity for people to connect from different generations who probably wouldn’t have done so otherwise and the chance to develop networks of marimba players and to meet new people with an interest in marimbas.”
In talking to Ian and Dave as background for this article, the final question asked was ‘If you were stranded on a desert island where wood was to be found in abundance, which would you build first, a marimba or a boat?’ Independently of each other, they both answered a marimba boat; what a team! A perfect working partnership, it would appear. Dave did go on to explain that boat building is hard work, that it’s a very long, intense and protracted process and that actually, he’d probably build a marimba first so that he could play it to relax after a day’s work, sweating over the boat.
Massive thanks to Ian Chambers and Dave Paxton for being so generous with their time in providing this background to the men behind the men’s shed project. And also to Australian Unity, for awarding CMVic the grant that has made the whole 4m project possible. For further information, contact email@example.com
Communications Coordinator, Community Music Victoria
**This is the second part of Shirley’s story. Read as she explains the strategies and methods she has adopted to compensate for her hearing loss, which have enabled her to continue learning and playing music. It’s an inspiring read and a testimony to sheer determination. Read part one here.
By Shirley Allott
I watched others playing harps, read harp books, looked online, and practiced and got used to the sound and vibrations. I also found a harp teacher who helped me to understand harp technique, playing chords, and rhythm.
I wanted to play music with others but I found sessions difficult as it is difficult for me to recognise and distinguish pitch. There were only occasionally other harps I could watch at the sessions I went to, so I needed to find other strategies. I could read music but I understood very little music theory. I needed to know how chords worked so I read and studied everything I could in books and online and I learnt how to play chords and I learnt which chords are used in each key and how these are played on guitar so I could watch the guitars. I came to recognise changes in vibration and tone within chord changes.
I found out about Community Music Victoria not long after I started playing the harp and this has really been helpful. Through Community Music Victoria, (CMVic) I learnt new ways of learning music and I gained confidence. I met so many people with different skills and experiences.
Rhythm has always been difficult for me. Before I started going to CMVic events I tried using a metronome for rhythm and I tried an app on my iPad with a flashing light. Both needed concentration and I couldn’t play while trying to hear a tick or watch a flashing light.
At CMVic events I realised I needed to feel rhythm. Marimbas were so helpful. I didn’t play one, but I realised I could feel rhythm as well as pitch through their vibration. I love having marimbas, drums or a double bass at a music gathering because I can feel the beat so well.
I have found that learning tunes can be a challenge as I learn by eye, and the feel of the tune, but not by ear. Music notation for me is easiest but it is not always available.
Through going to CMVic events I have learnt there are other ways of writing down a tune – letters or a chord list on a piece of paper or on a white or black board. Sometimes another person writes down an outline of a tune and I copy it.
Technology is also helpful. I can photograph a tune on a board and I can make a film clip of finger movements on a harp with my iPad. I can later play it back, slow the film down and watch as strings are plucked. I can also record a tune with an app which will give me an outline of the notation. Once I know how a tune goes and have played it a few times, I can play it without any notation, but not always as it is usually played.
I continue to watch others and feel vibration and rhythm and if I know what is in the music, I can adjust what I do.
I am also learning to record a tune on my iPhone or iPad and play it back using my hearing loop which delivers the sound directly to my hearing aids. I am still exploring what I can do with this technology. I have a streamer with my new hearing aids but I still need to explore the possibilities with this. I have recently completed therapeutic harp training with international harp therapy campus in the USA. I researched the harp and palliative care after my mother’s death and I found the international harp therapy campus with Christina Tourin. I learnt that as well as having a clear tone, the vibration of the harp is important in therapy.
If you are experiencing hearing loss Deafness Forum of Australia has a useful list of contacts, organisations and resources which may be of use to you.
I was born with normal hearing and attended school and did nursing training without any problems. Music education was not part of my upbringing even though my father played harmonica and concertina and my brother learnt mandolin. I taught myself to play the recorder and to read music and I sometimes played with my father and brother in family music sessions. However, my main interest was painting and textile arts.
As an adult I had some piano lessons with my children, and then we all had accordion lessons but I continued to find relaxation in textile art.
When my children were finishing school I decided it was time to get my bachelor of nursing so I went to university and over several years completed a number of degrees in the health sciences. By this time, I was starting to experience difficulty with hearing which made lectures and tutorials difficult but I still managed to do well.
While at university, both my older children became involved in historical re-enactment. I was fascinated and got involved too. With my knowledge of textiles I made costumes for myself and for others. I went to a feast where I heard medieval music being played and I was fascinated. I brought out and dusted off my recorder and started to play again. My daughter decided to teach herself violin and she and I played music together. She started to have a monthly session at her place with friends.
My daughter knew I was having difficulty hearing and she would always face me whilst we played. I really enjoyed these times.
My daughter decided to leave university, and do an apprenticeship as a baker, then she moved to Western Australia with her partner. I missed her desperately, and our times playing music together, as well as her support with my hearing loss.
As a response, I took up a new challenge: English concertina and went to Celtic Southern Cross Summer school. I experienced playing music with others and loved it.
Over the next couple of years my hearing loss markedly increased and I found myself withdrawing socially. I stopped going out with friends and going to gatherings. I was embarrassed as I often had to ask people to repeat what they had said. I’d looked into hearing aids but they were very expensive, far too expensive I thought. George (Shirley’s partner) was very supportive and encouraged me to get hearing aids. I think he was finding communicating with me difficult.
There was a period of adjustment to the aids and I could engage socially again. I found the concertina became difficult to play as I heard a different sound with my hearing aids and the concertina echoed.
I wanted to play music so I needed to find an instrument that would work with hearing aids and to find a way of dealing with the change I was experiencing with sound through wearing the hearing aids.
I was at an event in Western Australia when I met a lady playing a harp and she invited me to have a go. I had bought a harp a couple of years previously at Maldon folk festival but I hadn’t done anything with it. I realised as I plucked the strings that I could both hear and feel the vibration of the harp, and I knew that when I got home I would have to learn to play my harp.
Read in part two about how Shirley learned to play the harp using determination and technology too, and Shirley’s insights into the benefits of playing the harp for a hearing impaired person. Part two is here!
Jigarre Jammin’ Our motto: Don’t die wishing you’d done it! Jigarre Jammin’ is a musical phenomenon! Up to 70 community-based musicians meet at Girgarre every month for up to five hours of playing, singing, sharing knowledge, catching up – and they love every minute of it! Girgarre is a tiny but very important dairying centre of fewer than 200 residents, located midway between Echuca and Shepparton.
Musos of all ages and stages come from everywhere in northern and central Victoria. Some older players have waited for years to learn; others have never stopped and generously share their skills. Everyone joins in with an enthusiasm and regularity that must be unique in country Victoria.
JJ began when a small bunch of players found the annual Girgarre Moosic Musters were not enough – they needed more sessions to keep them going month to month. A winning format was devised back then which is still followed – in fact, it’s been expanded due to demand. We meet on the 4th Saturday at the Girgarre Town Hall in Winter Road. The format goes something like this:
10.30am: A Celtic jam for all the lovers of Irish and Scottish music
11.30am: A jam for all the fans of Australian bush music
12.30pm: BYO lunch in the supper room
1.30pm: Jigarre Jammin’
Arrival, tune up and jam for about 35 minutes, with leaders introducing some new songs
Welcome and announcements
Workshops for beginners or join in another jam
Afternoon tea (country-style – it’s huge)
Walk-ups (only if you want to perform)
Final jam to take us to a 4pm close.
Styles played cover country, folk, blues, bluegrass, traditional Aussie bush numbers, Celtic, golden-oldies pop, gospel and contemporary. Instruments include guitar, ukes (lots), banjo, mandolin, bass, harmonica, and violin. If you don’t want/need a workshop, you can continue jamming or find a corner with your mates and practise a walk-up number. A number of musos have found kindred souls and formed bands of their own from this process.
Jamming our way It’s important to define “jamming” the way we do it – we make it really easy by putting both lyrics and chords up on a screen via data projector. That way everyone can join in, regardless of expertise or familiarity with the song.
Free instrument loans Want to experiment or try before you buy? Use our free instrument bank – guitars, mandos, ukes, even a banjo or two. Thanks to donations from Fender and other supporters, we have lots to offer.
The cost of all this is a mere $2 per person, and a plate, no membership or subscriptions involved.
And there’s more! Musical camp-overs twice a year, held around a Jigarre Jammin’ weekend! The first camp-over in 2012 was a total success. Tents and caravans on the reserve next to Girgarre Town Hall, music Friday to Sunday, happy hours, communal meals if you wanted and everyone getting to know each other better as we played on into the night. The May 2015 campover featured a concert with a lineup of bands that are connected to Jigarre Jammin’ in some way and was a great success.
Save the date! Soon planning will begin for the 10th anniversary of the Girgarre Moosic Muster in early January 2016 – check out our website We’ve emphasised playing music in this article but the Muster contains heaps of workshops and opportunities for non-playing singers.
Some secrets of our success: Our organising team, led by real community-action dynamos, Jan Smith of Girgarre and Di Burgmann of Shepparton, have long histories of involvement with our communities and helping to bring opportunities to people. We are devoted to acoustic music and devoted especially to encouraging beginners. We often see that musos find themselves the only one of “their kind” in a small community and we aim to counter this isolation by bringing them into our music fold.
Contact Irene Labbett: firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the monthly email newsletter, or for more information about Jigarre Jammin.’