We all know the benefits of listening to music—improved memory and cognitive function, decreased feelings of pain, improved performance, lower stress, better sleep, and improved mood. Scientific studies indicate that playing music has additional benefits.
Benefits of Playing Music for Older Adults
When researchers took blood samples from people of various ages who had just completed an hour-long group drumming session, they found a reversal of the hormonal stress response and an increase in natural "killer" cell activity. Other studies back this up, indicating that it doesn’t matter how good a musician you are, just that you enjoy making the music.
When scientists studied people aged 60 to 83 who’d played musical instruments as children, they found that those who’d played for 10 or more years scored significantly higher on cognitive tests than those who hadn’t.
However, it’s never too late to learn. A 2013 study indicated that adults aged 60 to 85 improved their processing speed and memory after 3 months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and 3 hours a week of practice even though they’d had no previous musical experience.
Making music is associated with health benefits for older adults, remarks Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in LiveScience. "Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression. There is also increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses.”
Easy-to-Learn Musical Instruments
Even if you played an instrument in elementary or high school, you may be intimidated at the thought of relearning it again. After all, instruments such as the guitar, saxophone, or trumpet take skill and practice.
However, there are many instruments that are easy to play and can carry a tune solo. They include:
- Hand drums, which include bongos, djembes, and bodhrans. Learn how to keep time on these basic instruments before you get fancy with tones (different touches, different places on the skin cause different sounds) and fancy rhythms. YouTube has numerous how-to videos, including this series on how to play the djembe by virtuoso Jim Donovan, formerly of Rusted Root.
- Penny whistle, which provided the haunting sound for the movie, Titanic, does not require sophisticated breathing, like the flute, to sound good. The harder you blow, the higher the sound. If you can learn the fingering, you can learn to play. You do have to learn how to read music to play the Irish whistle, but there are a limited number of notes, so you get all the cognitive benefits of more difficult instruments.
- Harmonica, which has a soulful sound suitable for folk, rock, jazz and almost any genre of music. Embouchure, or mouth position, is important for the harmonica, but you can learn this instrument by trial and error and have fun doing it.
- Ukulele, which has only 4 strings, has a limited range, compared to the guitar, but is much easier to learn. Because the strings are nylon, you don’t have to worry about painful fingers! However, like the guitar, you’ll have to learn how to read music and play chords, both of which will enhance your cognitive abilities.
- Pianica, or melodica, is a cross between a harmonica and a piano. If your tongue dexterity isn’t good enough for the harmonica, try the pianica. This instrument doesn’t take a lot of physical skill, but you do have to learn how to read music and play chords.
- Thumb piano, or kalimba, is a melodic, one-octave percussion instrument that enhances digital dexterity. Since songbooks are numbered, you don’t have to learn notes. This YouTube video shows you how to play the first verse of “Joy to the World” in seconds.
- Recorder is a popular instrument in elementary schools, because it’s so easy to play. It sounds breathier than the penny whistle, and it’s almost as easy to learn. Sheet music and how-to videos and instruction books are also easy to find.
- Glockenspiel looks complicated, but once you master the notes, it’s very easy to play.
- Ocarina, a clay flute, is frequently also a work of art. However, if you get the wrong one, you’re just wasting your time, so make sure you get a good one (and there is plenty of information online to help you).
- Piano is difficult to play well, but it’s actually easy to learn to play. And because you can learn to pick out basic tunes quickly, you feel as if you’re learning very quickly.
Other instruments that are easy to learn but really aren’t solo instruments include the triangle, tambourine, shakers, cowbell, washboard, and similar percussion, as well as the didgeridoo.
Music at The Admiral at the Lake
The Admiral at the Lake offers musical programs for residents in independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care, because we’re dedicated to promoting the personal independence, health and wellness of older adults. Unlike your average retirement community, our programs support the vibrant, active lifestyle enjoyed by residents. Looking for a urban senior living community to call home? Call 773.433.1801 or click here.