Six reasons to start learning a musical instrument as an adult
Written by Martin Buzacott, from www.abc.net.au.
What’s the right age to start learning a musical instrument?
If your intention is to become a professional performer gracing the concert stages of the world, then the answer is the younger the better.
But let’s ask the question again for the rest of us, the overwhelming majority who won’t end up playing music professionally, but who adore music and would love just to be in the middle of it, playing for the sheer pleasure of it. What’s the right age for us to start learning an instrument?
The answer is simple. YOUR age.
Here’s Martin Buzacott’s guide to why you should be taking up a musical instrument right now, irrespective of your age, with a little extra wisdom from ABC Classic listeners.
1. It’s fun
First the bad news. You’re unlikely to make it to Carnegie Hall. Now the good news. This takes the pressure right off. So let’s be clear about why you’re taking up an instrument, you’re doing it because it’s actually fun and the most enjoyable challenge you could ever imagine.
- “I’m learning violin for the first time at age 59. My teacher has a great sense of humour and it’s so much fun. I’m loving the experience.” Lynn
- “I’m 78 and I’m learning piano again. My teacher is my 84-year-old sister! We’re both enjoying it very much!” Carmel
- “I played piano as a child but am now learning Gamelan! I’ve played in a group at two gigs and am. absolutely loving it.” Sue
- “I turned 80 in January and took up the clarinet 5 years ago. At the moment, I am playing at Grade 6 level and am working on Saint-Saens’ Sonata for clarinet and piano. I have a great teacher and lessons are good fun.” Neville
- “An early retiree at 57, I finally have time for two very longstanding New Year’s resolutions: learn piano and bagpipes. Progress is slow but very enjoyable.” Jane
2. It’s social
Let’s face it. Sometimes our later years can be lonely. But not if you’re learning an instrument. Meeting a teacher is only the start of your new social life. It’s when you get out and start playing with your fellow later-life students that you consign isolation to the dustbin of history.
- “Friends of mine and I started to learn violin and cello in our 60s and 70s. We love playing in ensemble, so we started an annual workshop last year. Now we can play together, have fun, and at the same time, our concert supports local schools music programs.” Kaye
- “Our orchestra has members who learnt their instruments after they retired. Our oldest member retired last year at 92 years of age – and he’s still playing in a string quartet!” Anonymous
3. It’s good for your brain
They say use it of lose it, and nothing exercises your grey matter like learning to coordinate your brain and body while playing music.
- “At 78, I’ve been learning African and Middle Eastern drums for over 10 years. It gives me rhythm, exercise for my hands and fingers, not to mention the fun. They’re not your classical instruments but boy, what a brain workout!” Wilma
- “I started piano lessons last year, just after my 70th birthday and it’s become a mixture of pleasure and frustration as I try to get my fingers and brain working again. That said, I’m loving it and spend time on the piano when I should be doing other things.” Alison
- “I started violin at 68. I still have zero musical instinct and sound awful, but it’s just too good for my hands and brain to stop!” Richard
- “I’ve always been passionate about music, but I was never taught. So when the nest emptied, I joined a local choir, and now, seven years on and in retirement, I have to say it’s the most wonderful thing – it stimulates the brain, lifts the heart, and definitely ‘makes life better.’” Jen
- “If you weren’t taught to read music as a child, then it’s harder as an older person but I struggle on with a U3A recorder orchestra because my GP says learning anything new is good for my brain.” Jane
4. It’s good for your fingers too
Ever heard someone say they had to give up music because of physical problems? Well sometimes it can work the other way around and you develop physical problems because you give up music. If you can work around the stiffness and the arthritis, you might just find that playing music is the best thing you can do to keep those fingers moving, or maybe even get them moving again.
- “I’m 78 and am learning to play classical guitar and ukulele after a long drought of no music-making. I’m having a real buzz at finding that my arthritic fingers still work.” Pam
- “I’m 75 now and took up cello two years ago. It’s a good instrument for aging hands.” Peter
- “Yeeha! I’ve taken up the violin! I’m 71 years old and my teacher is 14. I’m so happy, even though I’m physically challenged with my left shoulder. I was awarded Honours at my AMEB Preliminary Exam and that was huge encouragement. After decades absent, I’m returning to music.” – Anonymous
5. It’s a stress reliever
Ever noticed that the stress of modern life never seems to go away as we age? But when you’re playing music, you’re in the moment and the outside world has to wait its turn for your attention. Music drives away anxiety and delivers the “you” time that you’ve been waiting for, and earning, all your life.
- “I’m 62 and took up serious singing seven years ago. I’m now doing AMEB 7th Grade Voice and 5th Grade Musicianship. I’m considering enrolling in a Diploma at the Sydney Conservatorium in a couple of years time if I get in. Music is such a major part of my life, both as a hobby and stress reliever.” John
- “I’ve just taken up the viola after nine months away in the jungles of Borneo. I forgot how great learning music and practising my viola is for my mental health. It’s also so stimulating playing in a small ensemble!” Sam
6. It’s a journey of self-discovery
Fancy releasing your first album of original compositions in your 70s? Or realising in your 60s that you’ve actually got a lovely singing voice? Learning to play an instrument in later life isn’t just a musical journey. Even more than that, it’s a journey of self-discovery, revealing things about yourself that you might never have known previously.
- “I learnt piano for a few years as a child but gave it up. I only started playing again as an older adult. I have now turned 70 and for the past few years have been enthusiastically composing – over 200 pieces now – and am working towards releasing my first CD within the next year or two.” Harvey
- “In 2006, I took two of my grandkids to a free open-air performance by Taikoz with the idea of encouraging then to join one of Taikoz’s classes. Instead, I myself got well and truly hooked at the age of 65! I continued as a student of taiko until cancer weakened me so much I couldn’t use the bachi (drumsticks). It was the saddest day of my life but I still attend all their concerts.” Geoff
- “I wanted to learn the piano all my life and finally decided to take on the challenge after two near-death experiences when I was aged in my 60s. I was hopeless, but…through doing that I discovered I could sing! Not folky stuff, but Schubert and Brahms. It changed my life. I became a participant in music, not just a listener.” Steve
Martin Buzacott presents Mornings on ABC Classic (Monday to Friday, 10am–1pm.)