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Play Piano for Brain Health — Because It’s Not Too Late To Learn and It Slows Cognitive Decline

Fulfill your musical dream.

Learning new skills as an adult can be difficult. We’ve established our habits and routines. Old dogs, new tricks, et cetera. As a child, your day was planned out, and you didn’t have as many responsibilities; you were free to spend time rollerskating, jumping rope, or learning a musical instrument. The latter is one thing many adults wish they’d done in their younger years — because not only is playing an instrument fun and impressive, it’s also intellectually stimulating.

There’s good news, though: Even if you’ve never beat a drum, strummed a guitar, or tickled the ivories, it’s not too late to start. And there’s an added benefit: Learning to play an instrument as an adult could help sharpen your mind, as well as prevent future cognitive decline. Keep reading to understand the pros of learning an instrument and figure out how you can get started.

Children and Musical Instruments

It’s no secret that music lessons benefit children and young adults. They provide kids with structure and teach them patience and responsibility through repeated practice. But did you know that young people who learn instruments gain mental benefits, as well? One study in the Journal of Educational Psychology showed that high school students who took music lessons performed better academically than their non-musical peers. Research from the American Psychological Association suggests that those who learned an instrument as a child stay sharper mentally, even decades after they stop playing their instrument. And a recent study in Frontiers in Psychology proved that learning a musical instrument boosted adolescents’ mental health and well-being.

Benefits of Learning a Musical Instrument as An Older Adult

You may be thinking, great — all these benefits for children, and I’m an adult. Isn’t it too late for me now? Not necessarily! Your fingers may get achy more quickly, but other than that, there’s no reason not to start lessons. Research shows that learning a musical instrument as an adult still benefits your brain in multiple ways. Read about two of them below.

It sharpens your mind.

Do you keep walking into a room and forgetting what you went in there for? Try learning piano. One study in the Journals of Gerontology showed that adults who started playing had almost immediate cognitive benefits. In the randomized controlled trial, adults between 60 and 80 took piano courses for four months; after three months, they showed faster mental processing skills and stronger working memory. These mental pros are no surprise, either. Research conducted by The Association for Psychological Science showed that adults who learned challenging new skills experienced a higher boost in cognitive functioning than those who did less demanding activities, like word puzzles.

It wards off future cognitive decline.

Learning an instrument isn’t only good for the here-and-now — it also provides you with long-lasting benefits. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that in older adults, learning a musical instrument may slow age-related cognitive decline and help strengthen listening skills. Further bolstering this idea is research from the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, which showed that learning a new language or a musical instrument makes an elder brain more efficient, which may keep memory loss at bay. “Musicians and bilinguals require less effort to perform the same tasks, which could also protect them against cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia,” says head researcher Dr. Claude Alain.

How to Learn a Musical Instrument as An Adult

Many children learn musical instruments as part of their daily routine. It’s baked into their school day, or they’re dropped off at practice every afternoon. As an adult with full agency (and a full load of responsibilities) it might take a little more initiative — but it’s definitely doable. Here are some tips to get you started.

Pick an easy instrument to learn. Maybe you want the benefits of playing an instrument, but don’t have a specific preference. Instead of diving headfirst into learning a more difficult instrument (like the violin) and getting frustrated, start out simple. Music website Take Lessons notes that the ukulele, harmonica, piano, and guitar are among the most beginner-friendly.

Choose lessons that fit your schedule. Signing up for rigorous or expensive courses right off the bat might do more harm than good. You have errands to run and people to see — rushing to a daily three-hour class will only make you want to quit. Try searching YouTube for lessons you can take at your own pace from the comfort of your home. They’re free, and there is a wealth from which to choose. Type something like “piano lessons for beginners,” and see what you like. If you’re ready for next steps, try a resource like MasterClass, where you can pay to learn (remotely) from professionals like Ringo Starr.

Want to get out of the house and learn in-person? Search the internet for local music academies, or use the Music Teachers National Association website to find certified teachers near you. Your local library, church, community college, or university might also have resources for private or group teachers in your area.

Music For Your Mind — and Soul

However you learn, and whatever instrument you choose, it’s important that you enjoy it. If you don’t like the piano, try guitar. Don’t like strings? Switch to clarinet. Learning benefits your mind, but enjoying the process and loving the music benefits your whole being. Have fun — and don’t forget to practice!

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