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The Value Of Musical Education For The Paralytic Child

Creator: Lucy Stanley McArthur (author)
Date: April 1932
Publication: The Polio Chronicle
Source: Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation Archives

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What is your experience with musical education for "Polios?" Lucy Stanley McArthur, of Dublin, Ga., pianist, teacher and concert artist, certainly is convinced that it has special merit. The editor of THE POLIO CHRONICLE would like to hear from doctors, physiotherapists, teachers and parents on this subject.


THERE is no branch of education more important for the child who has had Poliomyelitis than music. Especially is this true of piano music, for in learning to play the piano the child develops a thorough knowledge of his subject, and the keyboard furnishes a means for technical development which could not be obtained in any other way. If the child should later decide to specialize in voice or some other instrument, he has the foundation laid through his study of the piano.


If the child has weakened hands and arms (which is generally the case) from the disease which has attacked him previously, but which has passed beyond the most acute pathological stage, there is nothing which will develop coordination of the muscular movements so surely as a study of piano technique. The writer speaks from experience in dealing with children who have had this disease. She has trained children whose parents had almost given up hope of their ever accomplishing anything with their hands. And what was the result? A gradual building of the muscles through rhythmic movements, and coordination of these movements with the cerebellum. That is, the power to do a thing with his fingers the very moment his brain thinks it.


To begin with, the child may not have sufficient strength to enable him to hold his hands in proper playing position, or even to press down the keys of the piano. Very few even normal children have the strength to maintain a proper hand position at the piano. In the case of the paralytic, even the tips of the fingers may not be highly sensitized. In this case, and I will go further and say that this is generally the case, what do we do first? Why, we simply have the child to lay the hands (one at a time) on a table about the height of the keyboard of the piano, palm downward. The fingers must be separated about the width of a lead pencil. Then, to counts, 1, 2, 3, 4, we press the child's fingers down promptly at count 1, and release promptly at count 3, accenting particularly these counts. This constitutes the first exercise, and is continued several days, or longer, as the case may be.


In the second exercise, the hand is spread flat on the table, and the teacher presses each of the child's fingers at count 1, and lifts them at count 3, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, as before. This exercise is continued until the child can lift each finger independently, to count, without any assistance whatever.


In the third exercise the child presses on all the fingers (one hand at a time, palm downward as before) at count 1, and raises the entire hand from the wrist at count 3. This movement is repeated over and over.


In exercise four, the wrist is controlled and held firmly while the fingers are pressed down on count 1, and the hand and forearm are lifted on count 3, with the action in the elbow. This action also brings into play some of the muscles of the upper arm, and the child should be encouraged to do these movements with as much force as he can. If the exercise be accompanied by some bright, joyous music, it will not tire the child as quickly as when his attention is fixed only on the accuracy of the movements. Encourage the child to think that his (or her) fingers and arms are dancing to the music, but insist that the movements be done promptly, without the slightest dragging, with the counts.


By the time we are ready for exercise five, the technical apparatus of the child is very much improved, and the muscles are much stronger than when we began.


In exercise five the hand is laid flat on the table, as before, on count 1. During the other three counts, the hand is brought into playing position by a slight turning of the wrist, and a gradual lifting of the hand from the little finger side. When the hand is in playing position, the thumb will lie flat on the table with the forearm. The thumb will be stretched outward from the hand, and the last joint curved toward the hand. The knuckles of the hand will be arched. The little finger will be straight as it is shorter than the other fingers. The other fingers will be curved so the last joint will hang straight downward. The wrist must touch the table on the thumb side, but it is lifted slightly on the little finger side. This turning of the wrist toward the thumb side causes the hand to be slightly higher on the little finger side. Hence the straight little finger. The fingers should be separated about the width of a lead pencil as before. Repeat the exercise over and over, pressing the hand downward on count 1, and bringing it back into playing position during the other three counts.


During all this time the notes are studied, together with their time values, and now that the child can actually hold his hands in playing position, although he may not be able to maintain that position for long at a time, the real fun begins! In a short time his fingers will begin to move like fairies over the keyboard, and they will actually produce real fairy music. He (or she) will begin to improve in everything that he tries to do with his hands, and if the teacher will encourage him to also do special rhythmical exercises with his feet, she (or he) will be a wise teacher indeed.

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