By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of LivingWell60+ magazine.
If you’ve always wanted to play piano, taking lessons as a senior adult has more benefits than you may think. Beyond the sheer joy of musical experience, there’s a good chunk of science behind the benefits of learning piano as an older adult. Aging adults who learn to play piano experience enhanced cognitive function, slowed deterioration in the fight against the aging process, stress relief, improved mood, and a boost in self-esteem.
Learning Piano Makes You Smarter
A study by Frontiers in Psychology journal on aging adults reveals that learning a musical instrument enhances the activation of brain regions related to memory, attention, language processing, motor function, and emotion. Listening to music has been shown to activate these multiple brain regions, but learning to play an instrument further increases these functions. Neuropsychologists found such significant brain function activity enhancement from playing an instrument that the use of music training is under scrutiny for understanding brain plasticity progression.
An institute in Barcelona, Spain found that participants who were assigned piano practice as opposed to others who did sports or painting showed greater neurological and psychological improvement on the scale they were using.
University of South Florida assistant professor of music education, Jennifer Bugos, studied the results between aging adults who did or did not take piano lessons. Bugos discovered that six months of piano instruction for seniors showed impressive enhancements in memory, verbal fluency, information processing speed, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, over those who had not learned piano.
Playing Piano Slows Deterioration
Musical training improves the cognitive reserve in aging adults. Cognitive reserve, the term for how the brain fights against deterioration of function, is improved dramatically in aging adults who take piano lessons. Engaging in activities like reading, writing, or crossword puzzles is known to improve cognitive well-being and reduce risk of dementia development.
But, seniors learning to play piano yield even more extraordinary improvements in multiple brain functions. Additionally, learning piano enhances auditory working memory, which may reinforce the memory capacity that facilitates communication, conversation and the ability to distinguish consonants and vowel sounds. In other words, learning piano fights against hearing loss and strengthens communication skills despite the aging process.
Piano Study Reduces Pain
Older adults learning piano have increased amounts of human growth hormone, which is connected to reducing aches and pains that come with age. Higher human growth hormone levels slow the progression of osteoporosis, and increase energy, sexual function and muscle mass.
Learning Piano Boosts Creative Thinking
Learning piano is a complex activity, requiring the ability to read as you play. This multi-tasking trains eye-hand coordination and develops independent hand coordination. This stimulates multiple brain sections, improves reaction and productivity while strengthening neural pathways between the left and right brain hemispheres. Playing piano uses a creative technique called divergent thinking, that forces the use of both sides of the brain. By exercising this technique regularly, players become better at creative thinking, improving the ability to problem solve.
Learning Piano Makes You Happier And Healthier
Those who play the piano regularly improve their mental state. Experiencing the victory of learning to play a piece of music encourages self-confidence. Engaging in music affects mood, and provides stress relief. Playing piano is a kind of ultrasound therapy, sending sound vibrations to the player’s body that improve circulation, and relax muscles. Playing music soothes and stimulates primary senses of touch and sight, causing the brain to release beta endorphins and dopamine, which leads to decreased anxiety, depression and loneliness. These aspects of mood affect overall wellness by stimulating the immune system to improve players’ health.
The advantages of taking piano lessons as an older adult go beyond simple enjoyment. The health benefits and effect on cognitive abilities are a greater incentive. There are private piano instructors who offer group lessons as well as in-home instruction. See How To Find A Good Piano Teacher and What Keyboard Do I Need For Piano Lessons? for more information.
Piano Method Books I recommend:
For the Adult
For the Older Beginner
For Young Children
For Very Young Children
CLICK HERE for a list of piano and music-making resources I use and recommend.
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Source: NAMM Foundation
Source: Music and Health
Source: Science Nutshell:
Source: The Guardian
Source: Linde Blad Piano
TIPS FOR LEFT & RIGHT HAND COORDINATION
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
Learn to play piano with both hands based on a single-minded focus on goal-oriented, multi-step tasks. Approaching piano practice in this manner has proven highly effective for me.
One Hand Only
For example, choose one hand to work on at a time. Isolate the bass part in the left hand. Then, break down your left hand practice into feasible chunks; work on only playing the correct notes for example.
Practice the left hand part while fully focusing on the first selected goal (correct notes). Don’t worry about the rhythm, the fingering or any other aspect other than what you’ve chosen to focus on practicing (correct notes).
After you play through the section with full focus on that one goal, stop and evaluate. If successful at playing that particular section with no hesitation, move on to the next goal and repeat the process.
Multiply Your Focus
Then add the first two goals together (correct notes and rhythm) and practice that until you are able to play through successfully without any hesitation. Add the third goal, and so on.
Repeat Procedure With Opposite Hand
Switch to the opposite hand and repeat the process of focusing only on one goal at a time, stopping to evaluate, then repeating until you master each section and goal. Then repeat until you are successfully able to master multiple focus goals with the musical section chosen for that hand.
Put Both Hands Together
Finally, choose a small section, one goal (correct notes) and play both hands together. Do not jump to this part of practice until everything prior to this point has been successfully mastered. The same process applies when practicing hands together.
If you make mistakes, stop immediately and evaluate why, then go back and practice until that issue is resolved. For example, if you played through a few measures correctly and then made mistakes, determine what happened. Usually the problem is that mentally you dropped the ball. Were you daydreaming about lunch? Were you distracted by someone walking past your window?
Go back to the trouble spot and refresh your single-minded focus on the practice aspects you’ve chosen. Once you achieve success, play through a larger section, or the entire musical composition. Be sure to apply the exact same practice strategy and address any mistakes immediately.
Otherwise, you may make the common mistake of practicing your mistakes repeatedly, ingraining them further into your mental memory and making things more difficult to correct. This is how many students typically practice and defeat progress!
One Last Note (heh heh)
Practicing piano with clear goals, one hundred percent mental focus, evaluation and troubleshooting issues is an incredibly effective way to progress as a piano player. However, if you run into difficulty, besides lack of focus on a particular goal, the most common culprit for difficulty in piano practice is practicing too fast!
If you are having problems with the above-described practice strategy, SLOW DOWN and try again! Most of the time, slowing the tempo resolves the problem.
Many students have difficulty slowing their practice tempo. Use a metronome to set a defined, slower tempo. This enables you to reset your pace at a manageable speed. When you slow down, it allows you to master your goal of choice without repeatedly making mistakes due to a faster tempo.
If you are still having problems slowing down, change your mindset about tempo. Students often are deluded that a faster tempo is equal to mastery. The opposite is more accurate. Playing purposefully at a slower tempo while focusing fully on one specific goal takes greater concentration, discipline and patience.
Make setting a slower tempo an exciting new mission, to frame your attitude around it. Practice deep breathing in sync with your metronome as you set your inner pace with the new, slower tempo. Envision yourself playing under water in slow motion as a fun way to switch gears from playing faster to embracing a slower pace. From there, it can be amazing to see how simple and easy it is for you to master your chosen practice goal.
More Piano Practice Tips Here.
CLICK HERE For a list of piano and music-making resources I use and recommend.
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In my PIANO blogs, you'll find ways to overcome boredom, get past musical and mental blocks, explore the creative process with piano, and improve musical progress through piano teacher recommended best practices and effective piano practice tips.