Although dreams of touring worldwide as a Grammy-winning ensemble and being best friends with Mick Jagger might be long gone, there are multiple benefits to learning an instrument in retirement.
And yes, you can learn an instrument if you’re 55 or older. Like learning a language, there is a myth that the brain cannot develop the pathways necessary to learn an instrument beyond a certain age. It’s simply not true.
Not only can adults learn an instrument, but they really should. The cognitive, social, and disciplinary benefits are innumerable, but here we’ll narrow it down to a few ways learning an instrument will pay you back.
1. It Helps Improve and Maintain Memory
Recent studies have shown that regularly playing an instrument reshapes the parts of the brain that controls memory, making that portion larger and more active. In fact, the study found that people over 65 experienced stronger memory, hearing, and motor skills after practicing for an hour a week after four or five months. Musicians between the ages of 65 and 80 performed better on tests of word recall, nonverbal memory, and cognitive flexibility than their nonmusical counterparts. The longer the individual had been playing, the better they performed overall.
2. It Develops Discipline
Recently retired adults might be jubilant at the thought of endless free time but exercising some discipline can go a long way towards fully enjoying your golden years. An immense amount of focus and perseverance is required to eventually become a musical master, two traits that greatly improve certain cognitive and physical functions.
3. It Maintains Your Coordination
Successfully playing an instrument requires the use of your feet, hands, mouth, and eyes for reading music – sometimes all four. Using multiple faculties in conjunction with each other (while maintaining the correct rhythm) uses multiple portions of your brain simultaneously. Your brain is working overtime just to keep up. Since playing an instrument requires the stimulation of multiple portions at the same time, it’s strengthening the communication between them.
4. It’s a Huge Stress Reliever
Relieving stress is one of the great benefits that adults will realize, whereas kids, who are learning an instrument for the first time, do not seem to have a need for stress relief. Carefree kids have little to no use for blowing off some steam, but stress in adults can be a major health and quality of life hazard. Playing music has been shown to release dopamine in the brain, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and a great deterrent to the ability of stress to adversely affect your body.
5. Your Social Circle Will Grow
Musicians form a natural kinship with each other. Whether it’s the iconic relationship between a bassist and a guitar player, Sonny and Cher, or a high school marching band, the relationship between musicians is so potent as to turn strangers into friends almost immediately. Forming a band in an active adult community is a nearly flawless way to meet new neighbors and make new friends. The ability to play an instrument is also a surefire way to impress neighbors – as long as you don’t practice Bohemian Rhapsody at 4 A.M.
6. It Provides Drive and Purpose
Avoiding boredom is a major issue for a number of retirees. Some return to work, can’t decide on a hobby, or simply struggle to form a social circle. This can be a major cause of anxiety. Practicing music provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment that few other hobbies can match. Music teachers often have students write out the five songs they want to learn, finding that when musicians have a goal to reach, their motivation and self-confidence improve dramatically with every forward step.