Professor Sue Hallam and her colleagues from the Institute of Education at the University of London, England have reported on a research study they carried out to explore the role of music in older people's lives and how participation in making music, particularly in community settings, can enhance their social, emotional and cognitive well-being.
The research was carried out between 2009 and 2011 and involved 349 older people (29% were beginners) who participated in music activities while a control group involving 102 older people participated in non-music activities such as attending art classes, learning languages, reading for book groups or taking part in yoga lessons. The age range of those taking part was from 50 to 93, with 76% of the research participants being female.
At the beginning of the study both groups completed questionnaires designed to measure quality of life and satisfaction of basic needs for self-determination. These questionnaires were completed again after nine months, to see if making music had made any difference. The study also included interviews, focus groups and observations carried out with the music participants and their facilitators.
- Measures of well-being were found to be consistently higher among the older people (including beginners) participating in music activities compared to those (from the control group) participating in other activities.
- There was no deterioration in wellbeing between those aged 75 and under and those aged over 75, amongst the music groups.
- There were social benefits as well as the potential for musical development amongst beginners as well as those with prior experience in music.
- The most frequently mentioned barriers to participation in music activities were: caring for others, illness and lack of confidence.
- Facilitators of musical activities with older people need specific training but there are few opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) in this area.
Prof Hallam who led the study added: "The people we interviewed had a real sense of achievement because they could hear that they were getting better. When they were performing for others they also felt that they were giving something back to the community. They were extremely focused too, partly because music requires total concentration but also because they didn't want to let down the other people in their music group."
Hallam, S. and Creech, A. (eds.) (2010). Music education in the 21st century in the United Kingdom: Achievements, Analysis and Aspirations. London: Institute of Education
Featured Activity - Homemade Blues Workshop
The UK in the 1950's was going through a long period of post-war austerity. One welcome relief from the drabness of everyday life was an exciting new music called "skiffle" - a blend of American folk music and the Blues. The attraction for young people was that skiffle made great use of affordable homemade instruments like the tea chest bass (a large wooden box with one end of a length of rope attached to the top of the chest and the other end attached to the end of a pole). Soon kids were forming their own skiffle groups and making their own music. One young man who started that way was John Lennon! Things have a way of going full circle and here we are over fifty years later, learning to play the blues using homemade instruments!
What I really like about the idea of a Homemade Blues Workshop is that it is not just for older people - you can bring your children or even your grandchildren. Each Workshop lasts a day during which you learn about some of the simple homemade instruments that the early pioneers of the blues had to invent as they could not afford anything else.
Your tutor will describe and demonstrate a range of instruments including home built guitars with one, two and three strings together with a range of percussion instruments. These instruments are not sophisticated - quite the reverse! They are rough and ready and easy to make using found objects and minimal tools. During the Workshop you will create your own instrument - a simple one-string affair called a Diddley Bow. These homemade instruments were originally played mainly by farm workers in the American South. They were fundamental to the early blues and are played like a slide guitar, creating that distinctive wail we associate with this musical genre
Participants work in pairs, under guidance, to make their Diddley Bow. You can make a Diddley Bow using a cardboard or wooden box, even a can, a guitar tuner, and a few other things which will be supplied for you, including some basic tools (screwdriver, hand drill etc) which you can use during the workshop if you don't have your own.
Your Diddley Bow is played with a slide (traditionally fashioned from the neck of a whiskey bottle - but you will have a suitable alternative) so it doesn't have frets like a "store-bought" guitar, but you learn how to put markers on the neck of the instrument so you know where to place the slide. To do this you will need to learn about something called the minor pentatonic scale - the simple five note scale that has been the basis of the Blues all the way back to to its roots in the music of the African slaves. By the end of the Workshop you will have learnt to play a simple Blues and write your own lyrics for it.
Probably the best way to help you understand what this is all about is to let you hear the result.
Michael has managed to tie together "Brexit" (Britain's decision to exit the European Union), the American presidential election and the lack of leadership by our political leaders here in Northern Ireland! I think it is fair to say that Michael has caught the mood of popular frustration with politics as we know it. To read his analysis, click here
In her article this month, Jeanette asserts that it is time to think differently about growing older. The real limits are those we put on ourselves. To read Jeanette's life affirming essay on embracing ageing, click here
Ronnie recently sent me an article on living to 100. He was was inspired to write it after he had read "The 100 Year Life" by Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. The 100 Year Life examines the implications of what the life course will be like for our grandchildren when living to 100 becomes the average life expectancy. How will they maintain their finances, health and relationships over such a long timespan? To read Ronnie's thoughts on living to 100, click here.