The Joys of Making Music Recreationally: The Benefits of Adult Music Study

By Jutras, Pete | American Music Teacher, October-November 2009 | Go to article overview

The Joys of Making Music Recreationally: The Benefits of Adult Music Study


Jutras, Pete, American Music Teacher


Adult students are an increasingly important part of the musical landscape, and they currently represent the fastest-growing population of music students. Unlike most traditional adult education endeavors, adults taking music instruction usually are not seeking financial gain or career improvement. They are, however, often choosing to spend a great amount of time, money and energy in a pursuit that can be humbling at times. Why are they interested in taking music lessons, and what exactly do they report to be getting out of their music study?

These questions have led me to conduct research with adult music students, and some of the findings of that research formed the basis of my presentation at MTNA's 2009 Pedagogy Saturday. In my own experience with adult students over the years, I have witnessed a tremendous variety of motivations, goals, dreams and stories. I strongly believe that if we can gain a better understanding of what adults are seeking from their music study, we can offer them instruction that better meets their needs.

To this end, I have conducted two sizeable studies with different populations. In 2003, I had 711 adult piano students from across the United States complete surveys on the Benefits of Adult Piano Study. (1) In 2008, 1,283 adults who were playing in New Horizons Bands completed a similar survey. (2) In both cases, I measured personal, social and skill benefits of their musical experience. In the 2008 New Horizons study I also added, based on recent literature, a smaller category of health benefits.

On each questionnaire, there were numerous benefit items listed. For each benefit item, respondents were asked if they agreed that the benefit existed at all (for them personally). If they answered "yes" to this question, they also were asked to rate the importance of that benefit on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a most important benefit. This provided two points of data for each item--the percentage of agreement that a benefit existed and the mean importance of that benefit to those who agreed it existed.

For both populations (pianists and New Horizons members), skill benefits such as technique, skill improvement/refinement, and music reading had some of the highest percentages of agreements, indicating that students agreed that musical study improved their skills. Of note to teachers, however, is that when students rated the importance of benefits, personal benefits such as dream fulfilled, accomplishment, play/fun and escape from routine were among the most important benefits. While the students valued skill benefits, personal benefits had very strong meaning and importance.

The adult piano students rated social benefits considerably lower than all the other benefits. …

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