Learning an instrument gets better with age

Margaret Turner learning the guitar at Rae Lamond music shop. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Margaret Turner learning the guitar at Rae Lamond music shop. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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THEY say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – but for some “tricks”, being older can have certain benefits.

Taking up an instrument in your 50s, 60s or even 70s might seem like an impossible task, but in some respects, having a few miles on the clock can be an added bonus.

More and more people in retirement are now deciding to fulfil life-long ambitions of taking up piano, guitar, or something more exotic, and experts say having extra time on their hands to practice could be the key to their success.

Furthermore, taking up an instrument later in life can have health benefits, such as increasing physical strength and improving memory.

Tudor Morris, director, of the City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton High, is one such believer.

He says: “It improves memory capacity, concentration, social skills, confidence and self-expression.

“Music also heals – there is lots of research on music in hospitals – and it enlightens people and brings them together.

“There is an element of fitness, depending on what instrument you play – blowing instruments are great for the lungs and each instrument works on a different part of the body.”

He adds: “I have never met anyone who has regretted taking up an instrument, but have met so many people who have regretted not taking one up and my reply to them is ‘why don’t you?’ because there’s no reason for them to feel like they can’t.”

Today, the act of taking up a new musical instrument is being celebrated across Britain for National Learn To Play Day.

Supported by musician Jools Holland and budding ukulele player Harry Hill, the campaign is offering free taster music lessons across dozens of UK venues.

Rae Lamond, manager of Rae Macintosh Musicroom on Queensferry Street, says the free workshops in her store have been snapped up by people of all ages.

“We cater for people of all ages and we have instruments of all different sizes,” she says.

“We have got violin lessons with someone in their 70s and someone who is four.

“Having music in your life from an early age isn’t absolutely necessary for taking up an instrument, although it does make it a more natural part of your life.

“When you’re older it’s good because you tend to have more time.

“Anyone can pick up an instrument and play a chord or a tune but it’s the time that’s the important thing.

“A lot of older people have played when they were at school and then haven’t played for 30 years but take it up again when they have more time.

“It’s never too late. It’s about having the enthusiasm and patience to actually practice more than anything else.”

The idea of encouraging older people to pick up instruments for the first time has become so appealing for one Edinburgh musician, that he has centred his studies around it.

Paul Boyd is doing a PhD at Edinburgh University in music education, and is writing his thesis on methods of making instruments easier for older people to learn.

Paul, who is also managing director of Morningside School of Music, says 60 per cent of his clients are adults, and 20 per cent are over the age of 50.

“I have got a client now who started at the age of 71 when his wife died – he is 74 now and is grade six piano. Grade eight is as high as you can go,” he says.

“He said he had always wanted to do it but had never got round to it.

“He couldn’t afford it when he was wee, then he had children and work commitments and never got round to it.

“But he has a lot more time on his hands now and is doing really well.

“You get a lot of people who are retired and looking to try something different.”

Paul points that a lot of adults may have negative associations with learning an instrument because of music lessons they has when they were children.

“A lot of older people have had a negative experience of learning an instrument from their school days when their teacher told them they couldn’t sing or whatever because that’s what teachers were like in those days,” he adds. “Music is a hobby, it’s something to be enjoyed, and that’s what we’re helping older people to do.”