Need to know
If you’ve ever moved to a beat, joined in a chorus or felt your heart quicken to the lyrics of a song, you’ve felt the power of music. That power runs deep in the human experience, and the urge to dive fully into the sounds, to make those sounds and share them, is strong.
Like millions who’ve learned to play or sing as an adult, I had no idea that music would become so important to me. As a teen I enjoyed playing guitar and singing, and in college I took a few bass lessons. I married a singer/songwriter who had gigged in his youth. But it wasn’t until we’d settled into our middle years that I returned to music. Now I struggle to imagine my life without it. If I could learn music as an adult – with little innate talent or musical upbringing – surely anyone can.
Most of us had musical experiences as children, whether it was singing during religious services, taking lessons that our parents supervised, or attending music clubs in school. But playing music as an adult is different. We have pressing obligations, no supervising parents and fewer opportunities thrust upon us. We have to choose to do more with music, and then we have to make time for it.
Those who have the desire to play often fear that they waited too long, that learning music as an adult is just too hard. But it’s never too late. I’ve spoken with people of all ages who have chosen music and are prospering with it. As adults, we have learned how to learn, we value what music has to offer, and we have the patience to watch our abilities and joys compound with time. We might not learn to play as quickly as a teenager would, but we can play with feeling and nuance, and deeply appreciate those we play with.
If you’ve tried an instrument and struggled to keep up with it, if someone has made fun of your voice, if life’s demands stripped you of free time, then you might be reluctant to dive in. But this moment can be different as you explore new methods and discover what works for you. Because it’s not a question of if but how. Everyone can make music.
The benefits of music
Music brings us joy. But what else can it do? It can relax us, offer us solace, and give us a creative outlet. It can deepen our emotional experience, sharpen our hearing, and produce changes in our nervous systems that create a natural high. We’re able to enjoy tapping our feet to a beat because music fires up our neural systems through entrainment – the synchronisation of one’s own rhythms to an external musical rhythm. Listening to music, playing, singing or dancing intensely engage our brains and our emotions. Beyond making us feel good in the moment, research suggests, music can also help us lead more satisfying lives as we age.
Playing music together strengthens social bonds, for music is, by its nature, social. Like many people, I’ve been moved by music while watching a rock concert, listening intently to the crescendo of a classical performance, or following a big-screen drama enhanced by its score. But even more intimate and memorable is playing a song with others, improvising a solo or holding down the rhythm, and adding a harmony to someone’s melody. These moments have brought me closer to people in a way I’d never have experienced without music.
Similarly, Kelly Trojan, a truck driver who spends hours singing along to CDs while on the road, told me that playing music with her band gives her ‘somewhere to belong, a social group, and some focus other than the daily humdrum’.
You can find your own way to make music
Whether you approach music as a child would a playground, as a mathematician would a proof, as a painter would a canvas, or as an athlete would spring training, you can find satisfaction in your pursuit. This Guide will help you take the first steps as you choose an instrument, learn how to practise, find ways to play with others, and develop techniques to keep moving forward. […]
Gayla M Millsis a hobbyist roots musician, former college instructor, and author with scores of published essays and features. Returning to music in her 40s, she discovered a new life in a rich musical circle. She is the author of Making Music for Life: Rediscover Your Musical Passion (2019). She lives in Virginia, US.
Edited by Matt Huston
Continue reading: How to start making music | Psyche Guides