Playing the piano has been linked to many mental and physical benefits, including decreasing stress and increasing a person’s IQ. Is that only true for children, though? Is there an age at which playing the piano is no longer effective? Is it possible to learn how to play at an older age?
While older people might face some challenges learning piano, age can also make it easier in some ways. Additionally, learning piano at a later age can provide many benefits to your emotional, physical, and mental health.
Fortunately, there is no age limit to learning anything, and that includes learning how to play the piano. Every age group has different strengths that could help them, but each also has some obstacles to overcome. Older adults are no different.
How Age Can Help
Though some people assume that children have an easier time learning the piano, this is not necessarily the case. Older learners have a few benefits to take advantage of.
First, older people are typically much more self-motivated and less pressured. They do not need a parent to remind them to practice. At the same time, they don’t feel the need to impress or appease parents.
They are usually just doing it for themselves, meaning that the only pressure they feel is the pressure they create. This type of pressure can be controlled and eradicated easily as only one person is involved in it.
Second, while the brain does suffer some through aging, adults are typically able to focus better and for longer periods of time than younger children. Whereas a young child’s mind has the tendency to wander fairly quickly, adults usually have longer attention spans. This makes even the shortest of lessons more productive.
Additionally, the brain’s plasticity- or the ability to learn new things- actually increases as you age. This means that as long as you are stimulating and using your brain, you have a stronger capacity to learn. The piano stimulates much of the brain, so it is easier to retain what you learn in your lessons.
Lastly, due to exposure to music and a deeper understanding of complex concepts that can only come through life experiences, adults can typically relate to music better. The more one can relate, the easier it can be to learn.
This is not to say that young children, too, can not relate to music. It is more so that adults have often experienced the emotions and many of the situations involved in the music. There is a different connection.
How Learning Piano Can Benefit Adults
Not only might older adults be more suited in many cases to learn piano, but doing so at a later age provides several emotional, physical, and mental benefits that can prevent many risks that come with age.
The brain is very similar to a muscle- it shrinks when it is not being worked out. When you use it, it actually gets stronger. When we are children, our brains are constantly in use- constantly learning and playing make-believe. We are creative- drawing pictures and creating things. Our minds are almost always being used in a positive and active manner.
As we age, the brain naturally begins to shrink, but most of us do not help it much. We typically stop learning because we get into the motion of daily life. Adults become quite accustomed to expending physical energy, but many do not expend as much mental energy as most of our daily actions have become the equivalent of muscle memory. Keeping our brains strong requires intentional action.
Playing the piano is an excellent way to do this. Both the left and the right sides of the brain are stimulated when playing the piano, giving the full brain an equal workout. And a strong brain can affect our entire bodies and lives.
Some mental benefits you can expect are improved:
- Memory (playing piano has even been proven to stave off dementia)
- Ability to access newly retained information
- Reading comprehension
- Language skills and speech
No one is too old to give their brain a boost, and those of older ages might benefit more than any other age group.
There are several physical benefits to learning the piano at later ages, as well. The first of these benefits is that the brain actually produces less cortisol, which is the stress hormone. It increases the level of glucose in your bloodstream, impacts your body’s ability to produce repair tissues, negatively impacts the metabolism and immune function, and more.
As we age, our body becomes more susceptible to sickness, heart disease, weight gain, and many other health issues. By playing the piano and, in turn, reducing the production of cortisol, you are also reducing the risk of being unhealthy and overweight as well as facing premature death.
Additionally, playing the piano can both prevent arthritis and help those that already suffer from it. Using your fingers while playing the piano gets your hand joints a pretty effective workout, helping to keep them strong and healthy. In many cases, arthritis can be prevented completely.
For those already suffering from arthritis, there is still hope. While every case is different, many sufferers have found relief over time by playing the piano. The flexibility gained through playing improves circulation throughout the body- including the fingers and joints. Improved circulation leads to greater healing and strength.
There are some whose pain is too intense to try to play. In these cases, consult with your doctor. He or she might be able to work out a solution if you really hope to learn to play.
For others, whose pain is not so severe, start with soft and gentle songs so as not to bring on too much too fast. Over time, as you become more accustomed to playing, you should be able to move up to more intense songs. You, too, will hopefully find over time that the pain and suffering are gone.
Playing the piano has proven to release dopamine in the reward center of the brain, which is the same center that responds to the feelings one gets with sex, food, and drugs. Feeling this natural “high” can help everyone’s emotional condition.
Learning the piano and other instruments have been used in several types of therapy. Some people have been able to replace bad habits by playing the piano since they are still feeling a similar high as they do with more negative habits.
Not to mention the action of taking time from your hectic day to do something you enjoy is incredibly important for everyone. We all have people relying on us every day. To take a step back and think of ourselves for just a moment is very rewarding.
If you suffer from stress, anxiety, depression, or even addiction, learning to play the piano can be a very beneficial part of your treatment. This should not replace any medical advice or doctor visits but should be used in conjunction with the treatment you seek.
Tips to Smooth the Process
If you are ready and excited to start learning the piano as an older adult, the following tips can make it a more enjoyable and successful journey.
It is important to understand that learning the piano- or any other instrument- requires time and patience. You will not learn it overnight, so be prepared to work through it. One of the best ways to do so is to choose a song to learn that you absolutely love.
Adult life is busy, and most of us do not have hours a day to practice. That’s okay, though. Unless you are in a rush to play a concert in a month- not a good idea if you are just starting out- there is no need to push yourself to practice so much.
Instead, make a schedule you can stick with. If that means you only practice ten minutes twice a day, so be it. If you can only squeeze in 30 minutes over the course of a week, that’s okay too. The point is to make a schedule and set a time that you can focus on learning- no matter how little or how much that length of time is.
Brains are not the only thing that suffers as we age- so do eyes. There is no reason to stare at tiny sheet music when there is large print sheet music. Even if you have no vision problems now, you certainly do not want to cause any from eyestrain.
Choose some sheet music and lesson books that are comfortable for you to see. Also, set up in an area with good lighting.
No matter the age, everyone who sits in the same spot for a while needs to take some short breaks. Otherwise, you might find yourself with backaches and more.
Try practicing in five-minute increments. During your short break, massage your fingers a little, check your posture, and fix anything that feels uncomfortable. Also, be sure you stretch your back and neck out when the practice is over for the day.