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While the title “Special Needs” does not begin to cover all the many different sorts of labels that currently exist for people, it is a very useful umbrella. Having a music therapy degree as well as thirty years of teaching experience, I have developed many ways to help these people engage in music-making that is deeply rewarding for them.
A major requirement is to suspend all the usual criteria for musical excellence, ie sings on the pitch, remembers the words and rhythm accurately, practices regularly, and is continually getting better.
I believe that we all love music, but many of us have lost that love along the way, often in very sad ways. People who have “Special Needs” have a very strong and obvious love of music, and the challenge is to find ways in which they can learn to make music themselves.
While listening to music may be fun, it is the act of making music that is the most therapeutic and therefore meaningful. It becomes something that they can do, instead of the opposite. So Christmas day 2020 was profoundly highlighted for me by two of my long time students with Special Needs wanting their music lessons because Friday is one of the two days a week that they do music.
The basis of music learning is singing, moving, and playing the drums, so every music lesson I teach includes all three activities in different proportions. As the student progresses in all of these areas, other types of musical possibilities may open up ie playing the piano.
For students with Special Needs who are able to read, I have developed special song sheets that not only have the words of the song, but also the letter names of the pitches involved in the song over the correct words. This allows the student to learn how to co-ordinate the pitch with the words.
“… music empowers them in a way that nothing else can, because music has no boundaries, has no race, no creed, nothing.” Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Detroit News, Oct 19th, 2017
Music touches us in profound ways, and while many of us enjoy listening to music, it is the activity of making music that has the most powerful effect on our wellbeing. The Sing-Play approach makes learning how to do this an easy and rewarding experience. We have so much music inside of us just waiting to come out.
Most adults currently living with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s will have grown up in a significantly more active musical environment. Many more people were engaged in music making, in their local communities, through participation in local orchestras, chorus, church choirs, as well as playing in dance bands. Despite having Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, they will possess a huge reservoir of music that they have heard which makes it very easy to develop.
While scientific studies continue to show us how making music has a positive effect on our brains, cognition, co-ordination and emotional well- being, it doesn’t really show us how much enjoyment we get out of making music ourselves. With Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, the sufferer is learning how to navigate a life that now includes diminishing life skills, and an increased need for help. Learning how to activate their creativity and make music themselves becomes a powerfull addition to their lives, both personally and for their families.
Back pain is a common condition managed in primary care and one of the commonest causes of disability in Western societies. Drugs and surgery are the traditional methods to deal with pain.
For over a hundred years lessons in the Alexander Technique have taught students how to activate the principles that govern human functioning. The genius of Alexander’s discoveries, is that we all can learn as adults how to recapture the ease and freedom of movement so beautifully demonstrated by young children.
Lessons in the Alexander Technique are very frequently used for Pain Management. Going beyond regular treatments for physical problems, students gain long term relief from such aliments as:
- Back and neck problems
- Repetitive Strain Injuries
It can be used to accelerate recovery from surgery or injuries caused by accidents. Alexander Technique works holistically. It not only helps alleviate physical suffering but can also help to improve overall health, both physically and psychologically.
The fact is, the mind cannot be separated from the body, so that what happens in the body affects the mind and vice versa. Even “gym rats” notice that after an intense workout they feel better not just physically, but also mentally. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, prolonged stress from work, home life or other situations can contribute to physical ailments, like high blood pressure and circulation issues, and, in severe cases, put some people at a heightened risk for heart problems.
“Lessons in the Alexander technique offer an individualized approach designed to develop lifelong skills for self-care that help people recognize, understand, and avoid poor habits affecting postural tone and neuromuscular coordination.”
−British Medical Journal
Music Wellness is an approach to music learning that has evolved over many years of my ongoing interest in different wholistic modalities. It was sparked by the instant improvement in my clarinet playing from just one lesson in the Alexander Technique. This was such a shock, as it was a radically different approach to developing excellence that I was learning at the time from my famous teacher. This led me to becoming a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique and introduced me to a whole new world.
If you think of wellness as developing a lifestyle that you can easily live on a daily basis it covers three broad areas, Body, Mind and Spirit and Music Wellness addresses the Spirit. You learn to make music with the aim of giving it out to others, regardless of whether they are in the room or far away.
While I teach this to all my music students, it was brilliantly demonstrated to me by one of my music students, only four years old. During our last music session, she was singing one of her favorite songs and playing the drums, while I was playing the piano. Then she spontaneously made up a song to all her grandmothers, (they are all in heaven), and another song for all her grandfathers, who are also in heaven. In the process of offering them her songs, she was connecting directly with them – despite the great distance between earth and heaven! – and creating wellness for herself.
Music Wellness means that every time you make music you are helping others, by playing to them and yourself by thinking outwardly. This can be part of your daily life.
This is an approach that has evolved over many years of teaching. I am always trying to improve how I teach and have tried many things. The obvious issue starts with music notation. Those fixed black things on a page that the jazz musicians call the dots, to try and demystify them.
The most basic impulse that we all have is to sing, this is totally different from having a trained voice. If you were given a baby or young child to hold who was crying you would naturally try to bring comfort to the child by singing to it, and rocking it from side to side. You would not be concerned about getting the words right, or being in tune, your concern would be to sooth the child.
Sing-Play is an approach to music learning that develops the ear over the eye, so that the individual immediately can start converting what they hear into the instrument that they are learning ie a digital pattern. This starts from the simple songs that they learnt at kindergarten, to more complex songs, as they master the technical aspects of the specific instrument that they want to play.
My students are often surprised at how many songs they know, or instrumental fragments, (depending on what sort of music they listen to) and are thrilled to be able to Sing-Play.
I get all my students to sing while they play. They notice immediately that if they Sing-Play, their level of digital accuracy immediately improves. So if it is a song they want to play they will learn the words of the song. They will be also able to play the rhythm of the words on their instruments. This gives them the experience of making music from a deep instinctual part of themselves, as they are free from the tyranny of music notation, right notes, right rhythm, correct pitch and all the other rules and regulations. Learning to play all your favorite songs on your instrument means that you always want to play it because you are making music.
Each lesson that I teach is individually crafted. It is Tailor Made for that individual student. What works for one person will not necessarily be appropriate for someone else for many reasons that are deeper than individual learning styles. I draw upon my 30 years of teaching experience to tailor a lesson that fits each student, regardless of their abilities or experience. I do not use method books or exercises as I have found that they are very limiting and again will not work for everyone. One size does not fit all.
If you wanted an amazing dress or suit made for you, you would go to a first class tailor or dressmaker, and discuss with them what you would like them to create for you. Instead of measuring up my students with a tape measure, I ask a lot of questions to find out what the student would like to do.
What are types of music do they really like?
Who are their favorite singers and performers?
What sort of instrument do they have?
Do they read music?
Do they sing?
Have they had any lessons before?
If the student is a young child, I will devise movement and rhythm activities that will allow me to evaluate their co-ordination skills, their listening skills, and their capacity to follow directions.
Part of each Tailor Made Music Lesson is listening carefully to the wishes of my students. This means that I can come up with several suggestions on types of songs, music they might listen to and actively involve the student in the decision process. This is an ongoing collaborative process which is crucial to the success of the lessons. They students naturally want to play, or sing and put their energy into practicing, as they have made the choices on what to learn.
Outreach as the name implies, is reaching out to help others using your creativity – to lift their spirits.
Any of the creative arts can be used as a vehicle for this, music, dance, theater, photography, writing, art, poetry.
Embedded in this approach is the intent, that by reaching out to help others, you help them to want to reach out and help others. So what gets activated is a whole room of people reaching out to each other.
Music is a profound communication, and like a mother singing a lullaby to soothe her baby, using music to enhance some ones’ life is one of the greatest gifts that you can give. This is what is called outreach.
This idea of playing for someone else is a fundamental part of my approach to teaching music. The other person does not need to be present at the lesson. It is the idea of giving out with your music.
My students immediately notice the difference in what they are doing when they think of playing for someone else, versus trying to get the notes right. They then notice that it is much easier to sing/play their instruments and they enjoy what they are doing more. Therefore they want to make music more often.
I run several outreach programs at local senior and assisted living facilities, where I encourage my students to come so that they can experience how their music making has a dynamic effect on the residents. It will awaken a profound joy, a sense of well-being for others that will have you wanting to come back week after week. And like magic, week after week, your music – and your well being – will grow.
(Photo: Karen Maserjian Shan/ For the Poughkeepsie Journal)
Article originally posted 5/27/16 on www.poughkeepsiejournal.com
Sometimes Barbara Schutzman exercises while standing. Other times she does her workout from a chair, like during Mary Beth Perfas’ Sit & Stay Fit class at Northern Dutchess Hospital Women’s View Center at the Healthy Annex in Rhinebeck.
“The fact that she’s able to address almost the entire body based on using a chair is wonderful,” said Schutzman, 75, of Rhinebeck. “It’s quite a workout.”
Exercise and physical activity, reports the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus, are good for seniors and nearly everyone else, including endurance routines for better breathing and heart rate, strength exercises for stronger muscles, flexibility programs to stay limber and balance training to help prevent falls.
And yet, while fall-related injuries send more than 2 million seniors to the emergency room each year, it’s a fear of falling that causes many seniors and others with physical limitations or balance issues to avoid exercising, even while it can improve balance and overall fitness. One way to minimize worry while working out is by doing so while sitting in a chair or holding on to one.
“There are a lot of chair exercises and this is perfect because some of (my students) have limited mobility,” said Perfas, who developed her Sit & Stay Fit class with chair-based exercises as a less intense option for seniors and others.
Best, said Perfas, is exercising in chairs without arms to allow for a full range of fitness routines, including those for arms, legs, feet and ankles, the neck, shoulders and the back. Perfas sets her hour-long sessions to music and directs her class to do as she does by lifting their chests, scooping out their arms, turning their torso and more, allowing each person to go at his or her pace whiling encouraging them to challenge themselves.
“They need a little support,” she said, of her students. “It makes them feel good to know (the chair) is right there, in case they fall.”
Schutzman said Perfas’ workout is less taxing because it’s done while seated or holding on to a chair, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sweat-inducing.
“It’s a class like this that keeps you agile,” she said.
Judith Muir, an Alexander Technique movement specialist and teacher based in Verbank, said chair exercises can help people with stability issues and physical limitations due to age or disabilities, regain their balance and improve their mobility and flexibility.
“We all know that keeping a person mobile, especially a senior, is the most important thing in terms of other more complicated health issues,” she said.
Often, seniors that are unsteady on their feet are afraid of falling or getting hurt when moving, so they limit their activities, decreasing their quality of life. As well, seniors often are told to sit by their loved ones and caregivers due to concerns about their getting into accidents or falling. Yet the more a person moves around, the steadier he or she is likely to be.
“You’re working in a supported environment in which (people) can comfortably explore what they are capable of doing and then they’re not intimidated,” Muir said of exercises done where a person sits in a chair or stands by it for support. “They’re surrounded by people that have different degrees of movement.”
Sturdy, straight-back chairs with padded seats and backs work best, Muir said. Chair arms can serve as grab bars but limit a sitter’s ability to rotate for some exercises.
Muir starts group classes with seated warm-ups, such as side-to-side rotations, and downward head rolls to stretch the spine.
“It’s a very simple thing to do and you’ve got the support of the chair,” she said. “If anyone’s worried about falling, it’s going to be minimized.”
Seated arm exercises include those where people raise their arms up over their heads and out to their sides, with the idea of fully stretching the spine, all with coordinated breathing. Such exercises can help increase breathing capacity, balance and mobility.
Leg work also can be done while sitting, including kicking legs outward and using one’s arms to bring a knee up to the chest, as people are able. Other exercises involve standing behind a chair and, while holding its back for support, twisting, turning or swinging out one leg at a time.
“Anything to do with stretching and breathing is not only going to help with balance, it’s also going to help with blood flow,” said Muir.
Some exercises can be done with mild weights or resistance bands to increase their effectiveness and, as people improve, the movements can be done in longer sets. As well, Muir said people should double-up on exercises for their ‘bad side.’ For instance, a person whose left hip is tighter than his right one, would exercise the left side first, then the right side and then, again, the left side.
“The fact that you can move more than you thought you could, builds confidence,” Muir said.
Ideally, she said, seniors, especially, should exercise daily but it takes a lot of motivation for most people to do so at home, on their own. Worse, the less a person moves around, the greater his tendency will become to do even less. Going to group exercise helps keep people motivated in a supported, social atmosphere.
“It’s good to get them to sing,” Muir said, of her exercise classes. “It helps with breathing and generally improves the mood.”
Certified yoga instructor Dana Lucas conducts intermittent sessions of chair yoga classes at the Millbrook Library in Millbrook, where participants use a chair and/or a wall for support as needed.
“Typically, what people think is it’s a senior class,” Lucas said. “That’s not my experience. People come when they’re new to yoga and not sure (of it), when they’ve been away from yoga for a while. Maybe, coming back from an injury. Sometimes it’s people who have an illness or diagnosis. Their physical bodies are more limited. They don’t feel like they’re steady on their feet.”
Opening the body through yoga, said Lucas, relaxes the central nervous system, allowing for better circulation and breathing. During her hour-long class, Lucas offers pose variations and options to suit each individual’s abilities, with the exercises incorporating breathing techniques. The workouts are aimed at increasing people’s flexibility and space in their body to counter things like compression in the spine, which can be caused by slumped sitting or stooping.
“It’s my job to offer everybody something so they’re benefiting and getting something out of it,” she said.
Khan Maserjian Shan is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Standing on one foot can help people improve their balance. Try this exercise, which can be done while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the grocery store.
- Stand on one foot behind a sturdy chair, grasping the chair back for balance.
- Hold position for up to ten seconds.
- Repeat 10-15 times with one leg, then the other.
- Repeat the sequence 10-15 times.
Source: National Institutes of Aging, Go4Life: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/stand-one-foot
For more chair-based exercises, visit the National Institutes of Aging, Go4Life at: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/strength
- Sit & Keep Fit: http://www.healthquest.org/rhinebeck/events/sit-stay-fit-class-4378.aspx
- Judith Muir: http://judithmuir.com/
- Dana Lucas Yoga: http://www.facebook.com/Dana-Lucas-Yoga-1625164911087756/
By Judith Muir
Illustration by Tatyana Starikova
Originally Published in Organic Hudson Valley Edition 15, April/May 2016
Whether a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop is your go-to favorite, there’s no doubt about it: technical devices are a vital part of how modern society works, plays and communicates. Unfortunately, the equipment also is a major contributor of physical and emotional stresses.
The problem lies in the repeated and often-held positions people take for extended periods of time when the use technical devices, such as hunching over, leaning to one side, or hanging their head down, the latter leaving some people with what’s now known as tech neck or text neck – the back, neck, and shoulder strain caused by dropping one’s head to view a screen. Worse, the use of technical equipment often is tied to people’s careers, intensifying their use of the devices, which furthers tension on the body, causing pain and contributing to lower emotional and mental states.
To counter the tendency to lapse into an awkward position when using technical gear, it’s helpful to be mindful of one’s posture, especially when done as part of the Alexander Technique, a practice that was developed more than a century ago by a young Australian actor, Frederick Matthias Alexander, and is based on activating the basic principles that govern human functioning and well-being.
By teaching people how to increase their body/mind awareness, switch off patterns of stress and tension, activate beneficial postural mechanisms and connect with muscular activity, the Alexander Technique can help alleviate or prevent stresses associated with everyday movements, including those related to the use of technical equipment.
Beyond physical issues, working with technical devices also has an effect on people’s emotional well-being. One working paper “iPosture: The Size of Electronic Consumer Devices Affects Our Behavior” (Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-097, May 2013), by Maarten W. Bos and Amy J.C. Cuddy, found the smaller the technical device used was, the more inward a person’s posture and attitude became, which goes against the heart of what users want from their devices in the first place: maximum communications and productivity.
By following the principles of the Alexander Technique, people can learn how to make practical changes for optimal movement, productivity, and well-being, including the best way to hold and use devices and other equipment, plus ideal sitting, bending, standing, and walking postures, thereby avoiding discomfort and pain. In fact, reports show that practicing the Alexander Technique not only improves one’s physical condition, but also emotional and mental states, resulting in heightened self-esteem, productivity, and social connections.
Whatever your favorite technical device is, there’s no need to sacrifice health for productivity. By being aware of the way you interact with your gear and acting on the essential principles of movement and well-being, productivity and wellness are within grasp.
“If you’ve not tried The Alexander Technique yet, you’re missing out big time!”
You may not have heard of The Alexander Technique, but this innovative system of movement re-education could work wonders for your golf. The benefits for the golfer are many, but how can a technique developed by an actor as long ago as the 1890s help your game? Here are five reasons why you should seriously consider learning this remarkable, yet underrated technique.
1. Reduce The Risk Of Injury
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as an injury that stops you playing the game you love; with the exception of a recurring injury! Most golfing injuries are due to overuse of certain muscles due to poor technique and movement. Lessons in The Alexander Technique will show you how to move with much less effort dramatically reducing the stresses and strains you unknowingly place on your muscles and joints.
2. Improve Your Technique
As you learn how to eliminate inappropriate muscle actions with the technique, your coordination and timing will improve. I see many golfers fail to reach their potential because of poor body control. For example, many players unknowingly use excessive effort to swing with the effect of contracting muscles that should be letting go to facilitate rotation and develop power. This is a bit like trying to drive your car with the brake on, that is, it does nothing for efficiency and increases the wear and tear on the mechanics. The golfers I see are amazed at just how much further they can hit the ball once they learn how to use less effort to generate more power.
3. Get A Better Posture
One of the most obvious outward benefits of learning The Alexander Technique is improvements in your posture. This is really a side-effect of better coordination and movement as your muscles will release and stop pulling your body out of shape. And don’t worry, it takes no effort at all to get a better posture and definitely no trying to sit or stand up straight. After a while you’ll find you’re carrying far less strain in your body away from the course as well as on it. You’ll feel lighter, taller and more confident as your new body shape get comments from your friends and colleagues.
4. Learn How To Focus And Get Into The Zone
I believe the main benefit for sports people is the unique way The Alexander Technique encourages you to think and focus. This will help you develop a vital skill for your golf, the ability to get into the moment.
This, I believe, opens the gateway to The Zone, the subliminal state where everything seems to be both easy and a joy. Golfers who have experienced being in The Zone say that’s when they’ve played their best golf.
5. Simplify Your Golf
When something becomes too complicated it suddenly becomes much less enjoyable. When you’re standing at the tee struggling to remember twenty different things to do at the same time, let alone do it, and it still doesn’t work, that’s no fun. Learning how to focus and apply yourself using the easy-to-follow techniques of Alexander will help you to bring it all into a single focused thought. Suddenly there seems to be a lot less to think about and everything will appear to look after itself and fall into place.
Your golf will become more enjoyable as you free yourself of the frustrating bits and take your game to the next level.
So why not do something different for your golf and find a teacher of The Alexander Technique and take a few lessons. You never know, it might be the missing piece in your game. You won’t know until you try it!
Or alternatively, you could try the techniques based on The Alexander Technique in my new book and program, Golf Sense: Practical Tips On How To Play Golf In The Zone.
More golf articles »
(By Roy Palmer, posted with the author’s permission.)
The benefit of instruction…
The idea may be effective as a marketing strategy, but have you ever heard anyone play piano after their sixth lesson? In reality nothing is learned that quickly – except perhaps how to bake a cake. Yet even a chef would say that the cookery class shows you the basic techniques, but from that point on it’s a matter of practice, a matter of baking the same Victoria sponge a few thousand times before you’ll be performing reliably in the kitchen.
Learning tennis can also be described in a half dozen moves equivalent to the methods of baking. The ball may be sent across the court by a forehand, a backhand, a serve, a volley or a lob. But only a facile assessment by means of those prevalent reductions called “competencies” would be so daft as to pronounce the pupil a tennis player after a brief course of lessons encompassing the moves. Nor would we recommend that after being shown the procedures, the apprentice should simply continue practicing. Building the skill of ball placement needs guided rehearsals over many years. Wimbledon pros retain their trainers. And if Ian Thorpe needs a coach to guide him through the water, then we can all use a pair of good Alexander Technique hands to continuously refresh our manner of use.
The procedures for learning the Alexander Technique are as brief and simple in outline as those for baking or tennis. If in cake-making we say step one is: “First grease your tin,” then “First free your neck” would be the equivalent when our object is improved co-ordination. The remaining half dozen steps in AT are as plain, but they are learned more gradually as the pupil changes his or her habitual way of moving. You can go to cookery class and learn the basic techniques in a week or two, and thereafter hone your skills over dinners and tea parties on your own. But learning how to change the way you move requires more monitoring.
Continue reading How to Learn Tennis, Cookery, Piano and the Alexander Technique in Six Easy Lessons