People are always making New Year’s Resolutions. Most of which never stick, involve giving up something, punishing yourself to varying degrees, restricting something. How about making a New Year’s Resolution that’s fun? One that’ll make you happier, smarter, improve coordination, memory and the performance of your ENTIRE brain more than pretty much ANY other activity. What’s the catch you ask? The blood of a free range unicorn? The fender from a pink 1979 Cadillac Eldorado? A transgender outhouse from Smurf village?
Actually, just the price of an average instrument, new or used. Any standard portable 5 octave keyboard with full size keys, an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drums, sax, flute, horn, trumpet etc. will do. Guitars and keyboards tend to be the most popular instruments, but whatever instrument piques your interest, go for it. Maybe you’ll become the next Flugelhorn Icon. You can even learn play a couple instruments as this interestingly brings out different sides of yourself.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive top of the line instruments. I used to work for a music instruction company and got to play around with all kinds of high end uber expensive instruments. Fact is, you’ll get the same benefits of playing music without having to drop 5 grand on an Eric Clapton signature model Martin, just like you don’t really need a Rolls Royce to drive to the grocery store. Unless your address is Buckingham Palace.
Cockroaches, Casios and Keith Richards
Even an inexpensive Casio keyboard you can buy at any department store or online will do. I still have one of the very first keyboards I learned to play on, a Casio. Over the holidays, I met up with one of my former bandmates and we were joking about about how they’re made of some kind of indestructible plastic. Seriously, I’ve had the same cheap Casio longer than I’ve owned any car. I’ve loaned it out long term to at least 4 different people over the years and it still comes back working. So folks, it’s not just gonna be cockroaches and Keith Richards—It’s actually cockroaches, Casios and Keith Richards. That black Casio has been in the trunk of my car in the winter, in the tropics, in the desert. It would work on the moon I’m sure. I’ll make a mental note to play The Police tune “Walking On The Moon” for the occasion.
Benefits Of Making Music
Pretty much everyone loves listening to music which by itself gives plenty of benefits. But when you actually PLAY an instrument, so much more of the brain is engaged, leading to improvements across the board in numerous areas. Here’s some of the science behind making music:
Making music leads to improved coordination, enhanced learning abilities and better overall emotional health and well being. All things that are allies in anti–aging. One of the buzzwords in brain science is Neuroplasticity. The belief not all that long ago was that the brain does not grow any new neurons after adulthood. Not only is this seen now as the pile dogma sh*t that it is, the brain can and does actually grow new neurons and neural connections later in life. Playing an instrument grows new neural connections and keeps your brain young and active. And making music is actually neuro–protective. Look at our friend Keith Richards. With the amount of drugs Keith, Mick and The Stones did back in the day (I’ve also heard unpublicized stories from a musician who toured with them), one would expect them to be dead or only capable of having “zombie conversation” at a nursing home with other other casualties of the counterculture and retired boxers. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger did enough drugs to kill a herd of elephants. But lo and behold, not only can they still wipe their butts by themselves, they’re still touring, still writing and recording and being creative. Some even making new butts to wipe in their 70’s. Imagine what can happen if you play music minus the neuron guillotining effects of drug abuse.
Keith Richards’ practicing and playing guitar has no doubt protected him from years of addiction, bad habits and harmful life choices. So don’t wait till you retire to learn an instrument! Start getting the benefits now and you’ll be in much better mental and emotional shape when you do retire. You may not even want to retire from what you do because you won’t know what over the hill means. As for music, I’ll never retire from that. I don’t see music as my second language. English is my second language. I loved music before I spoke my first words.
Making Music Improves Cognition, Memory And Emotional Well Being
People take all kinds of pills and supplements to give them an edge professionally and personally. Things for energy, alertness, stress relief. Western culture promotes the magic pill. What about the magic hobby? Why don’t Dr. Oz, the Surgeon General or drug companies recommend playing an instrument? The drugs and supplements they recommend and make cost more in the long run than the price of an instrument. And the benefits of making music last longer than pills. Music is an all purpose medication without the harmful side effects.
Sound is energy. Sound is the first sense that becomes active in utero. Sound literally grew your brain. Mom’s heartbeat is our first drum kit. Why not keep growing your brain by playing an instrument? Your brain just works so much better with regular practicing of an instrument. It’s like your memories get a team of office support staff all filing them in their own departments throughout the brain. And they communicate with each other more frequently and recall things quicker and more vividly. Music is also meditative. It’s calming and relaxing and gets you out of the left brain beta consciousness birdcage which is a factor in the increased stress in modern society. That lateralization of consciousness isn’t normal or healthy—it’s fight or flight mode as the new norm. Music is nonverbal and provides stress relief in a way that other common methods cannot. Stress is energetic which then turns to physical symptoms. Music can match that negative and stuck stress energy and diffuse it. It works like a tuning fork in reverse. If you’re angry, listen or play some angry music for a while and you’ll find it draws it out of you like a Homeopathic tincture. As in Homeopathy, like cures like, and matching music to your mood will cancel it out and you’ll balance out and find your equilibrium again. Making music makes a more resilient brain.
Overcoming Biases And Misconceptions
You’ll have to overcome some biases and misconceptions about making music and playing an instrument. Rewind back to when you were a kid. Every child loves singing and making music. It’s fun, a form of play and vital for learning. At some point, most kids don’t continue their learning and exploration anymore through singing and music because “I’m not a prodigy” or some other socially approved or socially reinforced cop out and sacrificial offering to the lame God of Practicality. Are there expert or prodigy walkers? Did that stop you from learning how to do that? You don’t remember how long it took you to stand up and walk, yet most people are intimidated to play an instrument because it would “take too long.” We could have used the same excuse against speaking, writing and spelling. Look at Doctors—they’re no prodigies of handwriting are they? Granted making music is not essential to daily life but it is essential for long term quality of life as you’ve seen in the above video clip.
Look at it another way: You’re ALREADY better than any caveman. If you had a time machine and went back to the Stone Age, you’d be a rock star. As bad as you think you are or will be, you’re still better than Fred Flintstone so don’t make excuses or write yourself off before you even start.
You Don’t Need Formal Lessons To Get The Benefits Of Playing Music
You learned to speak and walk pretty well without any formal lessons. You got better with practice and later went to school and improved further. Just enjoy making music, get back to that explorative phase you had when you were a kid. Cross the “taking lessons” bridge if and when it comes to that later on. Just focus on playing music for fun and it’s benefits first. You can find free lessons online and buy lesson books before you commit to a teacher. Get comfortable and familiar with the instrument before you put yourself in the situation of paying for music lessons and the level of seriousness that goes with regular lessons. Many parents, who even well–intentioned, signed their kids up for music lessons too early turned a lot of people off from the fun of playing an instrument by making it too serious with the commitment required by having a teacher. Just like you don’t need a $5,000 Martin acoustic guitar in the beginning, you don’t need Madame Juilliard Graduate as your piano teacher the week after you buy a cheap portable keyboard. Overcommitment leads to personal letdown and unrealistic expectations at the beginner’s stage leads to personal sabotage. Don’t set yourself up for failure like this in the beginning. Remember your first time driving a car? Squirrels still have nightmares…
You Don’t Need To Understand Notes, Chords And Theory To Get These Benefits
Just play. Make pleasing sounds, practice, have fun. Worry about the formal knowledge later. Make sounds that you like. That’s how songs by your favorite artists are written. Music is created by playing first then written down, not the other way around. There are plenty of free videos on Youtube and sites online that explain music theory. You can also buy books for reference later. For guitarists, there are sites like www.songsterr.com (that is how it’s spelled) which shows how to play hundreds of songs for free. The site uses tablature to show which string and fret to play by numbers instead of having to learn notes by name. Tablature (AKA guitar tab) has helped generations of guitarists learn how to play. The site also has a player so you can hear how the song should be played so you don’t have to learn the types of notes and their time values. It is however a good idea to get a chord diagram book for keyboard or guitar because you’ll learn to think in chords instead of individual notes which is more complicated and frustrating when first learning about music theory. And all songs are based on chords, and you can quickly learn the most frequently used chords in thousands of pop songs in an afternoon.
Remember, music theory was invented thousands of years after musicians made and played the first instruments. G minor 7 flat 5 doesn’t mean squat to the Aborigines, but music and playing instruments does. Paradoxically, the more “primitive” the culture, the more every member of the culture engages in music, song, and dance. Take a hint. Heal thyself, Oh sophisticated industrial society cellphone texting box dweller!
You Don’t Have To Be “Good” To Get These Benefits
Look at Punk Rock (no offense since I dig that too). You don’t need to be a virtuoso like Franz Liszt, Niccolò Paganini, Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Even so, all these “Gods” once drooled all over mom’s shoulder just like you and me. And being “good” never stopped Punk Rock musicians from having fun writing and playing songs. They weren’t victims of self sabotage in believing they suck or the “Don’t quit your day job” beatdown. And numerous Punk Rock bands have become culturally significant playing just a handful of the most basic chords. Music is just as fun and beneficial for a 3 year old doing pick slides on guitar as it is for someone like Eddie Van Halen.
You Don’t Have To Do It To Become A “Musician”, Play Out Or Get In A Band
Hallelujah!! Your garage can still be used for that pink 1979 Cadillac Eldorado. Frederic Chopin didn’t play live concerts much at all in his lifetime. He really just loved sitting at home with his piano composing. He make his living teaching and though sheet music sales as CD’s weren’t around in the 1800’s. French composer Camille Saint–Saëns was also an amazing pianist but never cared to play out live, preferring like Chopin to “stay home and compose.” Saint–Saëns was a prodigy and supposedly could play Beethoven Sonatas from memory (again, music really upgrades memory function). I’ve known musicians with plenty of road battle scars of drug use yet can get onstage and play songs note for note they haven’t played in years. Again, music is neuro protective. It’s an unethical double blind study which will never be done in a lab, but I’ve seen it proven true through observation time and again. On a more positive note, one of my former bandmates is a high school dropout. He’s started and successfully run several different businesses, and is also an inventor with a few U.S. Patents under his belt. His musically developed brain has more than made up for his shorter formal schooling and standardized education and gave him intelligence potentials and abilities most other people with high school and college degrees have never achieved.
I’ve played in original and cover bands, have recorded in a studio band (where you write songs but don’t perform out live), and have done my own solo projects writing and composing in various genres. At the end of the day though, I still love playing music at home just all by itself. When you love playing the same 3 or 4 noted over and over again in practice, you know you’re a musician. Just focus on enjoying making new sounds and interacting with whatever instrument you chose to make music that sounds cool to you. You don’t have to label the stage of your relationship with your instrument to anyone or on social media. You’ll be a musician regardless, and your journey over the years will determine the label you give yourself. But you are still a musician even if no one ever hears you practice or play, and you aren’t obligated to begin playing an instrument for the purpose of anything else down the road except enjoying your time practicing all by yourself.
Making Music Is The Perfect Marriage Between The Right And Left Brain
Music is math and music is creative. You get the best of both worlds of brain enhancement in an activity a lot more fun that grammar school math tests. I never “called in sick” on my practice time. I always wanted to be there and even played when I was sick. Music is such a part of all aspects of my daily life. I listen to and practice music while I write. If more writers rocked they wouldn’t have writer’s block. I often pick up an instrument first thing in the morning, and it’s often the last thing I do before bed. I use music to meditate, I use it when I cook and eat, when I relax, read, and lie down right before I nod off for the night. I was a musician long before I became a writer but it is helpful and beneficial to become a musician at any point in your life and career. For instance, Humorist Dave Barry and Novelist Stephen King are amateur musicians who played in a band together called the Rock Bottom Remainders along with other authors like Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), Cartoonist and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and The Byrds lead vocalist and guitarist Roger McGuinn.
For people who don’t see the value in the time necessary for playing an instrument, here’s an example: Albert Einstein was an amateur musician. How much of his genius is attributable to playing music? You don’t ever hear about him being a musician because he was never famous for that. He was an amateur violinist though. He realized the value of playing an instrument. And the word “amateur” in our society just tends to mean you aren’t being paid for it and making your main income from it. The term is so arbitrary. Put another way, you could suck and be a “Professional” musician and you can be an amazing player in your living room and still be considered an amateur. Either way music still benefits you regardless. And lets face it, “Amateur Night” doesn’t stop men from attending Strip Clubs.
I’ve been to Einstein’s house in Princeton New Jersey, but there aren’t stories floating around of the legendary Al Einstein String Quartet killing it at the First Congo. But I’d wager playing music was a huge factor in his ability of accessing radical creativity in quantum physics. The autopsy showed Einstein had increased connections between the right and left hemispheres of his brain. The guilty party I suspect is music. Playing music caused that, which in turn allowed his greater ability for whole brain thinking and a more integrated brain. Playing music is ALWAYS additive—it wires the brain for expanded creativity and intelligence. Music grows the foundations and neural architecture for genius.
Life With And Without Making Music
I know from my own life the “before and after photos” and the feasts and famines of making music and practicing regularly. Case in point, the most stressful time in my life was during college. Why? Like many college students, I was trying to do too many things at once, juggling too many balls at once and I can’t even juggle. The mistake I made was cutting down my music practice time so I could focus more on my studies in college. It make total logical sense. But be wary of Captain Practical getting Gestapo on your enjoyments in life because restricting some, especially music, is actually detrimental to your overall performance and well being as I found out.
I did however always do my homework and studied listening to music which maintained my buffers during stressful times but not as well as when I was actively practicing music. The difference is always blatantly noticeable. I literally feel my brain light up after a good practice session of 1 or more hours. Being a musician would get me high. I remember my music lessons every Thursday night growing up and the next day in school I would be high all day. And wow did playing music get me through the drudgery and stellar maturity of high school. Making music was so cool I checked out of the whole clique, popularity, and party scene long before I graduated. All that stuff seemed so small and petty compared to the marvels of music. I’ve long outgrown all those high school issues and concerns. I’ll never outgrow music, the swaddling cloth of sound.
Sometimes I’d practice for 5 or more hours straight and that would get me ridiculously high, not to mention expand my internal effulgence of happiness—the “Happy for no reason happy.” But in high school and at various jobs right after college, I had to hide this to a degree because most people around me I could tell were not all that happy. Maybe if they made music, they’d tap into that inherent well of joy that cannot be found in hamster wheel lives chasing notoriety and titles.
Listen to birds. They can only make a few notes with their vocal chords. And they sing those same notes all day for their entire lives. You have the advantage of being born with fingers and hands which can play WAY more notes than any bird ever dreamed of. Making music and making sound is your birthright. Don’t deprive yourself of one of the most fun and beneficial things in life. So pick up an instrument this year and show the gray matter it matters and join the Culture Club—no transgender or androgynous bathroom pass necessary.
© Composer Yoga