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
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
WHERE TO LOOK
As a piano teacher for 25+ years, I’ve looked at this search from the opposite direction of marketing my studio to attract able piano students. So when someone asks me how to find a good piano teacher, I know the places to look. (Also important: what keyboard do I need for piano lessons?)
SEARCH BASED ON YOUR GOAL
There are things to consider when narrowing the search for a good piano teacher, such as your goals and the characteristics of a teacher that put you at ease or motivate you best. For those looking for a grandiose career as a concert pianist, consider a move to a city well-known for accessibility to a professional music career track such as NY, LA or Nashville. Alternately, you may find a quality piano teacher through your local university's fine arts department.
For those interested primarily in the merits of music study and/or uninterested or unable to live near a music industry hub, try your local university’s music department. Typically, the music department will have a list of graduate students available for teaching as well as local piano teachers. Look especially for graduate level students who are studying piano pedagogy in particular.
Another option is an online search for reputable sources. The Music Teachers National Association’s searchable online database of teachers by state has earned the association’s National Certified Teachers of Music credential (NCTM). Teacher members of The National Piano Guild aim toward non-competitive goal-setting and awards. Teachers involved in national music organizations such as these tend to be motivated at a higher level toward student success.
Another good piano teacher resource for young children in particular is MusikGarten. The MusikGarten teaching method is holistic, kinesthetic, and frankly, fun for children ages 5 to 9. Similar to Suzuki method, MusikGarten’s approach is to begin learning music aurally. However, MusikGarten also incorporates movement, drumming, singing, notation-reading, in a small-group, eventually combining all these layers of foundation into piano performance. Teachers who are certified in this method tend to be excellent instructors, and teach a well-rounded musical education.
WORD OF MOUTH
There are other resources, such as church or grocery bulletin boards/newsletters, ads in local family-directed newspapers, and local music stores. But whether you have children looking to start music lessons for the first time, to continue lessons started, or for adults wanting to learn the instrument, the best way to find a quality piano teacher is the old fashioned way; word of mouth.
One of the best ways to find a quality piano teacher is through hearing and seeing an educator’s efforts with your own eyes and ears! Find someone who plays piano well. Ask for their teacher’s contact info. If you don’t know anyone who plays piano, watch local newspapers or church announcements for local piano recitals or concerts and attend (Holiday season is a great time for this!). Check local university, music school and music store websites for upcoming events.
COMPASSION IS QUALITY
Teachers who are dedicated enough to host recitals are usually quite capable, and care enough about students to enable regular progress in pIano study. Pay attention to each student’s finger dexterity, posture, reading, memorization, hand position (Watch out for tension!), and especially confidence and poise. The proof is in the pudding!
Check with retirement center activity directors for a list of teachers who’ve brought student piano recitals to the facility. That is a great way to find a quality piano teacher because someone who cares enough about students to host performance opportunities is a teacher who works toward results. Going the extra mile to incorporate community service by bringing music performances to retirement home residents shows a compassionate, contributive quality teacher.
In summary, you’ll find a good piano teacher through word of mouth, a local recital, an internet hunt for MusikGarten teachers, National Certified Music Teachers, the National Piano Guild, a local university, music school or, music store.
Next Steps: Having found a teacher, you’ll need to make your own goals for piano study clear.
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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.