Music, maestro!

It’s never too late to learn a musical instrument. And, as well as picking up a new skill, learning a musical instrument can have a whole host of other benefits too.

As children, many of us will have experienced the joy – and frustration – of attempting to learn a musical instrument.

Whether that experience involved struggling to get a violin to produce anything more than a shrill screech or taking a starring role in a school production with the triangle will depend on a number of factors – and the reality is that, for the majority of us, playing a musical instrument isn’t something that sticks.

Research from the Australia Council for the Arts shows that just one in ten Australians play a musical instrument, with those numbers peaking between the ages of 15 and 24, with 28% of people in that age group creating music (including singing and writing, as well as playing).

As adults, however, learning a musical instrument can be hugely appealing. As well as living out daydreams of headlining a stadium gig or performing at the Opera House, learning a musical instrument later in life can have significant physical, social and psychological benefits.

A study in England supported by Exeter University also shows that playing a musical instrument – particularly the piano – is linked to improved memory and executive function (the ability to solve complex tasks). Continuing to play into later life, meanwhile, provides an even greater benefit.

The Journal of Neuroscience has found that playing a musical instrument can improve neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to reorganise and adapt in response to new experiences). Research has also found that adults who take part in group music-making sessions experience a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression.

Learning to play a musical instrument can also give a sense of purpose and accomplishment. The intricate finger movements and coordination required to play musical instruments can help improve fine motor skills.

Is it possible to learn a musical instrument later in life?

Absolutely. However, the notion that it is easier to learn new skills as a child is correct. Research has found that children experience a rapid increase in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) when they take part in visual training and this learning carries on even after that training is over. In adults, on the other hand, GABA levels remained unchanged.

How to get started

So, you've decided to take up a musical instrument - but how do you choose which one to play? 

Here are some things to consider.

  • What suits where you live? If you live on an acreage in a rural area, a drum kit could be great. Less so if you're surrounded by neighbours in the city.
  • What sort of music do you enjoy and which musical pieces would you like to play? You’ll find it easier if you’re learning songs or tracks you know and enjoy.
  • How much money do you want to spend on an instrument? Second-hand instruments are great, however, some are easier to find than others.
  • If you're considering playing a musical instrument to widen social circles, which groups operate locally?

There are a huge number of websites and apps that offer free music lessons, so take time to explore what the internet has to offer and see what might fit your learning style.

The importance of practice

While everyone is different, it's estimated that it takes 1-3 hours of study and practice every day for 10-15 years to master an instrument. Don't let that put you off, however, because the reality is that any musical instrument is a lifelong learning experience - one that only a few truly perfect - and you can very quickly make noticeable and fulfilling progress.

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