Now You Can Learn an Instrument and Improve Your Health, Too

Remember that instrument you used to play in middle school or high school? Try to pick up your old instrument and performing in a community ensemble–by doing so, you will exercise your brain and improve your health! Or if you’ve never played, take some lessons. You’re never too old to learn an instrument and you could gain some significant health benefits.

I read an article recently about a Duke University program that encourages older adults to pick up instruments they used to play or to learn a new instrument. They are part of the New Horizons movement that stared at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, in the early 1990s.

The article quoted a researcher that spoke of the “brain training” benefits of music performance, helping people use their brains, hands, and ears at the same time. Members of the band, though, just focused on rehearsing the music. My favorite line from the article was the last one: “It’s early days, but we have not tapped music as much as we should and as much as we are about to do” (Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, in Seniors Get Back to the Beat, by Thomas Goldsmith).

Not only do you get the benefit of brain exercise from performing in a band or orchestra, but you also get the benefit of social interaction, a sense of accomplishment, and the joy of making music.

I work with a group of adults who have various developmental disabilities. Their ages range from 22 to 45 and their diagnoses include cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and other disabilities. Their caregivers asked for a group where they could participate in music-making. So I asked the group what they wanted to do and they chose performing. We get together about 20 times per year and they plan where, when, and what to perform. By planning and performing, they work on social skills, decision-making, communication, turn-taking, planning, and attention. They also learn music theory, history, and performance techniques.

So I encourage all of you to pick up an instrument, whether it’s one you used to play or one you’re just learning to play, and find ways to perform. Join a community choir or band, jam with some friends, or just play for yourself.

If you’re interested in learning more about my groups or how to find ones like them in your area, contact me.