I started violin lessons at age 42 with very little musical experience under my belt. Was I crazy? At times, I thought so. Am I glad I did it? Yes, very much so. Playing a musical instrument has enriched my life in so many ways I never would have imagined. And I give it credit for keeping my brain sharp. Does the thought of taking music lessons intimidate you? Well, relax, read this article, and give music a try!
At age 40, I developed a “mystery illness” with a frozen shoulder as one of the symptoms. I could only move my left arm about 6 inches away from my body. Blessedly, with intense physical therapy, medication, and good medical care, I recovered. However, one of the aftereffects of the illness was a sort of “brain fog” that made it difficult for me to complete many of my sentences as I spoke. About that time, I was carting my 3 boys to all kinds of music venues; lessons, band camps, orchestra practices, to name a few. Since I was spending so many hours sitting around waiting for my kids, I thought it would be fun to play the violin. That would also give my shoulder some exercise. I thought I could take lessons for 2 or 3 years, practice for about 30 minutes a week, and become a pretty good violinist. It didn’t exactly happen that way!
First, I did not realize that the violin is one of the more difficult instruments to play. There are no frets, buttons to push, or holes to cover, which means that you have to have a decent ear for music. Your fingers have to be in exactly the right position on the violin or the note will sound wrong. If you want to play something easier, try something like a clarinet or flute.
Second, a few years of lessons with not much practice does not make a decent violinist out of an average person. It took me 8 years of lessons to develop a good sound on the violin, and I practiced about 30 minutes a day, 7 days a week. It was VERY frustrating watching young children all around me pass me up in proficiency after just 3 or 4 years of lessons. I finally made peace with myself when I realized that they remember things so much better than a middle aged person, have much better hand-eye coordination than me, and so many of them had an incredible amount of musical ability.
However, I was blessed in many ways when it came to my musical journey. I had a patient, experienced teacher who had high expectations. It might take me weeks of practicing a few notes, but usually I mastered whatever she gave me. Perseverance, I believe, is the key to mastering a musical instrument in middle age. Many opportunities to play and make new friends came my way. I joined the local community orchestra and discovered that focusing on music and having fun for a couple of hours per week are great stress relievers. Then one day, I discovered that I was finishing my sentences better and experiencing less and less “brain fog”. Playing the violin is an intense brain workout for a middle aged person. Try taking up a musical instrument yourself!