Ep. 71: Give the gift of music: Research-based ways to GIFT music (the gift that keeps on giving)

Photo by Pixabay

December 1, 2020

Giving gifts has been a part of cultures and celebrations throughout history, and, fortunately for us, a lot of research has been done on what makes a meaningful gift – meaningful for both the recipient AND the giver. We take a look at research-backed factors that contribute to meaningful gifts, and specific ways to gift music to others, because music is THE gift that keeps on giving!

Mindy Peterson; Photo by Shannon Van Dyke


Today’s episode will follow a different format than usual –instead of interviewing a guest, I’m going to share some of the scientifically backed factors that contribute to meaningful gifts – whether we’re talking about Christmas gifts, Mother’s Day & Father’s Day gifts, birthdays, etc. I’m also going to give some specific ideas that will make it really easy for you – or just get the wheels turning for you to come up with your own meaningful gifts. And of course, our focus will be on gifting music to others, because music is THE gift that keeps on giving!


  • Research supports giving experiences rather than objects. This is especially true for those people in your life who are minimalists or have been Marie-Kondo-ing their home and getting rid of everything that doesn’t “spark joy!” Research shows that people who receive experiential gifts feel more connected to the gift giver than people who received material items. It’s very interesting that the giver and the recipient don’t have to share the experiential gifts in order to get this connectivity effect.
  • Examples of experiential gifts:
    • Gifting music lessons: As you may have guessed, the gifting of music lessons is an incredible way to gift music to someone of ANY age; and studies show unequivocally that actually MAKING music is what imparts the most significant benefits of music. And in these days of COVID, music lessons are more accessible than ever, with online lessons available with qualified instructors on any instrument.
      • If you need a place to start, I have a lot of respect for MacPhail Center for Music. They were a pioneer in offering online lessons well before the pandemic motivated the rest of us teachers to switch to online teaching. MacPhail offers private and group lessons for all ages and most instruments; these are available online, so you can take advantage of them during quarantine and no matter where you are in the world. Here are a few of their popular lesson packages:
        • Sing, Play, Learn! with MacPhail® Early Childhood Music Classes; $130 for virtual 8-week spring session; Live online early childhood music classes for ages 6 weeks-8 years, that encourage creativity and promote musical concepts. All you need is access to the internet, email, family participation and eagerness to have fun! Receive a Jam Kit with your registration while supplies last.
        • MacPhail Live Online JumpStart; $128; Give the gift of MacPhail’s award-winning Live Online music education! New students can experience four 30-minute lessons at 25% off to accomplish learning an instrument as a New Year’s Resolution. ***Subject to instructor/instrument availability
        • MacPhail Music for Life™ Classes; Price varies by offering, range $60-255; MacPhail Music for Life™ classes and ensembles for adults 55+ are a great place to learn together and socialize with peers who have similar goals and musical experience. Examples of classes include: Music and Mindfulness. These classes are perfect for people sheltering in place during the pandemic. Taught by board-certified music therapists, these classes focus on elements of self-care, meditation, relaxation, deep-breathing and more. The Unwrapping Music courses are perfect for anyone interested in appreciating music and connecting with other music lovers virtually. There are lots more classes that require no previous musical experience.
      • Another great lesson option is hip hop beat making lessons with Today’s Future Sound. Dr. Elliot Gann is a child and adolescent psychologist who was a guest on Ep. 42. He explained how their lessons improve mental health and well-being, boost educational outcomes, and address social justice. Today’s Future Sound offers private and group lessons virtually; all students need is a laptop, internet connection, and headphones!
    • In addition to lessons, another experiential gift is Tickets to a concert or other musical performance (which, granted, is a challenge in the days of COVID; but hopefully people will be listening to this when COVID is no longer an issue; and even with COVID, many artists have gotten incredibly creative with selling tickets to live-streaming events with VIP packages available that allow you to meet and greet the artists before the show, take a picture with them, and other unique virtual experiences that you wouldn’t have with a live show. One of these artists is Laurie Berkner, who has been called “the queen of kids music” (and she saved my sanity when my kids were young!). She was a guest on Ep. 45; if you have littles in your life, check out her virtual holiday concerts; they’re great!
    • A final gift idea I want to mention that is experiential – and also material – is a brand new music-learning video game called Keys and Kingdoms. This game is basically Zelda-meets-Guitar Hero, and it was actually created with collaboration with the mastermind behind Guitar-Hero. It’s been named a Top 10 Gift Buy for the Holidays and is available at Best Buy (purchase 12/13/20-12/25/20 for a special promotion of an extra month free). This game’s development was influenced by the theory of Multiple Intelligences; if you have a student who seems to learn best with non-traditional methods, try this out! Here are links to learn more and download a free trial, and purchase
  • I’m turning to research again for the second category: Research backs the meaningfulness of practicality. A study found that gift givers tend to focus too much on the desirability of potential gifts and not enough on the usefulness of those gifts. But recipients actually preferred the more practical option.
    • One example of a practical gift – and this is also an experiential AND material gift – is a musical instrument. As I mentioned, studies overwhelmingly show that MAKING music is what imparts the most significant benefits of music, as opposed to simply listening to music. If you are thinking about buying an instrument in time for Christmas, AND you live in an area serviced by Schmitt Music (that’s mostly the midwest and CO), Schmitt does have its biggest instrument sale of the year going on. These people know musical instruments. They’re the people Lizzo went to when she had a concert in the Twin Cities and realized about an hour before her concert that her flute had been left behind at her last concert in Chicago! And if you’re interested in an instrument like an ukulele that you don’t need to physically try out, then check out Schmitt’s website regardless of where you live because they offer free shipping and have good quality ukuleles that are absolutely adorable for under $50. These are really fun, versatile instruments that are very popular with all ages; they can be a great starter guitar or your only instrument. While you’re on their website, Schmitt also has a great selection of music accessories like music stands, tuners, and lamps – all with free shipping. I especially recommend Schmitt’s own Lake City brand – they’ve cut out the middleman so you get great quality for a great price. Just search “Lake City” on their website.
    • Another practical gift is books. Some of my favorite music-related books are books that show the incredible ways music affects our lives, including brain development and anti-aging, academic outcomes, and health and well-being. I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with the authors of these books, so in addition to gifting these books, you can also include a link to the author’s episode as a little bonus gift feature! These books include:
      • How to Get Your Child to Practice… Without Resorting to Violence! by Cynthia Richards (Ep. 6); Kindle version also available
      • How Music Can Make You Better, by Dr. Indre Viskontas (Ep. 35)
      • The Music Advantage, by Dr. Anita Collins (Ep. 59)
      • Good Music, Brighter Children: Simple and Practical Ideas to Help Transform Your Child’s Life Through the Power of Music, with author Sharlene Habermeyer (Ep. 31)
      • This last book is by an author who also has a great classical music listening program. The course includes 78 tracks of music specifically selected to increase focus, improve memory, and relieve anxiety. I signed up for this course primarily for the playlist during quarantine – and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve used it and how often it’s preserved my sanity and my family relationships. When everyone is in the house and I’m trying to get some work done, I put the headphones on and get those tracks playing in the background. And it works like a charm! It blocks the outside noise, and allows me to really focus and concentrate. This listening program also includes an e-copy (from Amazon) of Sharlene’s book that I just mentioned; so if you’re at all interested in the book, check out the listening program, too.
    • A third idea that is just fun: I can’t really claim this belongs in the “practical” category. I confess I have not used it, but it looks like it would be a lot of fun with the right people in the car, and that is the Singing Machine Official Carpool Karaoke! And singing – especially with others – has SO many benefits, including boosting immunity, lung capacity and social bonding – why not increase the chances you’ll sing more, especially if you’re making any road trips?!
    • The final practical gift idea I have for the musicians in your life – or anyone with repetitive use muscle soreness, including athletes – is the Rolflex. It is a self massager. I love the Rolflex (I have the Rolflex Pro) and I use it every day! It can be used on pretty much any body part because of how it’s designed. Full disclosure, I am a Rolflex affiliate and will receive a commission – at no extra cost to you – if you choose to purchase through my link [link to come/awaiting from Rolflex*], directly from Rolflex. Now some of the Rolflex products are available on Amazon; I don’t receive the commission when you order on Amazon. The pricing is the same either way; shipping and returns are free either way and should take the same amount of time (1-3 days); and the Rolflex website does offer their full line of products, where Amazon does not. So, if you’re willing to support the show by ordering directly from Rolflex, I will be very much appreciative. The Rolflex is eligible for reimbursement from Flexible Spending Accounts and HSAs; it’s also eligible for medical insurance reimbursement under certain situations. More information is on the Rolflex website. [*Note: I still have not received affiliate link info from Rolflex; in the meantime, please let Rolflex know, when purchasing, that you were referred by Enhance Life with Music. Or you can purchase on Amazon. Thank you!]
  • A third category of gifting ideas to give the gift of music, is to donate in the recipient’s name: Charitable giving to others, or to charities on behalf of others, brings meaning and happiness to all parties involved. There are a couple interesting twists on this one: 1) A Harvard Business School study says: “Research suggests that happier people give more to charity, and that giving more makes people happier, creating a positive feedback loop.” 2) Another interesting research tidbit: Charitable giving boosts meaning and happiness the most when people give in a way that fosters social connection. Another perspective on this gift-giving concept is that you are using the power of your shopping dollar to “cast a vote for the kind of world you want.”
  • I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet some people and organizations through this podcast who are doing incredible work to enhance lives with music and make the world a better place. I’m going to mention four of them:
    • One is Urban Ventures, an organization that my husband and I have been fans and supporters of for many years. Urban Ventures empowers communities with urban poverty by providing support for youth and families through MANY ways, one of which is music & arts, with its Music Academy. Funding for the arts in schools is often first to be cut. You can sponsor music lessons for a child or teen at Urban Ventures – either in your own name or in honor of someone. A gift of $25 sponsors one music lesson. A gift of $400 sponsors an entire semester for that child or teen. You can make donations right on their website – to designate gifts for music, simply put “Enhance Life with Music” in the “Leave a comment” section of the Donation page. That’s also where you can include the name of the person you’re donating in honor of. Learn more in Ep. 3
    • Instruments in the Cloud‘s Caitlin Marlotte explained in Ep. 69 how you can adopt-an-instrument as a gift in someone’s name. For $50, a used but damaged instrument can be repaired by a partnering instrument repair technical school AND given to a student who can’t afford one. So, a$50 donation gets a ready-to-play musical instrument into the hands of a student who needs one, with the added benefit of giving a tech school student the skill of musical instrument repair.
    • Crescent Cove is one of only THREE children’s hospices in the US. Crescent Cove’s founder, Katie Lindenfelser, told some powerful stories in Ep. 34 of music’s ability to be a lifetime preserver of memories and a container for sacred moments. You can gift a music therapy session to a child staying at Crescent Cove for either hospice or respite care for $50 per session.
    • Today’s Future Sound‘s founder, Elliot Gann, is a licensed child and adolescent psychologist who uses hip hop beat making as a mental health intervention across the globe. Today’s Future Sound (mentioned above in music lessons) has worked with more than 75,000 youth on six continents in the past six years. You can make a tax-deductible donation to their work and donate in someone’s name.
  • OK, last category of gifting ideas is FREE gifts! I’m Dutch, frugal, and a big believer that you don’t need to spend money to have fun, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a meaningful, touching gift. So here are some meaningful gift ideas that are completely free:
    • I mentioned the Keys & Kingdoms music-learning video game earlier; it’s the Zelda-meets-Guitar Hero game. Keys & Kingdoms is currently giving music teachers (with a school email address) a free license for the game.  So if you know of a school music teacher, give them (and their students) the gift of access to this game by telling them about the promotional. And anyone can download a free trial version of the game, so that’s a great opportunity for anyone to check it and have some fun learning.
    • Another free way to give the gift of music is to let people know about incredible organizations that are there just for them, for free, if they are veterans or hospitalized kids, to name just a couple. CreatiVets’ (for veterans) and Melodic Caring Project (for hospitalized kids) are two of these amazing organizations that serve others with the power of music in ways that bring joy and healing and incredibly memorable experiences (free for recipients)! And these are organizations that can also fall into the “Donation” category of gifts, if you love the work they’re doing and want to support them in your own name or in honor of someone else.
    • A third gift idea that can be free AND is guaranteed to get you LOTS of brownie points with ANY recipient – whether it’s a sweetheart, parent, or friend – is giving an original song as a gift. Music is kind of like the olfactory sense – it has that same ability to capture whatever moment it is that we want to remember, whether it’s a milestone event or birthday, or a stage of life, or a significant year (like 2020). Capture this in a song, and OMG – talk about a gift that will not be forgotten! And whenever you play that song, or sing it, it will take you right back to that time that you celebrated 30 years of marriage, or the birth or adoption of a child, or a 50th birthday, or whatever the celebration was. Now, I am going to give you some options here – the completely free option is writing the lyrics and music yourself. If you do want some assistance, there is an organization called Songwriting U, where you can work with Nashville songwriters to help you in whatever way you need it – on the melody, on the lyrics, both; you can do one, they can do the other; you can tell them generally what you’re looking for and having them do the bulk of it. I’ll include info in the show notes. Another, less expensive option, would be to contact a music major college student and pay them to help you. I do have contact info in the show notes on a master’s student in music education here at the University of MN, because –again, I’m wanting to make this really easy for you! Daniel Felton came highly recommended to me as a talented songwriter and composer; as I mentioned, he’s a master’s student in music education; he’s working on an album of his own for release soon; and he teaches instrumental music at a high school here in the Twin Cities. He can work remotely with you wherever you are. You may contact Daniel at danieljfeltonmusic@gmail.com or on Instagram (@danieljamesfelton).
    • And the final free gift-of-music idea I’ll mention is the gift of a podcast! This is a certificate that you fill in with personalized information on which podcast you’re recommending for a loved one – whether it’s Enhance Life with Music or another podcast. You can then print it and wrap it up if you want; you can send it digitally to the recipient. This is quick, easy, completely free; and it gives the recipient a personalized recommendation to make their everyday activities more enjoyable, with the promise of you showing them how to listen to the podcast. This is a great idea for kids to give parents – including kids in college who have no money! To receive the customizable PDF certificate, simply send me an email with the subject line: “Podcast gift certificate.” I just want to point out that this gift option covers almost every one of The 5 Love Languages – If you’re not familiar with the love languages, do yourself a favor and check out the book by Gary Chapman (this book has been a A New York Times bestseller for over 10 years!).
  • Special Offer: If you are listening to this in December 2020, our guest on Ep. 20 has made us an awesome offer: Music for the Soul’s Steve Siler is offering Enhance Life with Music listeners 33% off anything in their online catalog. AND any purchase will automatically enter you into a drawing for a $75 gift voucher for anything in their online store. If you haven’t listened to my conversation with Steve, he has one of the most powerful stories I’ve heard about the research behind music’s power to connect in a way that words alone, without a melody, cannot. Music for the Soul‘s online store has inspiring and healing music, videos, and books related to all kinds of topics, including adoption, loss of a child and grief, addictions, anxiety, and more. The discount is good until Christmas Day, and the winner of the $75 gift voucher will be drawn the week after that. You can take advantage of that great offer at their online store with the code ELWM.

Connect/Other Resources


I get to wrap up this gift episode with a Coda! Sara Groves was recently a guest on this show, and I was really inspired by the ways she uses her platform to live out her faith and advance the common good through music. After our conversation, I was checking out some of her music on Spotify, and there was a song that made me laugh – and wish I would have heard it when my kids were little – it’s brilliant! It’s on her Christmas album, “O Holy Night,” but it is not necessarily Christmas-specific. It is called, “Toy Packaging.” Thank you to Sara for granting permission to include a portion of the song as our Coda.

Closing Words

And that is a bit of “Toy Packaging,” by Sara Groves. If that song makes you smile like it makes me smile, treat yourself to the full song or album.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Let me know what gift ideas you recommend to enhance lives with music. You can connect with me on social media, email, or my website. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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