11/18/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

Are you too old to learn to play an instrument? Seniors Guide writer Terri L. Jones has discovered the joy and the practical benefits of music and of learning a musical instrument as a senior – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to learn to play an instrument. In the fourth grade I waited in line for a flute to play in my elementary school band; however, they ran out of flutes before I reached the front of the line. Later, a family friend gave us their organ when they moved, and I noodled around on that keyboard on and off. Years later, a boyfriend taught me to “stir the soup” and crash the cymbals on his drum set. However, that was about as far as my musical aspirations ever went.

That was until my husband bought a piano a few years ago. While he bought the piano to jumpstart his playing, instead that beautiful black behemoth sitting unused in the corner served as my cue to finally learn an instrument. So, I signed up for a piano lesson app and started from the beginning. Seven months – and many discordant notes later – I’ve mastered “Let It Be,” “Scarborough Fair,” and “Edelweiss” (at least well enough that people recognize the songs). The feeling of accomplishment is indescribable!

But that rush is hardly the only benefit of learning a musical instrument at an older age!

Benefits of learning a musical instrument as a senior

Boosts brain power

Playing an instrument uses almost every part of your brain, including those areas that process sound, vision, and memory. In a study conducted by Jennifer Bugos, an assistant professor of music education at the University of South Florida, Tampa, participants between the ages of 60 and 85 who took just six months of piano lessons experienced greater improvements in memory, verbal fluency, planning ability, and information processing speed than their peers who did not take lessons.

Learning a musical instrument can also help you filter out distractions and improve concentration, according to research presented in Scientific American. I, for one, find myself getting lost in the music and ignoring my dogs, outside noises, as well as work I should be doing!

Builds your body

a group of seniors learning to play guitar, for an article on the benefits of music and of learning an instrument as a senior

Playing any instrument – from banjo to bassoon – recruits and strengthens a variety of muscles, including those in your back, shoulders, and arms. For me, sitting erect at the piano bench is helping improve my posture. Playing instruments can even help keep your fingers nimble.

Some instruments, such as wind instruments and the voice, also give your lungs a good workout. As proof, these instruments have long been used to help patients with respiratory issues. They are now being used with patients suffering from long Covid to ease shortness of breath and anxiety.

Related: Dancing for seniors

Fine tunes your hearing

Musicians must focus on multiple aspects of their music simultaneously while they’re playing. According to a study by Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology, physiology, and otolaryngology at Northwestern University, this makes musicians with hearing loss better at detecting sounds in a noisy environment than people who don’t play music. Musicians are also better at processing and remembering those sounds. By learning a musical instrument, you can potentially overcome some repercussions of age-related hearing loss.

Relieves stress

Simply listening to music reduces the stress hormone cortisol in your body. This can lead to better sleep and relaxation as well as improved performance and thinking. Taking that idea one step further, playing music can lower your heart rate and regulate your blood pressure and respiration rate more effectively. This was seen in post-op patients who played music as they recovered.

Related: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga demonstrate the magic of music in friendship and for Alzheimer’s patients

Improves mood

Babies involved in music have been found to smile more than their peers. Older folks are no different. The scientific explanation is dopamine, a chemical released by the brain when you’re playing music, which improves mood and makes you feel good. If you’ve ever tickled the ivories, strummed a guitar, or sung at the top of your lungs, you know it’s a pretty joyful experience.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri Jones