Keyboard classes encourage students to play, not practice

Many people wish they could play a musical instrument. For most of them, it never moves off the wish list.

But if they saw the mental and physical health benefits of playing, and if they knew they could take a group class for which they never actually practiced but only played, they might make music of their own after all.

Michael Houston teaches "Goofin' Around" keyboard classes for adults at Garten's Music at 4235 W. Central. The students take classes together, along with occasional one-on-one sessions, and use "lead sheet" music featuring single notes for the melody and chord symbols for the harmony rather than more complex traditional sheet music.

Daniel Wilson drove 90 miles one recent Thursday evening under the threat of sleet to attend an informational meeting about the classes.

"I want to play in a bar. I just think it'd be great to play rhythm guitar on keyboard," said Wilson, who lives in Medford, Okla. He took piano as a child and hated it, and a recent go at traditional lessons did not go well. Wilson thinks the "Goofin' Around" method with lead music looks like the way to go. But driving 90 miles to do it on a weeknight?

"It's on my bucket list," he said.

Contrary to childhood lessons, at these classes you don't have to practice, you don't have to learn songs you don't want to learn, and you answer to yourself, not to the teacher, Houston said.

"This is to de-stress. We encourage you to play, not to practice. Playing is fun," he said.

So how much should you play?

"The more you play, the more quickly you'll sound the way you want to," Houston said. "We're just goofin' around."

Christine Smith of Wichita was also at the informational meeting. Her children played in band in school, but she never took music lessons. No musical experience is necessary for "Goofin' Around," and the store loans portable keyboards for free to students who don't have one at home.

Each session is 10 weeks long, meeting once a week, at a cost of $140. The next beginner session starts Thursday. Once you've gone through the first session, called Book 1, you can advance to Book 2, 3 and 4 — as far as the classes go right now. The classes are offered on Saturdays and weeknights.

The "Goofin' Around" class is an offshoot of a larger program called "Goofin' Around Silver." It's been offered at Garten's for 12 years during the day for senior citizens.

"Literally hundreds of seniors now play because they learned at our store," Houston said. "Some of our students are now skilled enough that they supply music for community events like the Goodwill Festival of Trees and the Senior Expo."

The seniors buy new or used Lowrey organs after their first 10-week session to make their lessons more consistent and easier, said Houston's wife, Cindy, who teaches the silver classes.

One student, Ferl Hawthorne, said she wears headphones when she plays so she doesn't disturb the neighbors in an upstairs apartment.

"I like to play before I go to bed. I sleep real nice, with nice music in my head," Hawthorne said.

And on the other side of the emotional spectrum, "if I'm feeling down or depressed and I sit down and play some upbeat music, it makes me feel better," said student Serita Theis.

Music is a happiness that spreads.

"It's something so many people want to do that they're always so happy you're doing it even if they can't," student Mary Piotrowski said.