Lessons Learned in Music Help to Improve My Health
Celebrated each November, “Arts & Health Month” was founded by the Global Alliance for Arts & Health (formerly the Society for the Arts in Healthcare) as a time to raise awareness and heighten media attention for the field of Arts & Health. But this post isn’t going to be about how arts can create safer, more supportive healthcare environments or offer an opportunity for creativity and self-expression for patients and caregivers, although it can. Nor will it explore how arts can benefit communities by engaging people in programs aimed at prevention and wellness. However, this post will touch on how music helps me face the challenges of living with disease and how music is the medium through which I try to improve the lives of others.
During graduate school, I studied with a number of horn professors, each of whom had their own style of performing and teaching. Some were very positive and nurturing and others were rather demanding (and loud). Certainly the kinder, gentler teachers were less frightening, but did they actually push me hard enough to be my best. Without the luxury of having contrasting and complementary experiences, I would not be the person/performer/teacher I am today.
In my own style of teaching, I try to blend the best of my experiences and cater to the needs of each child. One of my goals is to provide each student with the necessary tools to measure his/her own progress and to learn how to be self-nurturing and self-demanding at home. Each student becomes his/her own teacher.
Sometimes I think that life teaches us lessons and, although it may be uncomfortable or awkward at times, these lessons help to shape the way we function in the world. When someone asks you how you are doing, really doing, what types of things are the first ones which come to mind? Do you focus on the positive or the negative initially? My gut reaction is often to focus on what is “wrong” in a situation. It takes practice to focus on the positive first.
An exercise which I use during lessons that teaches children to be aware of what they are doing well, while learning how to evaluate their progress critically without being disparaging. It goes something like this:
Following the performance of an exercise, scale, measure, isolated pattern, or piece of music, I ask the student to list 3 aspects of their performance that was successful and/or went the way they had intended. This may be challenging as it can be terribly difficult to focus on positives when one is distracted by negatives. I usually point out several examples of success before the student begins to catch on. No success is too small to note.
Then I follow up with asking for the student to identify 3 aspects of the performance which could be improved - not necessarily wrong, but improved. Looking for ways to improve performance is the first step in developing the skills to address specific challenges. It is interesting to note that often items which a student lists as positive successes are also included on the room-for-improvement list. Nothing in life possesses only one quality.
Eventually focusing on the “good” first begins to become a habit and provides the student a balanced way to face challenges with an objective mind. This process of analysis without self-criticism changes the way you think. It is a skill which I hope that my students can take with them and apply to many different situations they encounter beyond music lessons.
Whenever I begin to notice that I’m focusing on the negative in life, I try to bring myself back to this lesson. It helps to put things in perspective and allows me the freedom to shed some fear and anxiety during trying times which is good for my mental health and overall well-being. In a very real way, art and music help to keep me healthy, something which improves this patient’s outcomes.