Information

Do children learn to play musical instrument more easily than adults?

Do children learn to play musical instrument more easily than adults?



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

People say that it is harder for adults to learn to play instrument, because their muscle became stiff. Is there evidence for this claim?


Roughly speaking, most forms of learning become harder as one ages. Probably the most relevant aspect for your question is learning fine motor skills:

most studies revealed that performance gains in fine motor tasks are diminished in older adults


New Horizons Music Program (Orchestral Groups for Boomers and Seniors)

Started by NAMM in the early 1990s, New Horizons Music programs provide entry points to music making for adults, including those with no musical experience at all and those who were active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long time. Many adults would like an opportunity to learn music in a group setting similar to that offered in schools, but the last entry point in most cases was elementary school. We know that for most of the last century, about 15-20 percent of high school students nationally participated in music. From that, we can estimate that at least 80 percent of the adult population needs beginning instruction in order to participate in making music. New Horizons Music programs serve that need.


Can You Learn to Play an Instrument at 40? Q&A with Psychologist Gary Marcus

Have you got zero musical talent, but a burning desire to play? NYU psychologist Marcus says there's hope for everyone.

Can someone with no musical talent learn to play guitar as an adult? That’s what New York University psychology professor Gary Marcus wanted to find out when he turned 40. Along the way, he discovered that the struggle to learn was as rewarding as playing music itself.

In honor of national Wanna Play Music Week, Healthland spoke with Marcus, author of Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.

Why did you start this project?
I always wanted to make music but at the same time, thought it was completely out of my reach. I had several very disappointing experiences as a child trying to learn.

I tried to learn the recorder in 4th grade and my teacher suggested that my talents lay elsewhere when I couldn’t play “Mary had a little lamb.” In graduate school I tried to take something called “miracle piano.” At each point, I got stuck on rhythm. It was no miracle.

Then, I started playing [the video game] “Guitar Hero.” I was terrible. My wife helped me to play. The first time I ever did anything vaguely rhythmic, I got excited. I practiced the game for a while and made it through beginner and medium. I thought, Maybe I should try a real guitar. The video game was a gateway drug that gave me confidence to try the real thing.

What was the most fun part of your learning experience?
There were a lot of fun things. The most fun, but also the most scary, was that I went to a summer camp with 11-year-olds and played in a band. On Day One, you had to start writing a song and by Friday, you had to play it on stage. The kids bring their parents to the performance and I brought mine, too. It was frightening but super fun. (Listen to Marcus’ performance here.)

What are some of the differences between the way children and adults learn?
Kids and adults are differently able. They bring different skills. Adults are more analytical. One thing I was able to do was understand music theory and comprehend it in a way [that kids couldn’t]. Kids are more patient and willing to practice the same thing over and over. They don’t have the same expectations about being good right away and probably cut themselves more slack and probably have faster fingers.

Some people say that music must be an innate human capacity, which evolved the way language did. But you disagree.
For the better part of our evolutionary history music wasn’t even on the scene. You can engineer a technology that everyone loves like the iPhone, but that doesn’t mean that the thing was itself in [our evolutionary history].

All cultures do have music and it taps into lots of things that our brains come prepared with, like a love of novelty and familiarity. Music has really cool ways of delivering both. There’s a steady drumbeat that makes the brain happy and that it can anticipate, and then you have novelty when you change the melody or lyrics.

Both predictability and novelty [release] dopamine [a brain chemical associated with pleasure and desire]. It’s seemingly contradictory but music packs it all in.

Does learning to play music make you smarter?
One thing we know is that on average, people who play musical instruments are smarter but we don’t know if it’s causal. Among Nobel Prize-winners, there are a disproportionately high number of musicians, but whether [their music lessons made them smarter or vice versa] is a classic chick-and-egg question.

My guess is that at the very least, music teaches you self-discipline and the rewards of working slowly to build something awesome. When you first start, you are lost and after a few years, you can do it. It’s a wonderful way of learning the power of patience. There maybe other things: it makes your ears more sensitive and that may make you better at picking up languages. There’s some suggestive data on that.

To the extent that you are thinking about how your instrument fits in with an ensemble, it might help you [connect with other people and empathize]. But it might be that giving acting lessons would do the same thing even better. I don’t want to say that music is necessarily better than drama.

Do you think playing music makes you healthier?
There might be some health benefits. I talk about the idea of eudaemonia, the pleasure of self-actualization or fulfillment. There’s a kind of pleasure from immediate things like food or sex, but [eudaemonia] comes when we’ve done all that we can to be the people we can be. Part of what keeps me going is that [music] brings a kind of balance into my life that I think is a wonderful thing.

Even though you learned to play after a whole lot of effort, you don’t believe that practice is the only thing that differentiates excellent musicians from lesser ones.
I guess I know why people want to believe that, but I don’t know why they do. It’s manifestly the case that in music some people work really hard and do well, and some don’t. There’s a lot of data out there that makes clear that practice is just part of the equation. None of it actually shows that talent doesn’t matter. It’s bizarre that that idea got as popular as it has.

I’d love to learn to play an instrument, but I don’t have a sabbatical like you did during which I could spend hours at it every day. Do you think it’s still possible?
I think it’s totally possible. I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails from older adults who have been learning music for the last 10 or 20 years and they really love it.

That doesn’t mean that if you start at 50, you’re going to be playing with the symphony orchestra at 60. If you only practice once a week, you’re not going to get anywhere. If you can do a little bit every day, almost anybody can make progress.

I’m someone who doesn’t have any natural talent. I’m likely congenitally arrythmic. I’m close to tone deaf. I had almost no talent. I had more time but less talent than most people. If you have even a little more talent, you might get there faster with less time.

Do you think people will stop learning to play instruments eventually and just do it all with computers? Will something be lost if that kind of skill disappears?
There’s certainly an amount of music you can make with iPhone apps without knowing a lot, but to really put together an ensemble that works, you really need to know something.

I don’t know what the place of instruments will be. I think some people will always love them. There’s a kind of physical joy that comes from playing that you just don’t get from the iPhone, but there’s more than one route to music.

With computers, you don’t need to learn a physical skill just to make the right sounds, so it seems like it would take less practice.
You can to some degree cut out some of the practice in terms of learning where the notes are, but not the practice of learning to understand what actually sounds good.

What should you look for in a music teacher?
I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t look for: a great musician. They might be good, but they might not be. You want someone who understands how you learn, who cares about the learning process itself and has a good eye for what you’re doing wrong and can in a constructive way tell you how to practice and get better.

A good teacher is a little like a car mechanic who can know what things look like when they go wrong and how to fix them, not just what they look like if they work correctly.

Should parents make their kids stick with their music lessons and practice?
I think that being a good parent is like being a good guidance counselor. You have to help people find from within what they like to do. If they are very young, you probably do need to nudge them, but not everyone has to be a musician. A good music teacher will often involve the parents and teach parents how to be supportive of their kids. [They will] teach parents not to be very critical and to be supportive, but at the end of day it is the child’s decision I think.


Benefits of Learning to Play a Musical Instrument

As reported by TIME, a study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully obtain the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and listen to music they have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. “Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement, attendance and class participation predicted the strength of neural processing after music training,” said Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Since there is evidence and support that simply listening to music isn’t as effective, here are 11 more reasons from West Coast Music why children should learn to play instruments instead of just listening to them.


Little Fingers And Screechy Sounds: Why Do So Many Kids Learn To Play The Recorder?

When Lebanon-born George Semaan came to the United States via Canada during his fifth grade year, he thought every kid knew how to play what he considers a distinctly American instrument, though some parents might call it something else.

"I got to my new school and they said, 'Hey, here's this thing called a recorder and you're going to have to learn it," he remembers. "No one told me that this wasn't something that all American kids just automatically knew, like a national pastime."

The whole thing was confusing on a number of levels.

So George wrote to Curious City and asked: Why did we all have to learn to play the recorder in school?

Well, first, not everyone in the United States had to learn to play the recorder in school — but many generations of school children did and still do. A representative of Music Arts, one of the nation's largest retail chains for band and orchestra instruments, says their stores sell nearly 100,000 recorders each year. And that's largely because most states — like Illinois — have long required kids to take some sort of music instruction in elementary school.

But why do schools use this particular instrument to teach children how to play music? It's rarely featured in any contemporary bands or orchestras, it reached its artistic peak about 200 years ago with Baroque-era music, and as lots of parents have experienced, it can inflict some squeaky torture on families when grade schoolers first bring it home.

To get to to the bottom of George's question, Curious City sat down with retired music teacher Valerie DePriest, who taught the recorder for 17 years in Oak Park's public schools. She's also a board member of the Chicago chapter of the American Recorder Society and plays in a recorder ensemble, called a consort. She argues that the recorder isn't just an ideal instrument for early music education, but a serious instrument that deserves more respect than it gets.

Here are some interview highlights between Curious City's Monica Eng and DePriest.

Monica Eng: Why do so many kids learn the recorder at school?

Valerie DePriest: The recorder came into the public schools during a confluence of events in the 1950s. There was a revival of interest in music of the Baroque period in the U.S. that led to the creation of the American Recorder Society in the early '60s. [At the same time] there was a rise in popularity of the Orff Schulwerk approach to teaching music, an approach to music instruction [in which the recorder plays a major role]. The Schulwerk approach stressed participatory playing and creativity.

German composer Carl Orff pioneered an approach to music education that emphasized improvisation and exploration. In 1964, he demonstrated his teaching style with children in Diessen, Germany. Carl-Orff-Stiftung/www.orff.de hide caption

Eng: There was also a big technological development that made the recorder popular in schools, right?

DePriest: Right. In the 1960s, recorders started to be manufactured in mass quantities out of plastic. They were well-tuned instruments and could be sold cheaply. . With the advent of good plastic recorders, we could provide instruments to all of the children in the school at very low cost. In Oak Park, when I was teaching, we charged $5 for a recorder, and it was a good little recorder. It was a recorder that could last quite a while [for the kids], until they wanted to explore another fingering or an alto recorder or something like that.

Eng: OK, so those were the historical factors that brought the recorder back. Why is the recorder the first instrument used to teach kids how to play music?

DePriest: The fact that it's a simple, direct melody instrument makes it the perfect instrument for young learners. It's possible, with good teaching, to get a good sound out of the recorder quite quickly. The soprano recorder is also just the right size for young children's hands. And it's a very portable instrument. The kids can carry it from home to school easily — unlike, say, a piano, which not everyone can afford to have at home.

Students at William Beye Elementary School in Oak Park practice the recorder with the help of iPads during music class. Gabby Rosenblum/William Beye Elementary School hide caption

Eng: The recorder has almost become a victim of its own success. Because of its ubiquity as a learning instrument, it's developed a reputation as a pre-band, kiddie instrument. What are your feelings on that?

DePriest: The recorder was a very serious instrument in the Renaissance and the Baroque [periods] — actually it reached its zenith in the Baroque. But it was overcome by the needs of louder orchestras, and so the transverse flute [held sideways] became the instrument of choice. But early flute sonatas were actually written for recorder.

So [the recorder] fell out of favor and was silent for many, many years. And people haven't really taken it seriously as an instrument since then, especially since they see so many school children learning it. . Because it's available in colorful clear plastic, it seems like a toy, and you see it in toy stores. But it's a wonderful, lifelong instrument for adults to play.

Eng: So people who see this as a kid's instrument are wrong? Why?

DePriest: There are quite a few people making their living in early-music ensembles playing the recorder or doing guest appearances in Baroque orchestras. There are groups of adults meeting all over the world playing recorder. There are American Recorder Society chapters in most cities where people get together to play in ensembles. There is new music being written for recorder all the time.

This is really a great time for recorder music. People are arranging vocal jazz for recorder, there are recording artists doing jazz on recorder as well. It's a wonderful instrument for adults.

The most common consort recorders are soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. There are also recorders that extend beyond those ranges, like the contrabass and great bass recorders. Katherine Nagasawa/WBEZ hide caption

Eng: In Canada, the ukulele is a popular instrument schools use to teach music to young kids. Why shouldn't we swap the recorder for the ukulele here?

DePriest: I think the ukelele is a wonderful instrument, but it's designed to play chords [several notes at once] and that's a pretty advanced concept for the youngest of children. I think for training their ear to the scale and the role of each pitch within a scale, and for creating and resolving tension, a simple melody instrument is the best first instrument for kids.

Eng: For parents out there whose kids have just come home with their first recorder, what words of consolation do you have for them as they listen to what sounds like screeching in the next room?

DePriest: I do hear a certain amount of screeching, too, because the recorder doesn't need much air [before it goes screechy], so I always tell the students to breathe through it — don't blow. So they need to learn to control their breath.I do feel for parents, but lets face it, a recorder is a lot easier to listen to than beginning violin. It's not nearly as loud and it comes into tune much more quickly. We all have to pay our dues in the musical world, and we all have to pay our dues when our children are learning music, too, and be willing to sit with them through that practice.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the "play" button to listen to the entire conversation.

More about our questioner

George Semaan is a director of strategy for McDonalds Corp. He moved to the United States when he was a young child and grew up in Texas. George came to Chicago more than a decade ago to attend college at Loyola University.

Today he enjoys listening to public radio and playing sports, including softball, basketball, and football through the Chicago Park District.

When I told him about all the factors that make the recorder such a good teaching instrument, he agreed they made a lot of sense. But he maintains that he still doesn't like the instrument. "Maybe because I was never very good at the recorder," he says.

And when he learned that if his family had stayed in Canada, he might have learned the ukulele in school instead of the recorder, he got excited.

"I play the guitar, so that would've been fine," he says. "In fact, I would have preferred the ukulele."

Monica Eng is a reporter for Curious City. You can follow her @monicaeng.


6 Reasons Learning An Instrument As An Adult Is Easier Than You Think

Learning how to play an instrument seems like an oddly daunting task for an adult. If you missed out on weekly piano lessons as a kid, is it too late to pick it up when you're on the other side of 30?

The short answer is: no. Turns out, adults have some key advantages over children when it comes to learning how to play an instrument. For a more in-depth look, we turned to Dr. Jessica Grahn, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the Brain and Mind Institute and Psychology Department at Western University in Canada who researches music, and James Lenger, the founder and president of Guitar Cities and music instructor to both children and adults for over 21 years.

You already have a good understanding of music from a lifetime of listening to it.

Before you even start playing, you come in with an extra edge: You've spent your entire life listening to music. "When I'm teaching, with the adults, one of the first things I have them do is write out in the back of their lesson book every song that they've ever wanted to learn," Lenger says. "Because of that exposure, when they're learning something, they can relate it to music that they already know." This knowledge can help you understand what chords and groupings of chords sound relatively easily.

"[Adults] can understand the basic structures of music and how they're inherent in a number of different songs they listen to," he says. "With kids, it's really tough to take an abstract approach like that."

You have the discipline and focus to make yourself practice.

As a child, your brain is still in the process of adapting to the environment and it can change connections more easily, thereby making music-learning an actual part of your brain wiring. As an adult, you can change connections, just not to the same degree. But this isn't entirely unfortunate. The adult brain is also chock full of life experience, which can actually be beneficial when leaning to play an instrument.

"The disadvantage that children have is that they are not so good at figuring out higher level rules and they don't really know about how to get good at something," says Dr. Grahn. "Whereas adults usually have some practice, either with sports or school, at saying, 'Okay, I want to succeed at this so what must I do? I must practice.'"

You are much better equipped to tackle complicated, abstract concepts.

Adults can also grapple abstract concepts more easily. "You can explain to an adult, 'Well, here are the rules of a scale and this is why these notes follow each other and these notes don't follow each other,'" says Dr. Grahn. "That might be much easier to remember because that's a rule. They can then apply that rule in lots of different places in music, whereas children kind of have to learn it all by practice."

The biggest difference in approach to learning harkens back to adults' analytical nature. Lenger explains that children tend to play what's put in front of them as fast as they can, while adults are sticklers for perfection. If you can put aside your desire for a mistake-free session and play even if your fingers aren't exactly in the right position, you're likely to learn more quickly.

You actually want to learn the instrument -- no one is making you.

While some kids feel compelled to play an instrument -- either by their parents or their lofty goals, like college admittance -- adults are the masters of their own destinies. They're generally excited to play music for the sole purpose of playing music. This motivation is "probably the most important thing," says Dr. Grahn, and it actually has some great cognitive effects, increasing your ability to learn faster.

For best results, make sure you're truly picking up an instrument that interests you and not one that you feel compelled to play.

Playing an instrument relieves stress (something you need more now than you did as a kid).

Sure, there have been studies singing the praises, so to speak, of music's ability to reduce stress. Now that you're not a carefree kid anymore, this can be particularly beneficial and serve as yet another powerful motivator. Music has been proven to release dopamine in reward areas of the brain, the same ones that light up in response to food, sex and drugs. In fact, Dr. Grahn says, "It's probably harder to find areas of the brain that don't respond to music than to find areas that do."

Many professionals these days are taking breaks from long days at work to fit in music lessons, adds Lenger, whose clientele is about 90 percent adults coming in at all hours of the day. "It's just an escape from the office for a little bit," he says. "A big part of teaching isn't just learning the guitar. Sometimes their first five minutes is coming in here and decompressing a little bit, and then we can go in and play the instrument for a while."

There are some mood benefits of music that can actually help you learn how to play an instrument, too, which come in handy as an adult. (Studies prove this!) "Having a positive mood is generally very good for your cognitive function, for your general well-being and for being able to sleep, which we know enhances brain function," says Dr. Grahn.

Plus, your brain could use the exercise.

As an adult, learning how to play an instrument is what Dr. Grahn calls a "brain trainer," a way to challenge your brain in an effort to stay sharper and alert for longer. Not only is it possible for this stronger cognitive function to stave off dementia, but it will also allow you to enjoy a higher quality of life with a more active brain. "That you can get from music, but music isn't necessarily special in that way, except for the fact that music also tends to have mood benefits," she says.


Stop Forcing Your Kids to Learn a Musical Instrument

Our daughter Rebekah, who is in second grade, takes three after-school classes every week. On Monday there is violin on Wednesday, Hebrew and on Thursday, ballet. One of these classes connects her to a religious tradition going back three thousand years. Two of them are pretty well pointless.

I don’t mean that as a bad thing. Pointlessness rules, as far as I am concerned. Lots of great activities have little or no point, at least beyond the fact that somebody likes to do them. My annual viewing of Dazed and Confused is pointless (it’s not as if I didn’t get all the nuance by the fifteenth time around). Candy corn is pointless. Watching local Pentecostal preachers on public-access cable is pointless. Hobbies are all the better for having no point beyond the fun they provide. Rebekah enjoys her violin and ballet classes, both after-school at New Haven’s terrific Neighborhood Music School. She loves her teachers, and she is proud when she makes progress. That’s good enough for me.

But that’s not good enough for some parents, who make claims for the utility of music and dance lessons that are, I think, unfounded and overblown. Lessons are fine, and I think it’s especially important that all public schools offer music and other arts in their curricula—both for their educational value, and so arts instruction does not become the province only of Americans who can afford to pay for after-school classes. But Americans’ emphasis on certain kinds of lessons—like ballet and classical instruments—are just accidents of history, entirely contingent. And if we look closely at why we encourage our children to study music and dance, and what the real benefits are, we will see that our children are taking the wrong lessons, and for the wrong reasons.

So why are so many children taking ballet, violin, piano? Lately, I have been asking my fellow middle-class urbanite parents that question. About dance, they say things like, “Ballet teaches them poise,” or, “Ballet helps them be graceful.” And about violin or piano they say, “It will give them a lifelong skill,” or, “They’ll always enjoy listening to music more.”

It does not take a rocket scientist, or a Juilliard-trained cellist, to see the flaws in these assertions. First, as to ballet, I propose a test. Imagine we took ten girls (or boys) who had studied ballet from the ages of five to twelve, and then quit, and mixed them in with ten girls (or boys) who had never taken dance. Let’s say that we watched these twenty tweens move around their schools for a day: around the cafeteria, the library, the gym, passing notes, sneaking out behind the middle school for a smoke, all the stuff tweens do. Does anyone really believe we could spot the ones who had spent seven years in weekly or biweekly ballet class?

I do not doubt that a ballet teacher or dance aficionado might spot some tell-tale moves—a slip into first position here or there, a certain elegance in a jump during a game of ultimate frisbee. And probably one or two of the ballet students, the best of them, really would appear more graceful than the others. But for the general mass of kids, the dance classes will not have had much impact on how they move. If you don’t believe me, then please visit a middle school in a wealthy town, watch children in the lunch line, and try to pick out which ones had studied ballet.

As for the enduring value of music lessons, I propose an even simpler test. Go on Facebook and ask your friends to chime in if, when they were children, they took five years or more of a classical instrument. Then ask all the respondents when they last played their instrument. I tried a version of this at a dinner party recently. There were about ten adults present I was the only one who had not played an instrument for many years as a child. All of them confessed that they never played their instrument. Whatever it was—violin, piano, saxophone—they had abandoned it. The instrument sat lonely in a closet somewhere, or in the attic of their childhood home. Or their parents off-loaded it in a tag sale years ago.

And the music that these friends listen to as adults—klezmer, Indigo Girls, classic rock—is in each case quite far from what their parents paid for them to study. Their studies of cello had not made them into fans of Bach. And unless I am mistaken, Shinichi Suzuki didn't include Rush in his violin books.

Now it is clearly the case that if nobody studied ballet or violin, we would have no professional orchestras or ballet companies. That would be a great loss. But for such art forms to persist, it is only necessary that the most eager and gifted students persist in their studies. I’m all for lots of children trying classical music or dance, but we no more need millions of fourth-year violin students than we need millions of fourth-year origami students. We all love paper cranes, I think, but we aren’t rushing to give our children to the cause.

Before the twentieth century, there was a good reason for anyone to study music: If you couldn’t make the music yourself, then you would rarely hear it. Before the radio and the phonograph, any music in the house was produced by the family itself. So it made sense to play fiddle, piano, jug, whatever. And before urbanization and the automobile, most people did not have easy, regular access to concerts. Of course, small-town people could come together for occasional concerts, to play together or to hear local troupes or traveling bands. Growing up in the sticks, you still might see Shakespeare performed, and a touring opera company could bring you Mozart. But very infrequently. If music was to be a part of your daily life, it had to be homemade.

But there were other, more complicated reasons that people took up instruments, or forced their children to. As the historian Susie Steinbach writes in Understanding the Victorians, in the mid-nineteenth-century the piano, which had always been handmade and tended to reside in upper-class parlors, became an accessible, middle-class status symbol, as fit for a tradesman’s house as for Emma Woodhouse’s. “By the 1850s and 1860s many pianos were manufactured in Germany and in the United States as well as in Britain,” Steinbach writes, “and were made by machine both changes made pianos less expensive.”

Changes in financing helped, too: The advent of the installment plan brought pianos to people who did not have vast capital. As the price of instruments dropped, music lessons became the burden of the well-bred girl, or of the girl whose parents hoped to massage some breeding into her.

By the 1880s, when the United States began filling up with unwashed immigrants, a whole class of do-gooder, piano-taught ladies believed that one way to acculturate the new immigrants was to offer them, especially the children, musical instruction. The institutions of the settlement-house movement, as it became known, offered much more than music classes they provided instruction in English, the trades, home economics, and many arts. But music was everywhere seen as one important key to the cabinet of proper, middle-class ways.

That belief helped animate the founders of the Educational Alliance, Henry Street Settlement, and Third Street Music School Settlement, all founded in downtown New York City between 1889 and 1894 Settlement Music School in Philadelphia (1908) the settlement houses that became Community Music Center of Boston (1910) Neighborhood House, which became New Haven’s Neighborhood Music School (1911) and the Cleveland Music School Settlement (1912). Not all of those schools were founded specifically to teach music, but even those that were not, and many like them across the country, quickly included music classes in their offerings.

The schools have stayed, even as the nationality of the immigrants has changed. At the Educational Alliance, where my wife took piano lessons as a child, the clientele used to be mainly Jewish more recently, it’s Chinese, Latino, and much else besides. But the music classes go on, the product of a couple centuries of parents’ aspirations for their own children and others’. The schools have long grown beyond their initial mission of acculturating immigrants, and are now educating the middle-class children and grandchildren of the first waves of students.

The classes are not a bad thing. Studying music or dance over a long time teaches perseverance and can build self-confidence. But then again, studying anything over a long time teaches perseverance and can build self-confidence. There is no special virtue in knowing how to play the violin, unless you have a special gift for the violin. Otherwise, you’re learning the same valuable lessons that you’d get from karate class, or from badminton. Or from endless hours of foosball.

I am not saying that children should stop learning stuff outside of school (although some days, when I see how overscheduled some children are, that’s precisely what I want to say). We just need to sign them up for classes that make more sense, given that it’s 2013, not 1860, and that I don’t need a violin-playing daughter to cement my class status. Look, I love the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, but one could make the argument that Rebekah would be better off learning to play the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” on guitar. That skill would certainly be more of an asset at summer camp.

We can probably all agree that it’s worthwhile for children (as well as their parents) to try new activities, and that there is virtue in mastering difficult disciplines. So what challenges should we be tackling, if not ballet and classical music? How about auto repair? At least one Oppenheimer should be able to change the oil, and it isn’t me. It may as well be one of my daughters. Sewing would be good. And if it has to be an instrument, I’d say bass or guitar. The adults I know who can play guitar can actually be seen playing their guitars. And as any rock guitarist will tell you, there is a shortage of bassists.

But I do not believe that all artistic pursuits, or all disciplines that one studies, should be judged for their usefulness. The sublimity of art is tied, after all, to its uselessness (cf. Dazed and Confused). More than anything, I want children to find pursuits, whether useful or not, that they can take with them into adulthood. For a while, a number of children in my neighborhood were taking ukulele lessons. I don’t much like the ukulele, and I think I successfully kept my daughters from knowing what their playmates were up to. But I was heartened by the whimsy of it all, and I kind of wish that the little gang of kids had stuck with it. Before too long, they might have gotten pretty good. At the very least, it might have kept them away from ballet.

As it happens, a trend like what I am advocating may be under way. My friend Noah Bloom, a trumpeter who works at Neighborhood Music School and used to be at Church Street School for Music and Art, in Lower Manhattan, told me that at Church Street there were “as many electric guitarists and young singers wanting to be Green Day or some hot pop artist as there were kids wanting to be classical pianists.” He also told me about School of Rock, a chain with dozens of franchised schools and camps, here and abroad, offering lessons geared specifically to aspiring kiddie-rockers. The School of Rock only teaches guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals, and drums. “They’re our competition,” Bloom said.

Rebekah, for her part, will continue with ballet. And violin. Periodically, we ask her if she’d like to quit, and she always says no. That’s good enough for us. If she finds a lifelong pursuit, that’s great. But if one evening, at her usual practice hour, she decides enough is enough, maybe I’ll suggest the guitar. Or maybe I'll just ask if she wants to sit with me on the couch and watch Dazed and Confused.


6 Reasons Learning An Instrument As An Adult Is Easier Than You Think

Learning how to play an instrument seems like an oddly daunting task for an adult. If you missed out on weekly piano lessons as a kid, is it too late to pick it up when you're on the other side of 30?

The short answer is: no. Turns out, adults have some key advantages over children when it comes to learning how to play an instrument. For a more in-depth look, we turned to Dr. Jessica Grahn, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the Brain and Mind Institute and Psychology Department at Western University in Canada who researches music, and James Lenger, the founder and president of Guitar Cities and music instructor to both children and adults for over 21 years.

You already have a good understanding of music from a lifetime of listening to it.

Before you even start playing, you come in with an extra edge: You've spent your entire life listening to music. "When I'm teaching, with the adults, one of the first things I have them do is write out in the back of their lesson book every song that they've ever wanted to learn," Lenger says. "Because of that exposure, when they're learning something, they can relate it to music that they already know." This knowledge can help you understand what chords and groupings of chords sound relatively easily.

"[Adults] can understand the basic structures of music and how they're inherent in a number of different songs they listen to," he says. "With kids, it's really tough to take an abstract approach like that."

You have the discipline and focus to make yourself practice.

As a child, your brain is still in the process of adapting to the environment and it can change connections more easily, thereby making music-learning an actual part of your brain wiring. As an adult, you can change connections, just not to the same degree. But this isn't entirely unfortunate. The adult brain is also chock full of life experience, which can actually be beneficial when leaning to play an instrument.

"The disadvantage that children have is that they are not so good at figuring out higher level rules and they don't really know about how to get good at something," says Dr. Grahn. "Whereas adults usually have some practice, either with sports or school, at saying, 'Okay, I want to succeed at this so what must I do? I must practice.'"

You are much better equipped to tackle complicated, abstract concepts.

Adults can also grapple abstract concepts more easily. "You can explain to an adult, 'Well, here are the rules of a scale and this is why these notes follow each other and these notes don't follow each other,'" says Dr. Grahn. "That might be much easier to remember because that's a rule. They can then apply that rule in lots of different places in music, whereas children kind of have to learn it all by practice."

The biggest difference in approach to learning harkens back to adults' analytical nature. Lenger explains that children tend to play what's put in front of them as fast as they can, while adults are sticklers for perfection. If you can put aside your desire for a mistake-free session and play even if your fingers aren't exactly in the right position, you're likely to learn more quickly.

You actually want to learn the instrument -- no one is making you.

While some kids feel compelled to play an instrument -- either by their parents or their lofty goals, like college admittance -- adults are the masters of their own destinies. They're generally excited to play music for the sole purpose of playing music. This motivation is "probably the most important thing," says Dr. Grahn, and it actually has some great cognitive effects, increasing your ability to learn faster.

For best results, make sure you're truly picking up an instrument that interests you and not one that you feel compelled to play.

Playing an instrument relieves stress (something you need more now than you did as a kid).

Sure, there have been studies singing the praises, so to speak, of music's ability to reduce stress. Now that you're not a carefree kid anymore, this can be particularly beneficial and serve as yet another powerful motivator. Music has been proven to release dopamine in reward areas of the brain, the same ones that light up in response to food, sex and drugs. In fact, Dr. Grahn says, "It's probably harder to find areas of the brain that don't respond to music than to find areas that do."

Many professionals these days are taking breaks from long days at work to fit in music lessons, adds Lenger, whose clientele is about 90 percent adults coming in at all hours of the day. "It's just an escape from the office for a little bit," he says. "A big part of teaching isn't just learning the guitar. Sometimes their first five minutes is coming in here and decompressing a little bit, and then we can go in and play the instrument for a while."

There are some mood benefits of music that can actually help you learn how to play an instrument, too, which come in handy as an adult. (Studies prove this!) "Having a positive mood is generally very good for your cognitive function, for your general well-being and for being able to sleep, which we know enhances brain function," says Dr. Grahn.

Plus, your brain could use the exercise.

As an adult, learning how to play an instrument is what Dr. Grahn calls a "brain trainer," a way to challenge your brain in an effort to stay sharper and alert for longer. Not only is it possible for this stronger cognitive function to stave off dementia, but it will also allow you to enjoy a higher quality of life with a more active brain. "That you can get from music, but music isn't necessarily special in that way, except for the fact that music also tends to have mood benefits," she says.


Am I Too Old to Learn Music and Play an Instrument?

“Am I too old to learn music?” This is a common question for many aspiring teachers and musicians alike. The simple answer to this question is NO, you are never too old to learn music or to play an instrument.Assuming you can still use your hands to hold a fork and knife or catch a ball, there are two main things you need to learn to play an instrument.

The Big Secret to Learning Music at Any Age

Ready for the big secret? Ok.The two things you need to learn to play any instrument are (drum roll)….. patience and a willingness to put in the time for practice (what really? can it be so simple??). Maybe you’ve already heard that piece of advice before but for some reason you still feel that you simply have no talent or ability to learn an instrument. You’ve tried and tried all your life but it always ends in failure. For those of you that feel that way, let’s get one thing straight right now.

Natural talent may help with people learning faster and become great musicians more easily, but it has nothing to do with being able to learn to play an instrument. Some people learn languages faster than others, some slower. Some people drive cars spectacularly, and some are dangers to society when they’re on the road. The point is, everyone can speak a language, and most people of adult age can drive for better or worse.

Anyone can be taught and everyone can learn if they are motivated to.

The Psychology Behind Learning

For those of you feel like they need a real life example, I recommend reading a book titled Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus. In the book, the author (who happens to be a professor of psychology and director of the NYU Center for Language And Music) talks about how he learned to play the guitar after years of feeling like a talentless musical oaf with people telling him he had no rhythm and couldn’t follow music to save his life . Ok, I’m paraphrasing a little, but you get the gist of it. Learning to play an instrument is the same as any other skill. Firstly, you need to put in the time to give your body, brain and muscles an opportunity to adapt to particular movements. Next, you need to give your mind an opportunity to absorb any necessary musical knowledge you will need to read and play music.

It takes time and dedication, and this is where being older can be beneficial as more mature students tend to be able to focus better and have greater patience than their younger counterparts (true story). Adult students also tend to be more analytical and able to process information more systematically allowing them to learn faster by correcting mistakes more effectively.

In Conclusion

While the above may not apply to every single person that ever lived, however the point is that everybody is teachable and everyone can learn, no matter what age you’re at. With that though, it does help to have somebody like a teacher or a friend to give you constant feedback if you feel you are the type of person who really struggles with rhythm. It will vary from person to person, but don’t judge your progress against someone else’s measuring stick. You are your own person with your own style of learning. Find a method that works best for you, then take it from there.

If you’re interested at giving learning an instrument a crack and don’t have access to a teacher, we have free lessons with video demonstrations here on the blog as well as a wide range of music lesson books & ebooks covering all sorts of instruments and styles.


10 Reasons to Learn to Play an Instrument

Before we dive into best instruments based on age and skill, let’s refresh on why you should encourage your child to learn an instrument and create music. In addition to the specific advantages of music therapy, here are 10 reasons why children benefit from learning to play an instrument.

Learning an instrument teaches children to create, store and retrieve memories more effectively. This video from TED-ED explains how playing an instrument is like a complete workout for the brain.

Learning to play an instrument takes a lot of time and patience. During music lessons, a teacher or music therapist will set goals. As the child reaches their goals, they will feel a sense of achievement and pride.

Playing an instrument requires the brain to work at advanced speeds, converting visual information into physical movement. Because of this, children who play instruments have improved hand-eye coordination over those who do not.

Music and math are highly intertwined. By understanding beat, rhythm and scales, children are learning how to divide, create fractions and recognize patterns.

Playing an instrument improves a child’s reading and comprehension skills both in and out of the classroom.

Learning and playing music requires constant reading and understanding of how the notes on the page correlate with movements on the instrument. Through special symbols and markings they also need to identify the volume the note should be played, if it should be short and crisp or smooth and connected to the next note. This ability to read and understand the meaning of the notes can also be seen in literature classes.

Most instruments require some kind of maintenance or upkeep. Encouraging children to stay on top of regular instrument maintenance creates a higher level of responsibility for them.

Music theory has a deep history and is often taught as part of musical instruction because music is a reflection of the culture and era it was composed in. Understanding the origins of musical styles gives children a deeper appreciation for what they are playing and they may become more attached to it.

Children learning to play an instrument are able to find themselves and express their feelings through music they create, which is especially important for children and teens during hospital stays.

Playing an instrument requires children listen carefully to an array of different things. They not only need to listen to instructions from their teacher or therapist, they need to listen for rhythm, pitch and speed. This ability to concentrate and to listen is a valuable life skill.

Music lessons can be done either one-on-one or in group settings. When engaged in a group setting, this requires children and teens to work together to collaborate on a specific sound or song. Interacting with other kids will give them an opportunity to socialize and work together towards a shared goal.

Best Musical Instruments by Age Group

With all the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument, you may want to run out and buy your child a guitar. Before you rush to your car, however, take a minute to read the best options based on your child’s age. One thing to keep in mind with any age is that playing an instrument should be fun, stimulating and engage your child.