by Kathy Kucsan, Ph.D. | Co-Founder and Education Director
Over the past year, this blog has discussed the benefits of music instruction and participation for children, from early childhood through adolescence. But music doesn’t have to stop when you pack up your trumpet after the last high school band concert, or if you stopped taking piano lessons in 9th grade.
As the product of a school system that had a very strong instrumental music program (and ethic), it never occurred to me that there was a time in life to stop making music. Our town was full of community bands, alumni bands, community choruses, amateur polka bands and a college-town orchestra.
My old classmates still sing and play in their communities around the country, seemingly at a higher percentage than the population at large. I thought this was normal until we started the Center for Musical Arts and I heard story after story of adults giving up on their musical dreams.
It is never, ever too late to start making music. There are many ways of being musical, for a lifetime!
Currently, about 25% of our students are adults, from 20 to over 80 years of age. By taking lessons or making music in an ensemble, they benefit from music-making in these ways:
1. Ongoing Music Learning
Ongoing music learning contributes to brain health (and growth). Studying music literally contributes to an increase in gray matter. Music in particular supports increased spatial reasoning, literacy skills, and verbal memory
2. Stress Relief
I spoke recently to a Broadway Boomers participant who was suffering from stress related health issues. She told me that the weekly rehearsals were an “oasis of sanity” in her pressure-filled job.
Music affects our physiology in many ways, and actively making music can affect cortisol levels (shown in a 2013 National Institutes of Health study). I’ve long urged people to use music during surgical procedures. A Yale School of Medicine study showed that people who listened to music before and during surgery (we might be “out,” but our ears are still processing sound) healed faster and needed fewer pain medications.
3. Overall Health and Well–Being
We all know that music influences our emotions and affects our moods. You might have a go-to playlist if you’re feeling down, or want to re-live an old memory. If we feel our feelings, we’re generally healthier.
4. Sense of Accomplishment
There’s a pervading assumption that we have to “be good” at something in order to even do it. American Idol and The Voice celebrate the best contestants, but we can measure success with different metrics. If you start playing the piano at age 52 and master a particular song you’ve always dreamed of playing, that’s a major accomplishment!
5. Sense of Community
There’s nothing quite like singing in a community chorus or playing jazz with a group of your post-high-school peers. Music connects us, builds bridges, creates bonds, and fosters respect and appreciation.
6. Increased Creativity
Making music leads us to our own innate creativity by supporting increased cognition and thinking outside the box.
7. Supports Memory Health
Music supports increased or improved memory at any age. This especially makes a difference for those of us over 55. Music stimulates brain function and helps to keep our neural pathways active.
It goes without saying that music is a bringer of joy. What better reason to listen, play, learn, and appreciate it?
The prevailing societal wisdom seems to be that we can’t learn to play an instrument (or speak a language or learn to paint) if we’re beyond elementary school age. That’s simply not true; we have the capacity to learn at any age. It might take a little longer to acquire skill, but that’s all. It’s worth investing the time it takes to make the music you’ve always wanted to. Cross “play a Mozart sonata” off your bucket list and do it!
- One of my favorite articles: Scientific America | Music and the brain
- Baltimore Sun | You’re never too old, busy or rusty to make music
- Washington Post | More older adults learn it’s never too late to pick up a musical instrument
- NPR | Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument
Now go out there and make some music!
Co-Founder and Education Director