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Educating Today’s Musicians to Keep them Healthy and Active

Musicians are catching up to the athletes in recognizing the importance of educating themselves on the broad topics of health and wellness. Until more recently, musicians were likely to ignore or deny any medical problems they were experiencing, whether psychological or physiological, playing through pain until they could no longer continue. MTNA has taken a pioneering role in embracing the vital topic of musician wellness. Meeting the need for access to wellness information, MTNA has introduced a number of significant initiatives in this area. Over the past three decades, MTNA has utilized its educational conferences, publications and online wellness resources to disseminate this crucial information.

As injury rates increase in today’s highly frenetic and competitive world, studio music teachers have grasped the relevancy for educating themselves and their students on the various aspects of wellness. It is teachers who serve as their students’ first line of defense. In addition, it has become evident that a healthy, well-adjusted musician with an effortless technique will be more capable of achieving his or her maximal musical potential. As a result, the educational offerings in this field have continued to evolve, with professional music associations stepping up to meet the demand.

One of MTNA’s most valuable resources available to the public is its extensive online Wellness Bibliography. This is a searchable database of books, journals and websites annotated by Professor Linda Cockey, Salisbury University, assisted by Kathryn Kalmanson, Head of Research Services, Blackwell Library, Salisbury University. The American Music Teacher, MTNA’s professional journal, first published the Wellness Bibliography in its Dec/Jan edition 1997/1998 and continued to offer it annually in print and on the MTNA website. In 2008, the Bibliography ceased to be published in the AMT, residing solely on the MTNA website: http://www.mtna.org

Ten Essential Skills for Promoting a Lifelong Love of Music and Music Making, a result of a 2003 MTNA Board directive, resulted in four in depth, wellness-related articles that are available on the MTNA website. Although inclusive of a more diverse range of important learning objectives, a number of the skills, and the ensuing articles, relate specifically to wellness issues. Those articles are:

  • Ten Essential Skills Part 2: “Developing the Fundamental Skill: Healthful, Injury-Preventive Technique” By Barbara Lister Sink.
  • Ten Essential Skills Part 3: “Risks and Rewards” By William Westney.
  • Ten Essential Skills Part 4: “Working for a More Musical Tomorrow” by Scott McBride Smith and Gail Berenson.

Psychological issues, particularly overwhelming performance anxiety, can be devastating to a musician of any age and is frequently the primary reason a student stops studying. It becomes the responsibility of the studio teacher to come up with appropriate strategies to help nurture their students’ self-confidence. A wide range of books targeting the subject of performance stress is available to provide guidelines for integrating topics such as relaxation, positive self-talk, desensitization, imagery, and common sense performance practices into lessons. Teachers do need to recognize when the students’ psychological needs exceed their training expertise and a referral to a medical professional is necessary. The same is true when a student shows signs of a physical injury.

Finally, a number of independent studio teachers are seeking ways to address the needs of the non-traditional student. MTNA offers a strand of sessions at its national conferences on the teaching of RMM (Recreational Music Making). This instruction typically attracts adult beginners age forty and above and is process-oriented instruction, in contrast to product-oriented instruction. The focus is on having fun and the joy of making music. Taught in a group setting, students are encouraged to not worry about perfection but to enjoy gaining a skill they’ve always wanted to pursue. Many in these classes are pursuing an item on their “bucket list”. It is very much like the recreational, weekend athlete who pursues a sport strictly for their personal enjoyment, accompanied by the same psychological and physical benefits that this kind of joyous activity creates.

Wellness-focused sessions are appearing more and more frequently at MTNA local and state affiliate conferences, as well as at the annual national conference. In addition, MTNA has periodically held wellness symposia co-sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Association. This collaboration is indicative of the partnerships that MTNA is pursuing worldwide to advocate for musician wellness. Clearly the demand is there, and teachers around the world are choosing to enhance their knowledge to maintain their own and the health of their students.

Gail Berenson, MTNA Past President

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