Learning Music as an Adult
Can I learn to play a musical instrument as an adult? The short answer is yes. If you missed out on music lessons as a child, it is not too late to pick it up as an adult. This article explores the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument in adulthood.
'Playing music is the brain's equivalent to a full body workout'
You may have come across a video published by TEDEd a couple of years ago, entitled ‘How playing an instrument benefits your brain’. Those of you who had not watched this video, have probably just clicked on the link and are listening to the narrator explain how ‘playing music is the brain’s equivalent to a full body workout’ and how ‘musicians often have higher level of executive function’. And now, feeling rather left out, you are wondering how you can make up for lost time. Don’t fret, it is never too late.
The head start
To begin with, you will be pleased to know that you, the adult music beginner, have a hefty head start compared to the six-year-old who has just decided she wants to play the piano. ‘But I have never touched a piano in my life’, I hear you exclaim. Nonetheless, you have several advantages simply because you have been around for longer.
First, you have been exposed to music for a rather long time (let’s face it, you weren’t born yesterday!). Second, you are mature enough to have the discipline to actually practice, which is not what most of my music teacher colleagues have to say about their little students. The fact that you are paying out of your own pocket for music lessons might be a contributing factor to this, but one way or another, the motivation is there. Third, adults are more analytical, so you will be able to comprehend music theory and put it into practice with greater ease than your six-year-old self.
'Playing an instrument puts to work several different areas of the brain in a way that very few other activities can'
Now let’s look at the benefits of playing music. What will it bring to you? Remember ‘the brain’s equivalent to a full body work out’ I mentioned earlier? That’s exactly what it is. Playing an instrument puts to work several different areas of the brain, in both its right and left hemispheres, in a way that very few other activities can. If your aim is to keep your mind sharp for years to come, then music is the right answer, as it can have such a profound and lasting impact on the brain that it can arm you with a defence against memory loss and general cognitive decline.
A study examining the impact of individual piano lessons on adults aged 60-85 showed that, within six months, those who were receiving piano lessons displayed considerable gains in memory, verbal fluency, speed of information processing and planning ability. For more information on this study, see here.
'Music acts as a distraction to our daily worries and responsibilities, while helping us explore our emotions'
And then there is that added benefit of stress relief. Music, with its unique link to emotions, can have a soothing effect on us. In a world that is becoming increasingly fast-paced, taking the time to enjoy making music can be a very gratifying and relaxing experience.
Music acts as a distraction to our daily worries and responsibilities, while helping us explore our emotions. Discussing what types of music you enjoy most, and mentioning some of your favourite pieces to your teacher will enhance your enjoyment and enthusiasm for the instrument. As your music education progresses, you will be able to join other musicians to play together in various ensembles.
Apart from meeting new people with similar interests to you, you will also realise that music-making in a group that includes more than one member – yourself – can be great fun. It will boost your confidence as a musician and will give you one more reason to look forward to practice. For a comprehensive list of amateur orchestras in the UK, see here.
Some additional reading
If I haven’t managed to convince you so far, you might like to read psychologist Gary Marcus's account on learning to play the guitar at 40, here.
If you already know which instrument you would like to learn, then it is time for you to find a good teacher who can serve as your guide during your musical journey. (For tips on picking the right teacher for you, have a read of one of our previous articles, here. Although intended for parents looking for a music teacher for their child, you will find some useful information on the process.)
If you are not quite sure which instrument is right for you, then attending concerts can help you make the right decision. For Cardiff locals, the free professional recitals at International Music School Cardiff provide you with a taste of several different instruments, including the clarinet, harp, flute, cello, classical and electric guitar, violin, trumpet and piano. For more information, see here.
And if you are still undecided, stay tuned, as our next article will be revealing some secrets to help you make your choice.