Did you know that playing a musical instrument raises your IQ by 7 points?
Not that I knew that when I began piano playing at 43, but it’s nice to know my neural networks are expanding as I learn new pieces.
Learning an instrument as an adult has been one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done. I’ve learned to read music and to play simple blues and jazz and I’ve even sat exams. I’m about to begin work on pieces for a Grade 3 piano exam and I intend to work my way up to Grade 8.
In the beginning, it all seemed too hard. My fingers fumbled with scales and simple tunes took weeks of practice. However, the physical stumblings were nothing compared to my self-imposed mental demands. I wanted to play like Elton John – right away. I also struggled with tone and rhythm and my sight reading is still slow. I persevered, though, and I’m glad I did.
Anyone can learn
Learning an instrument is not the exclusive preserve of humans under the age of 10. Anyone can learn and, if you do, your labours will:
- Change the shape and power of your brain
- Improve your memory, motor skills and auditory processing ability
- Refine your people skills. This is because musicians become attuned to the rhythm and tone of music to the extent that they can transfer this skill to the human domain. They are more empathic.
- Increase your ear sensitivity
- Improve your patience
- Encourage self-discipline
- Satisfy your brain’s love of challenge and novelty
With all this going for it, it’s a wonder more adults aren’t out there on their fiddles and banjos.
The three impediments
In my experience, adults avoid picking up an instrument because they discern three main impediments:
- No talent
- No time
- It’s too late/I’ll be dead before I’m any good
Each of these barriers is easily removed.
Learning an instrument does not require talent. It requires patience, discipline and persistence. You may never play in a band or be a concert pianist but you will be thrilled to pump out simple tunes and to decipher musical notation. Creating your own music is wonderfully satisfying.
Lack of time is a flimsy excuse. When anyone tells me they have no time to learn, I think what they really mean is they have other priorities. Unless you’re in a coma or have recently had twins, you should have little trouble incorporating music practice into your routine. All you need is 5 minutes a day (preferably 30 minutes if you want to advance at a reasonable pace). I divide my practice sessions into 5 or 10 minute intervals, three or four times a day. It all adds up. Consistency is the key.
It is never too late. I’ve spoken to dozens of adults of varying ages and here’s how the conversation usually goes:
Them: I wish I’d learned an instrument when I was young.
Me: How old are you now?
Them: I’m 47 (or whatever age they give me) and I’m too old to learn anything. It could take me 10 years to get any good.
Me: So, if you started now, in 10 years you’d be 57 and a musician with a decade of experience.
Them: I guess so.
Me: So, go ahead and learn something. You’ll be 57 anyway.
The Top Six
Now that you’re all excited, here are my Top Six, adult-friendly instruments:
Guitar: A venerable, portable instrument that’s easy on the ear and relatively easy to play. It is as happy in good company as it is with the hermit.
Ukelele: A joyful instrument. Guaranteed to lift the spirits of the most torpid audience.
African Drum: A mesmerising, rhythmic delight
Piano: Challenging and melodious. A complete instrument and great for that underrated tradition of family sing-alongs.
Recorder: Simple, light and portable. Its humble tone adds atmosphere to any gathering.
Chord Zither: Easy to play, very portable and sounds like a harp
Now, back to my piano practise.
I may be 80 by the time I complete the Grade 8 piano exam, but I’ll be 80 anyway.