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Mind the Music - What We Do

While I teach most classes, the kids are becoming leaders of the program also.

We have snacks to create a welcoming atmosphere. In the first few months, I or another adult facilitator was needed to get the snacks and the room ready for the class. But after a little while, it is realistic to expect that all of the preparation and clean-up will be done by the kids. I appreciate this very much. 

I ask the kids to let me know what songs they want to hear. While I prohibit as few songs as possible, I get the clean versions of songs and reject songs that are antagonistic toward any group. They often like rap and hip-hop. I trust them to make use of any feelings that are triggered by the songs and to use mindfulness to work with those feelings. I also trust them to care.

When new members join the group, I explain that some of them are just going to come to eat pizza and listen to some songs, and that this is fine. I also explain that there will be others who will realize what this is really all about. There have always been a few kids in each class who really want to know what it is all about, and are willing to put in the time and work required to find out. The more they get involved, the more they want to get involved.

The times when participants have been able to calm down and really listen to the music have been those when we can show them that we want them to listen to the music for the same reasons they listen to music anyway. The most obvious reason is Sound, which is to say that they like the way the music sounds. Another reason is Relaxation, meaning that they like the fact that music helps them relax. The reason they report most is Feel, the power of music in giving us deep emotional experience. This third is generally the most intense for them. They also use music to think about their lives and what they want to accomplish, so we use the music to learn how to set positive and realistic goals. This is a new practice for most of them.

The most exciting experience for me has been observing the kids care about their understanding. I can give no external reward for "getting it right", accurately knowing whether the present experience is Sound, Feel, or Relax, or whether their goals are positive and realistic. There is no way for anyone to judge whether the kids are right. Yet the kids struggle to understand. It is inspiring to see them try to understand which of these terms describes their present experience. Moreover, the kids can learn to use the terms to improve their experience. When they don't like a song, I sometimes ask them to only listen to the sound, and not to how they feel about it. Often, they can enjoy the sound of the music even if they do not like the way the music makes them feel. Other times, if for example they are talking too much or fidgeting around or shoving each other, I ask them to focus on Sound to help them listen to me talk, or to focus on Relaxation to calm down. Their cultivation of these experiences while listening to music is easily replicated in other contexts.

We usually have time for four songs per hour. I talk for a while about the technique we will use and then put on a song. Concentration in young people is different from adults in that they are more available to sudden intense experiences but less available to periods of intentionally sustained focus. Usually I start with Focus on Relaxation to help them settle. I then try to finish with Focus on Goals, in which they use the music to support good feelings, images and self-talk regarding their vision for their future. They can apply this technique to exactly the situations that matter most to them. These situations include: success in sports events, being well-liked by other kids, improved family situations, and changing the course of human history.

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Soryu Forall,
Feb 20, 2010, 3:21 PM
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