Benefits of Music for Seniors

Many older people have played a musical instrument when they were younger, and stopped playing when family and work intervened. I often read on music instruction forums comments from older guys (most of them seem to be men) who have picked up the guitar after it sat in the closet for 40 years.

Yes, 40 years! That is not an exaggeration. I am an example. I played the guitar and trumpet in my teens and twenties, and didn’t actively pick them up again until I was in my 60s.

The incentive for me was the opportunity to teach some of my grandchildren a bit of what I knew. And that led to many opportunities to perform with them at family gatherings. And of course that has resulted in the joy that comes with watching the kids become talented musicians in their own right.

The point is, it is possible to dust off old talents if the circumstances are right. Reviving old talents and playing in a small, informal band with friends or family is one possibility.

A retirement community seems like the perfect place where a group of people might get together to make music together in a more structured way – say as a singing ensemble or a little band.

An enterprising social director in a seniors community might even form a larger band – using regular musical instruments or simple ones such as whistles, harmonicas, and a variety of percussion items (drums, tambourines, shakers, wooden blocks, etc.)

Is it realistic to think that a person who is 70 or 80 years old might continue to play a traditional musical instrument like a keyboard, guitar or trumpet? Or could he or she learn an entirely new instrument – a keyboard, for instance, or a banjo, harmonica or even a saxophone or guitar?

Again, it depends on the circumstances a person finds herself in – in particular, her physical limitations. Many aging people have lost flexibility in their hands. They may have a sore back or hips that make it difficult to sit in positions required by some instruments. And often an older person has difficulty seeing or hearing.

Learning to play an instrument like a piano – even in the most basic way – has real benefits. It provides enjoyment, mental stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment. And that may be enough incentive to get you to take on (and stick with) a project like teaching yourself a musical instrument.

But playing for your own enjoyment is often not enough of an incentive to keep you going. Playing a musical instrument, or even singing in a small ensemble, almost inevitably involves the opportunity to perform for others – usually friends, family or fellow community residents.

In other words it is often just the prospect of performing for others that keeps musicians going. Taking music lessons when you are a child almost always involves a “recital” every now and then to display what you have learned. Without the recital practicing starts to seem pointless.

There is no reason to think it should be any different for a senior. My father played his violin in church for at least 50 years, and it was those “performances” that kept him interested in playing. When his faculties started to deteriorate and the invitations to play dried up, so did his interest in playing at all.

It is performances like this that provide the incentive to become better and to learn new material, or for an older person, to hold on to the skills they developed earlier in life.

So I would answer “Yes” to the question “Can a senior like me learn a new instrument?” It will give you enjoyment as well as mental and spiritual stimulation. And it will give you something meaningful to do with your time.

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