Benefits of music for the elderly

It is generally recognized that musical activity can have beneficial results for the elderly. These benefits come in different forms for different people depending on their circumstances.

“Music therapy” is a well-established method of helping people with physical and cognitive disabilities caused by conditions such as dementia. “MT”, as it is known, often involves relatively passive activities like listening to music under controlled conditions. But it can also involve singing, drumming, or playing and playing other simple instruments like the harmonica.

Research has shown that the calming effect of music leads to better social interaction and often helps improve communication skills when they have been affected by things like a stroke or as a result of some other injury or illness.

For what we might call “ordinary” seniors, music is often used in retirement communities and senior centers in the form of special musical entertainment, songs, and even dance classes.

Participants are encouraged to sing, clap and dance according to old family standards. This type of musical experience provides a pleasant and enjoyable social interaction, some worthwhile physical activity, and a jolt of positive emotional stimulation.

Can older people benefit from playing musical instruments?

Listening to music can be emotionally stimulating, but it is a relatively passive activity. Can older people benefit from being more actively involved in making music, for example by singing or playing a musical instrument?

Of course it depends a lot on the senior, and on the instrument. Many older people have physical limitations that make playing a violin or guitar nearly impossible. But those same people could benefit from participating in a drum circle.

Participants in activities like this quickly become involved in making music, having fun, even dancing, singing and chanting.

As Shannon Rattigan of says,

If a facilitated drum circle is presented correctly, in a matter of 10 minutes everyone can be playing a drum beat together… The key is to set the right tone to make it playful and fun. You can improvise, play and just have a good time. Like we did when we were kids.

Can it be done with other instruments?

Again, it depends a lot on the senior and the instrument.

Many older people have played a musical instrument when they were younger and stopped playing when family and work intervened. I often read on music instruction forums about older guys (most of them seem to be men) who picked up the guitar after it had been sitting in the closet for 40 years.

Yes, 40 years! That is not an exaggeration. I am an example I played guitar and trumpet in my teens and early twenties, and didn’t actively play them again until I was in my 60s.

The incentive for me was the opportunity to teach some of my grandchildren a little of what I knew. And that led to many opportunities to perform with them at family gatherings. And of course that has resulted in the joy that comes from seeing children become talented musicians in their own right.

The point is that it is possible to dust off old talent if the circumstances are right. One possibility is to revive old talent and play in a small, informal band with friends or family.

A retirement community seems like the perfect place where a group of people could come together to make music together in a more structured way, for example as a singing ensemble or small band.

An enterprising social director in a senior community could even form a larger band, using regular or simple musical instruments such as whistles, harmonicas, and a variety of percussion items (drums, tambourines, maracas, wooden blocks, etc.)

play traditional musical instruments

Is it realistic to think that a person in his 70s or 80s can still play a traditional musical instrument like the keyboard, the guitar or the trumpet? Or could he or she learn a completely new instrument: a keyboard, for example, a banjo, a harmonica, or even a saxophone or guitar?

Again, it depends on the circumstances a person is in, in particular their physical limitations. Many older people have lost flexibility in their hands. They may have back or hip pain that makes it difficult for them to sit in the positions required by some instruments. And often an older person has trouble seeing or hearing.

If none of these things stop a person, why not give it a try?

But there is always the question of motivation.

Learning to play an instrument like the piano, even in the most basic way, has real benefits. It provides enjoyment, mental stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment. And that may be enough of an incentive for you to take on (and stick with) a project like learning to play a musical instrument.

But playing for your own enjoyment is often not enough of an incentive to keep going. Playing a musical instrument, or even singing in a small ensemble, almost inevitably involves the opportunity to perform for others, usually friends, family, or neighbors in the community.

In other words, it’s often just the prospect of performing for others that keeps musicians going. Taking music lessons as a child almost always involves a “recital” from time to time to show off what you’ve learned. Without the recital practicing starts to seem pointless.

There is no reason to think that it should be any different for an older person. My father played the violin in church for at least 50 years, and it was those “performances” that kept him interested in playing. As his faculties began to deteriorate and invitations to play dried up, so did his interest in playing.

It’s performances like this that provide the incentive to improve and learn new material, or for an older person, to hold on to skills they developed earlier in life.

So I would answer “Yes” to the question “Can an old person like me learn a new instrument?” It will give you pleasure as well as mental and spiritual stimulation. And it will give you something meaningful to do with his time.

But don’t keep it to yourself. He plays for friends and family. Join a group or form a gang. Have fun being a musician and share the joy with others.

Imagine being able to sit down at a piano and just PLAY – Ballads, Pop, Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, even amazing Classical pieces? Now you can… and you can do it in months not years without wasting money, time and effort on traditional Piano Lessons.

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