Music Australia News

Learning music: don’t let adults miss out

Image by Kari Shea via Unsplash
Graham Strahle
| October 26, 2020

In the last chapter of her landmark new book, The Music Advantage, Dr Anita Collins leaves the reader with a tantalising question. After having explained many reasons why music is of benefit in a person’s life from infancy to adolescence, she ends by addressing the post-school years.

In the chapter, ‘Beyond school: How music learning is the gift that keeps giving’, Collins talks about how, in the last few years of schooling, children can turn away from music as a result of their parents steering them towards more ‘serious’ academic subjects. This in turn, she says, can deprive them of a whole range of valuable experiences and skills that help towards their lives as adults.

Collins mentions two compelling research studies in her chapter. One, by a pair of Berlin researchers, looked at 3,369 students aged 8-17 to see how learning music might enhance skill development and found that cognitive skills and school grades were enhanced. Another, by a Canadian researcher, tracked 112,000 school students up to their graduating year and found that those who participated in school music were in general more academically advanced over their peers.

The question arises what happens in later life. Are the same trends exhibited through a person’s adult years? The benefits of music in adulthood tends to concentrate on areas of greatest need, namely how music therapy an help with conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. But what of the larger adult population and how music might help in an educational sense and perhaps more broadly in terms of general wellbeing?

Studies on this are few. Music as an ongoing pursuit through adulthood is the subject of a stimulating chapter, ‘Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning’, in The Oxford Handbook of Community Music edited by Brydie-Leigh Bartleet (Griffith University) and Lee Higgins (York St John University, UK). In it, Rineke Smilde (Netherlands) talks about how learning music is not only artistically stimulating but helps build people’s connection with community.

Summer schools, music camps and open learning academies for budding musicians are an established part of the Australian landscape, but equivalent opportunities specifically intended for adults are somewhat harder to find. Music summer schools rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, and their need may arguably be greater today with the coronavirus pandemic having given more people the time to devote to interests such as music. Sales of instruments have rocketed and playing at home has become a new pastime for many as a response.

For adult beginners wanting to learn an instrument instruments or learn singing in a group situation, short courses are provided by some conservatoriums and tertiary music schools. For example, there are Sydney Conservatorium’s Open Academy, Griffith University’s Open Conservatorium, ANU’s Open School of Music and WAAPA’s short courses. Jazz Workshop Australia in Sydney has some adult classes, Summersong Music Camp is held annually in northern NSW, and Adelaide’s WEA has an adult learning program.

Music can enhance family relationships, and that includes parents. According to new research by Margaret Barrett, honorary professor at University of Queensland’s School of Music, parents who become more directly involved in their young children’s music learning at home through Music Early Learning Programs, can themselves feel empowered and enriched.

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