Providing the right keys: Rhapsody Music Education takes a serious approach to music

Rhapsody has developed 450 musical lesson plans which are age-graded, multi-disciplinary, multi-modal and multi-genre.
Providing the right keys: Rhapsody Music Education takes a serious approach to music
Providing the right keys: Rhapsody Music Education takes a serious approach to music

“From file 001, it's now file 100,” exclaims renowned pianist and musician Anil Srinivasan as he digs out case studies and other supporting documents related to his music education company, Rhapsody.

While prominent Carnatic singers have taken music to the masses in various ways, Anil has followed a structured approach to music education from the beginning, as he believes in the true value and potential of art-based education. “We have taken a serious approach to music education and have treated it as a full-fledged subject, complete with academic support like lesson books, lesson plans and a lesson tracker. It’s certainly not about teaching a few popular songs and bhajans,” he explains.

The seeds of Rhapsody were first sown in 2011. With an MPhil in marketing from Columbia University, Anil put his educational training to good use in his new venture. “We all know that the current system of education only reaches so far. Part of my education at Columbia University itself was looking at how cognitive abilities could be enhanced by musical inputs. Research has shown that the cognitive capacity of the brain increases when exposed to music. When a line of medium complexity is spoken, about 300 neurons are being activated and when the same line is sung, 3 lakh neurons are being activated. So, Rhapsody was essentially putting all of this together.”

From the beginning, Anil and his team focused on creating a methodology that kept the child at the centre of the equation, as opposed to a particular musical form or institution. Rhapsody Music and the Mind has been designed by him in association with Dr Sudha Raja (choral music expert and music pedagogue). In fact, the company’s core philosophy has been to inculcate the spirit of enquiry and self-expression among children, using music as an educational tool.

2012 was the project’s pilot year, with the Rhapsody team working with students across different schools. The result was the development of 450 musical lesson plans. “It is age-graded, multi-modal (where the plans use a combination of songs and exercises, art and craft work), multi-disciplinary and multi-genre. “Essentially, there has been a three MMM approach to it from day one,” he says.

Apart from detailed lesson plans, a skill grid has also been developed using statistical tools such as factor analysis. The grid displays broad skills, including critical life skills. These include cognitive, emotive and connective skills, self-expression and creativity, and discipline and exercise in the 2-10 age group.

To impart musical education to underprivileged kids through Rhapsody Music Foundation, Anil and his team of 77 teachers have reached out 65,000 students from across 50 schools in south India. Overall, Rhapsody has reached out to 2.16 lakh students and 145 schools across the five southern states, with the remaining coming in from Rhapsody Music Education.

Anil adds that music can be a great equaliser. “The only difference is that in elite schools, children have the exposure and opportunity to learn things in multiple ways. In contrast, a child from an underprivileged background does not have any other opportunity. So, this student treats this (music) far more importantly and learns faster,” says Anil.

The Rhapsody team has observed training to be a great case study in gender equality too. Anil says that girl children tend to pick up lessons faster. “We have a girls choir from Sembangudi and Madurai. By giving public performances, many girls hailing from underprivileged backgrounds have become more confident. Music has been empowering for them.”

For music to be effective in aiding critical life skill development, Anil draws his inspiration from Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (it differentiates human intelligence into specific modalities rather than seeing intelligence as dominated by a single general ability) and advocates children to use music in multiple ways. “Some children find music as therapy, some find it aids cognitive development while some other children feel they are able to concentrate better when listening to music. In schools, the traditional model of imparting music lessons is to make everybody sing. There will be those two children who perform well. They will be chosen to perform on the School Day and the music teacher’s job is considered done. In the process, we are under-utilising music. It is as important an input as mathematics or science is. The key is to develop it as a discipline with the right rubrics and approach.”

Moreover, music lessons by Rhapsody trained teachers are not taught in isolation. “It is aligned to lesson plans. For instance, there are songs on compounds and mixtures and even on cube roots. In that sense, music helps a child understand his or her own creative expression.”

Anil is looking to increase the life skill abilities of children further through his dream project, the Rhapsody Global Project. It is basically an art-science intervention online. The blueprint is ready and Rhapsody Global will enable children to use resources online and collaborate with one another and start understanding the world much better.

“This is more of a dream plan that is going to take some time to fructify. We are just ideating now and we have people who are willing to back it,” he says.

(This article is part of One World - Dream A Dream Media Fellowships in Life Skills-2018)

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