New Horizons for Adult Music Learners

One exciting program that serves the needs of adult music learners is the New Horizons Music Program. In the late 1980s, Roy Ernst, professor at Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, started to think about developing a music program for retired adults. Traditional community bands mostly catered for people who already could read and play music. In some community ensembles, many of the players had music degrees, and auditions were sometimes required. Roy wanted a beginning-level entry point for adults, just like elementary schools have. In 1991 Roy conducted the first New Horizons band in Rochester, New York, and the program has flourished ever since. Now approximately ten thousand adults are involved in two hundred bands, orchestras, and choirs, in eight countries, under the New Horizons banner.

Three types of beginner usually join New Horizons: those who never have learned an instrument; those who did play but gave up in their school days, so they may not have played for forty-plus years; and those who currently play an instrument—usually a non-band instrument such as piano—but want to learn a new instrument. In June 2012 I accepted an invitation to see the program in person in Rochester and to visit two more hubs in Canada. I was astonished at the purpose, joy, goodwill, and strong relationships that so obviously resulted from this innovative music program. One band I witnessed was an eighty-piece concert band with an average age of seventy-five! It seemed as if age had no hold on these people. In our discussions these elderly musicians told me of their immense satisfaction from making music; they said that playing in the band increased their self-esteem and confidence and gave them a new sense of purpose. The benefit is not just the social aspect, but as Roy says, “Adults have a need for challenging intellectual activity.” Music can serve this need better than anything else.

The symbiotic benefits of this program reach far, both economically and socially. A New Horizons program is affiliated with a music school, thereby providing opportunities for young music students to tutor and to learn more about how to teach adults. In return New Horizons members attend tutor concerts and bring family members to join the audience. The host organisation that provides a venue and facilities is well served in return through opportunities that result from their goodwill. Concerts are shared with school groups, conveying a strong message about the lifelong value of making music. Music dealers are serving a vast new market, which as a group is prepared to spend money on quality instruments.[1] In the words of the 1970s British pop band Hot Chocolate, “Everyone’s a winner.”

[1] In the United States, the over-fifty population is larger than the K–12 population.

An excerpt from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin

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“Awesome! I want to recommend it to every teacher I know” – Michael Williamson, Australia

“I loved it. Extremely helpful and inspiring!” – Cheryl Livingstone, Australia

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“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

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Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents.  “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

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Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!”  – St George College, Australia

Available at

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‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 84 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”

“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”

“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”

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Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging.  Available at


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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One comment on “New Horizons for Adult Music Learners
  1. Dr. Prof. Edward Charles. says:

    Dear Prof. Ernst,
    I am MOST impressed with your “New Horizons for Adult Music Learners”!
    I would like to promote a similar venture (or ventures) in Australia – and would sincerely appreciate your highly valued advice please.
    – Mainly about publicity, scores, and perhaps instruments?

    I could enlist assistance from musician friends to take varying grades from raw beginners up.
    As a life member of Gold Coast City Brass Band Inc.and other groups,
    I am confident that I can also overcome venue and equipment problems, but the initiating process other than persuading local papers and perhaps radio stations to support, evades me.

    Previous enterprising attempts to enthuse interest in my existing choirs, bands, percussion groups etc. Including Combined Churches Choir, – and an Orchestra, and a Brass Band to circulate around local churches for special services and Civic Commemorative occasions etc.have proven fruitless.

    Your admired, successful experiences could assist and I would really welcome opinions, most certainly from you, Sir, and possibly the successful experience of others too?

    Edward Charles.
    Prof. in 35 related subjects related to presentation. Dr.of Music & Performance.

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