The Sweet Sound of Music and STEM at the Library

Making Music at the Ramona Library

There's that pesky stereotype about the library: it's a quiet, noise-free place and any music, noise, or exuberance will be met with a harsh-faced librarian saying "SHHHHHH." We know this isn't true, however, and sometimes learning needs to be a little noisy. And in the case of the Ramona Community Library and the Borrego Springs Library in San Diego County, sometimes learning means making music. 

The Connection Between Learning and Music

Music is actually a pretty normal thing in the library for babies and toddlers. A lot of story-time programs include a few songs at the beginning or the end of the story. There are also dedicated music-making programs for the younger set as well.

Music can teach early learners how to rhyme, new vocabulary words, and numeracy, and improve basic communication skills. A study from the Music-Science Lab at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev shows that young children who played hand-clapping song games are more social, write better, and have better cognitive abilities.

Both the Ramona and Borrego Springs libraries go beyond traditional early childhood programming. The library also offers music programs for older demographics: tweens, teens and sometimes even adults. At the California Library Association's conference, Michael Voss discussed how teaching teens to play music has increased self-esteem and confidence, teaches math, and improves teamwork skills.   

What Teen Music Shop Entails

The program began when Voss was a supervisor/assistant manager at the Ramona Community Library.  The library had just opened in February 2011 and had a 2,000 square foot community room with a stage. The Friends of the Ramona Library donated $1,200 for an electric keyboard, drum kit, guitars, amps and accessories.  Michael now teaches an acoustic version in Borrego Springs where he is the branch manager. When the new Borrego Springs Library opens in December 2017, Michael plans to work with the Friends of the Library to do a similar program to Ramona’s.

Kids jamming

Voss shared how the Music Shop engages kids, teens, and adults from the community to make music — whether they can play an instrument or not! The Music Shop offers guitars, bass guitars, keyboards, drums, and microphones for vocals. Participants are also encouraged to bring instruments if they have them. Some of the events at Ramona are bilingual as well, with songs in both English and Spanish. Voss said that he’d like to start some bilingual programs at Borrego Springs as well because the community has a significant Hispanic population.

One of the activities of Teen Music Shop involves discussing the lyrics to popular songs and then asking teens to write their own lyrics with rhyme, meter, and alliteration. Voss also encourages the participants to try and play their favorite songs.

He uses a variety of websites and mobile apps to support the music-making part, such as Chordie for looking up guitar tabs, lyrics, and chords, and PitchLab LITE for instrument tuning. Voss said he also tries to incorporate some supplemental reading with books on how to play instruments and musician biographies.

How the Library Makes Music Happen

Voss accumulated the instruments for Music Shop from a variety of sources: loaners or donations from staff and patrons, rent-to-own instruments from local music shops, and instruments bought through Friends of the Library fundraisers.

Kids rocking out at the Ramona Library

In terms of volunteers for the program, Voss has enlisted a team of music teachers from local schools as well as private instructors. He's also found a few secret rock stars among his library staff to help out.

Voss advised promoting a music program to high schools (particularly to bands and choirs), to local media, and with community music shops. One outlet he has had great success with is local churches. Many churches have bands, choirs, or musical programs and are great sources for both program participants and staff. He's also found that a few homeschooled kids are regulars at Teen Music Shop.

How Music Supports STEAM

As someone who was terrible at algebra, but excelled in piano, it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that playing and reading music requires some mathematical skill. But music is math —just think about its half notes, quarter notes, time signatures, and chords.

Arvind Gupta, a mathematician and researcher, wrote in The Vancouver Sun that the attention and discipline it takes to practice an instrument are excellent preparation for solving math problems. He also notes that there have been studies that show a direct correlation between playing musical instruments and solving complex arithmetical operations.

While this is a great benefit, playing music is also fun. And playing in a band — whether it be in a garage, at school, or at the library — builds lifelong friendships. Supporting STEAM while having fun at the library? A total win-win.