music education

All posts tagged music education

I haven’t been writing on the blog much – mostly due to time constraints – but I wanted to touch on the issue of ukulele as a tool for goodness and social connection. The more deeply I dive into the ukulele sphere, the more I see how truly magical it really is.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for music of all kinds in our lives. Whatever instrument you choose, it can bring a whole host of positive benefits to you and those around you. But I’d like to reflect a bit on some of what I’m seeing with the ukulele.

This is an instrument that has had a wild ride along its history line. From something deeply cultural in its Hawaiian roots (that continues today), to its kooky pop culture adventures over the decades, to becoming so much more in present day.  This little four-stringed wonder has been a chameleon, an entertainer, a social connector, a tool for expression, an outlet for creativity, a very wide open door to musical literacy (for kids and grown-ups), and the list goes on. Using Amanda Palmer’s words, it is a wand of thunder. And at the same time, it is a humble friend.

I really believe this instrument can bring forth positive benefits that I have not seen from other instruments at this scale and reach. Just to touch on a few examples of where I’ve personally seen it go:

  • Its accessibility has given people the opportunity to learn to make music in adulthood, many who perhaps never thought they would ever be able to create music. A huge mind and heart opener that builds self-esteem and happiness.
  • It has been a social connector for people who may not have come together in any other venue. It has enabled them to have a communication tool – the universal language of music – that they can use to relate to others.
  • It can go anywhere. Its portability makes it perfect in so many scenarios. Its unassuming and inoffensive nature lets it join (sneak?) in with all kinds of other instruments. It can make friends with most anyone.
  • It has been a connector for families. I’ve had parents and kids register for classes together and enjoy the beauty of sharing music, opening dialogue, strengthening family bonds. They’ve often told me they continue making music together as a family at home.
  • It’s a healer. I’ve seen this instrument go into hospitals, care centres, and homes of people who are dealing with health challenges. It can help lower heart rates and anxiety, alleviate pain and discomfort, and improve brain activity.
  • It is an outlet for expression. I’ve had students of all ages explore the craft of writing with their instrument, helping sort through their life challenges and successes, through the art of songwriting.
  • It’s an opportunity to explore music one would never have known or thought about. We can play a classical piece and talk about the format of the canon in early western music. We can thrash out a Ramones song and feel the rush of letting loose on three punk chords. We can learn a swinging ditty from the 1930s and challenge ourselves with the complexity and beauty of jazz chords.
  • It builds and invites communities. Its humble and approachable nature, mixed with the happy faces of those who play it, is unique in its ability to lure people to learn. Many people attend ukulele performances and leave thinking “I want to learn to play that!” and go out and buy one. I don’t know many other instruments that have this kind of effect. People might see a concert and be moved and entertained, but they rarely go out and buy the instrument they’ve just seen performing. This happens regularly with ukulele.
  • It’s a tool for good mental health. Art and music offer people the chance to escape and find distraction from their busy lives. Ukuleles are a really accessible way to bring this stress-relieving activity into many homes. I’ve had endless people tell me that they look forward to ukulele class/jams as an opportunity to let their stress go and turn their moods around.

I could go on but I will leave it there for now. I would love to hear what you have discovered through this wonderful little instrument. How has it affected your life in big and small ways?



Although it’s something I’ve known intrinsically for as long as I can remember, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve realized how much music brings people together. Music has the beautiful ability to function as an individual activity or one of social connection.

Last evening was one of those moments when I was taken with the warm and joyful experience of the music-making-in-a-group kind. This one centred around ukuleles, of course, and was part of a celebration of music education (Music Monday), an area that I’m quite passionate about.13164260_10209642044954157_4936648171326008186_n

It began with the screening of a documentary called The Mighty Uke. This quirky little film touches on the history (including the pop culture history) of our tiny hero: the ‘ukulele. I scanned the room regularly to watch the reactions of those in attendance, both young and old(er). There were smiles, definitely laughs, some nods of recognition and even a few teary moments. All were engaged in the wild and wooly stories of the “jumping flea.”

The film set the stage for what came next: making music. Some folks were members of the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble and were very comfortable playing together. Some were relative newbies but were venturing out to test their musical abilities in a safe environment. Some were folks who perhaps had never touched a ukulele before (goodness!) and experienced their first ukulele jam session.

We had six songs to play — songs that registrants had received in the previous weeks and we had yet to try altogether as “The Mighty Uke Jam Ensemble”. I gave them a quick pep talk and the mandatory “Z Chord is your secret weapon” advice and, as we began to play and sing, the magic really began to happen.

There were smiles. Lots of smiles. There was laughter and at the end of each song, acknowledgement of the success of having made the song sound like a song! A group of 30+ participants, at least half of whom did not know each other before that evening, came together and created music. Just like that. And it was perfectly imperfect.

As we finished, there was a great energy in the room. The joy of having made music together, regardless of age or experience level. We came together in some cases as strangers but we left the evening feeling as though we had all connected in those moments to create something as a group. It reminded me of many things, including the fact that ukuleles should be mandatory at all business meetings as an ice-breaker, creativity booster and stress-reliever… (don’t get me started)

But mostly, it reminded me that although I talk about ukuleles in my every day life and get some snickers and eyerolls from those who haven’t yet experienced them firsthand (i.e. the ‘ukulele dark side), I know in my heart the power of this friendly little instrument:


The quiet introvert

The social connector

The charming hipster

The peace maker

The happiness generator

The little instrument that could. And does.


kid piano handsI’ve written before about the importance of making time for arts/music as an adult but this time I want to speak specifically to music-making for children and youth.

As parents, we know the options for our kids’ extra-curricular programmes are vast and varied. We make decisions on those options based on a similarly wide range of reasons: our child shows an interest; their friends are doing it; we want them to learn or experience something; it fits into our schedule; it fits into our family budget; and the list goes on. All kinds of activities are fighting for our parental dollars and time. We all have a lot on our plates.

Unfortunately for many, music ends up being low on the list. It’s important that our kids get exercise, team-building, coordination skills, etc. But what I am seeing these days are many children and young people growing up with a distinct lack of social awareness and empathy, an inability to focus on anything that is not on a screen, and at the most basic level, an outlet for those crazy emotions that we all have to learn to control as we grow into adults.

Music in particular sparks a magical mixture of benefits that research has shown us over and over: brain and body benefits, emotional and social benefits. This is a recipe that no other activity can provide in the same way.

It’s a recipe missing from too many young lives these days.1397536_10153471368245360_842905776_o

We’re championing ‘creativity’ as a skill that is going to be near the top of every recruiter’s wish list in the near future. It already is at the top of many. But are our children getting the opportunity to explore real, tactile creativity? I mean, aside from Minecraft, Garageband and choosing cool filters on their Instagram pics? And what about emotional and social health?

Here are just a few of the things music and the arts can help develop in our kids:



Spatial acuity

Non-verbal communication


Healthy risk-taking

Ability to receive constructive feedback

Collaborative skills

Improved memory

Problem-solving abilities




I don’t deny the importance of sports in the lives of kids. Heck, my own kids definitely have their fair share on the go. But just as we aim to give our kids healthy meals that will keep their bodies strong and growing, we should be ensuring their ‘brain and soul plates’ are just as balanced. Let’s give our kids the opportunity to be truly healthy, inside and out. Let’s keep music and the arts on the menu.


For many people, the thought of learning how to play an instrument is daunting, possibly entirely out of reach. So often I hear “Oh, I’ve never been musical” or “Nah, I’m too old.”

IMG_2958I try my best to turn those folks around. You see, I am a believer that everyone has the ability to make music at some level. Just listen to your heartbeat – your body is already giving you rhythm right from the inside. You just need a little confidence kick and allow yourself to be a kid again, in a sense. Set aside your adult worries of “ugh, I can’t get this fast enough” or “I’m embarrassed that I can’t seem to make sense of it.” As adults, we can be very impatient with ourselves!

Learning how to think about music and read music starts as a kind of mathematical/analytical process, deciphering how many beats are in a measure and that the second space on the treble staff is an A, for example. These are the foundational bits that can actually, in many cases, be easier for adults to grasp.

Then there are the more creative and lyrical parts of music, understanding phrasing and dynamics and how a song speaks to us through sound. It’s a fascinating process that, when approached the right way with the right teacher, can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

But so many adults don’t even give it a chance! Or, they can’t find time for it because there are too many other pressing things in their lives, like fitting in their fitness class or running their kids to dance right after work. I totally get it.

But isn’t music worth making time for, too? I mean, you’re doing something for your soul and your wellbeing (research-proven health and brain benefits!) that I would suggest can be an equally important part of taking care of yourself.

10538621_773477946043734_4452203297728217792_nI have had the pleasure of helping adults learn to make music (on the ukulele and the piano) and let me tell you, it’s an interesting experience because these individuals eventually realize that they are capable of far more than they give themselves credit for.

When they have the patience to work at it, they can, in fact, make music! Yes!

Plus, they’re strengthening their mind with the constant “fireworks” of synapses working overtime to process the strange language of written music and translate it into a set of physical movements that somehow produce sound and song. They’re learning to work with others if they’re playing in a group, watching for cues and staying in tune and in time. They’re connecting with emotional places when a musical line triggers a memory or feeling. We’ve even seen that incredible connection with the inspiring research around the simple act of even listening to music and its effect on elderly dementia. Music lives in a special place in our brains that can remain intact when all else is failing. I think that’s a pretty amazing thing.

Music resonates with us on many levels and across cultural and geographical boundaries – remember Bobby McFerrin’s demonstration of our innate understanding of the pentatonic scale in that TED Talk?

Music making is a unique and truly valuable experience that more adults should open their minds to. I challenge you to consider learning an instrument, no matter your age, no matter the instrument. I can guarantee that if you can connect with a teacher who can support your learning effectively, you will have an amazing experience that you’ll carry with you through a lifetime.


There can be a place for music making in the lives of each of us. Music making has the ability to meet many needs and each one just as individual as the person it inhabits.

For some of us, the process of mastering a challenging classical piece fires up our neurons and fills us with energy and focus.Hands Playing Piano

For others, the rewards of learning are found in making music within a group, whether a garage band, community orchestra, song circle or a cappella choir, helping us feel part of something meaningful and teaching us to work “in tune” with others, creating cohesive musical sounds.

There can be literal healing in the making of music, such as in the case of Gabrielle Giffords who, after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head, worked to rebuild her ability to speak through singing therapy.

It can be the outlet for working through challenging times, such as coping with a major life event, depression or illness. Songwriting, in particular, has been known to work miracles here.

Some individuals have never believed they could even be musical. In this instance, the opportunity to simply make music at the most basic level is a thrill.

Music builds minds. It also builds hearts, character, culture and connection.  It offers relief and growth, challenge and reward.  And most of all, it’s a language we can all understand.