Make Your Own Kind of Music

In my baby boom generation, arts education was prevalent and almost everyone I knew learned to play an instrument in public school. So, when I attended middle school in Michigan, I took up the flute. I was not very diligent about practicing. But I did have a lot of fun playing in the school orchestra. And in my teens, I began to enjoy noodling around with friends in impromptu jam sessions. I even joined a rock band for a while.

My flute has been sitting in the closet for decades. But a few years ago, I remembered how much I used to love singing. Suddenly, I found a new creative outlet and began to sing with others and in duets with my piano-playing husband. I’m even thinking about dusting off my flute.

Thankfully, adults have many outlets in the Seattle area where we can learn and perform music as passionate amateurs—even if you’ve never plunked a piano or strummed a guitar but would love to try.

Here are some of the local programs that will help you get back to speed, pick up a musical skill for the first time, or just meet some new friends to jam with:

Music Center of the Northwest: This nonprofit community school, located near the Greenwood neighborhood in North Seattle, has been serving children and adults since 1989 with an array of private and group-learning opportunities. They range from ukelele classes to participatory jazz, Afro-Cuban to classical music ensembles. There is also a music therapy program and a course in studio recording techniques. Students of every skill level are welcome and financial aid is available for those in need. Learn more: or (206) 526-8443.

Jazz Night School: For jazz mavens this popular Columbia City hub, founded by Erik Hanson in 2008, can get you into the swing of things. Though private instruction is available, much of the learning here is done in groups—combos and big bands, aimed at beginning, intermediate, and advanced students. The offerings are pleasingly diverse. You can study how to play bossa nova guitar music from Brazil, jazz piano essentials, or audition for the mixed-level jazz big band (if you are a drummer or sax player). All the teachers are professional jazz players, and the school sometimes offers online courses. Learn more: or (206) 722-6061.

Dusty Strings: Folkies, this place is for you. With its inviting showroom packed with choice guitars, ukeleles, mandolins, harmonicas, banjos ,and other instruments for sale—and a small but select assortment of group classes available—this Fremont neighborhood store and school is an old standby for Western Washington folk, bluegrass, and blues musicians. It also offers repair services for stringed instruments. Learn more: or (206) 634-1662.

Centrum Music Workshops: Ready to take the plunge into a camp that’s all about music? Centrum, the arts center located in a picturesque former military base in Port Townsend, offers multi-day resident workshops that musicians from around the state and country flock to each year. Different weeks are devoted to fiddle tunes, jazz, blues, vocal, and chamber music, with students of varying abilities getting a full musical immersion in convivial classes with nationally known musicians and impromptu open mic and jam sessions. Housing and meals at Centrum are available for a recommended, but not required, fee. As a veteran of several Centrum music workshops, I highly recommend them. Learn more: or (360) 385-3102.

Puget Sound Guitar Workshop: Each year this long-running organization offers several adult musical gatherings. Set in a lovely, wooded camp setting near Bremerton, these are very informal and friendly, multi-day affairs that include a variety of guitar classes but also songwriting, voice, ukelele and, most recently Cuban salsa dance lessons, and Irish and Ukrainian music workshops. Participants are housed in semi-rustic cabins, the food is healthy and delicious, and scholarships are available. There’s even a swimming hole for those looking for the full camp experience. I’ve attended a PSGW camp and heartily enjoyed myself. Learn more:

For other places for adults to take classes, check out Sound Music School in Seattle, Federal Way School of Music, 4/4 School of Music (locations throughout King and Snohomish counties); and Bellevue School of Music.

Misha Berson writes about the arts for and many other media outlets, teaches for the UW Osher program, and is the author of four books, including Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination (Applause/Hal Leonard).

More on Making Music on 3rd Act:

Making Music for the Soul at Centrum—Centrum is a nonprofit arts center located in a converted military base in Port Townsend, Wash. Centrum hosts many programs for writers and other arts practitioners throughout the year. But what beckoned to me was their participatory summer music programs. They were like summer camps for teens and adults, but promised a full immersion into music for several days or a week, with instruction from seasoned professional musicians and instructors.

Express More of You Creatively? Yes, You Can!—”everyone can sing once they find their natural “naked” voice. I learned to stop judging every note and instead learned to witness my voice. “

Sounds of Healing—The benefits of singing include improved breathing and better use of respiratory muscles—and it has been helpful to people with conditions ranging from asthma to cancer.

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