Musically, Mentally, Magically.
I am so happy my 16 year old nephew let me teach him how to restring his acoustic guitar.
My nephew is an incredibly adept kid. He was an adroit guitar player when he was younger, but gave up music to focus exclusively on basketball and school work. This bummed all of us adults out a bunch, because he was really good, and I suppose, we all wanted to live vicariously through him. It was sad to think that playing guitar might have only be a passing childhood phase for him.
He recently expressed interest in playing again, but claimed he could not because he had a busted guitar string and needed my sister to take him to Guitar Center. (This seems to me a halfhearted excuse because when that boy wants something, he finds a way to make it happen!) It so happens that I have a lot of brand new string packs and that I know how to restring an acoustic from my guitar playing days. (When I was his age, it wasn’t an option for me to take my guitar somewhere to have it restrung because it would have entailed getting on two busses and shelling out cash. Since I wasn’t about that life back then, I learned to do it myself.)
I was surprised at how simple it seemed to me today because it used to be so hard!
I thought that at this point in my life, I was done with the guitar and have moved on exclusively to the piano, but I remembered far more than I thought. I haven’t played in earnest for over a decade and was surprised at how natural it felt to hold a guitar in my hands again.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I was really hard on myself and had a very narrow concept of how things should be done in life. I played more to impress people and get external validation at booze-heavy hangouts than I did because I truly enjoyed playing for the sake of it.
But now that I am older and care more for the joy if my soul than what other people think of me, the idea of playing again feels necessary and urgent. This time I am not driven by the desire for fun, drunken singalongs, but instead for the sting in my fingertips as the callouses form, the sweet squeak of the E string as I brush it softly with my thumb, the melodic medicine of closing my eyes and plucking out arpeggios in an improvised and organic sequence.
But learning to play a musical instrument is not just cathartic, it reduces stress and is one of the best activities we can do to keep our brains sharp and agile into old age.
According to neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday, Music “stimulates the brain in a very powerful way because of our emotional connection with it . . . [it] reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t . . . It’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.”
For an entertaining explainer video on the benefits of playing an instrument, check out this Ted Ed animation.
If you have been thinking about learning how to play an instrument, it is never too late, you are never too old, and there are more resources available than ever before! The list below is just a smattering of suggestions; check out your local cafe or community center bulletin boards or spread the word to friends and family.
You could be playing your heart out (and strengthening your brain muscles) much faster than you think!!!