Learning music is good for our brains, or so science tells us. And, apparently, it’s never too late to start. There’s evidence that learning to play an instrument changes the brain more than any other activity.
Here’s a neat article from Brainpickings, one of my new-favourite online sites. This article explains the science of learning music much better than I can.
I have a serious singing deficit. And I always sing out of tune, even in the shower or the car, not simply when others can hear. I can whistle in tune. I hear when someone plays a wrong note. I can also hear when anyone sings out of tune, which is unfortunate, especially when it’s me. Cringe!
Imagine my horror when I began a new job at the Spirit of the Streets Choir six months ago, and on my first day I was told to sing. Starting a new job at any age can be daunting. At almost 80, this can be even worse through lack of practice and consequent loss of confidence. On top of that, to be instructed to sing made my first day on the job (at a choir rehearsal) even more stressful.
Thanks to musical director, Bernard Carney, and the tolerant, inclusive Spirit of the Streets Choir, my life now includes much more music than previously. I expect like many other members of the Choir, I’m looking forward to next Tuesday afternoon when rehearsals begin for 2017. Here’s a warning: I’ve been practising and learning songs in the break!
Learning music through singing
Under Bernard’s guidance, every rehearsal begins with warm-up exercises. We stretch and deep-breath and tighten and relax our shoulders. Then we pull faces and stick out our tongues, then relax some more. We sing to warm-up, all together, and then in rounds.
A warm-up song about mangos, bananas and kiwi-fruit pops up regularly. When we sing it, our song is loud, frivolous, and remarkably good for stretching the muscles of the face. Try repeating the words a few times and check your face!
For me the downside of this song happens in fruit-shops and when I open the fridge I instantly begin to sing. Shopping with my oldest granddaughter, Claire-Helen, and three great-grandchildren this week, my mind went into overdrive she one of them mentioned tropical fruit. I began to mumble, ‘Bananas, mango, kiwi-fruit,’ and tried to remember the tune.
I’m learning, slowly, to sing a song or two. I’m working especially hard on singing Bernard Carney’s ‘Pass the song along.’ You can hear the song and read the words here. For a real treat, listen to the joy of the Spirit of the Streets Choir singing at rehearsal.
Learning music on a keyboard
John and I sold my old keyboard in a fit of tidying-up a year or two ago. We thought we were too old to bother learning and we’d never use it. It was hidden away upstairs and not even our grandchildren got to enjoy it. Learning music had been on my list of things-to-do when I retired. I bought the instrument but never got around to doing anything more. It moved with me when I married John almost ten years ago.
After the first couple of rehearsals we attended at the Spirit of the Streets Choir, I began to wonder out loud if perhaps we might buy another. Playing the songs might help us sing them. We’d both learned music as kids and can both read a little music, so that would be a start.
I gave up because the sitting-room in our house was down a long passage, away from the rest of the family. I was young enough to be afraid of the dark and isolation, especially in the evenings. Practice became a battle between my mother and me. I quit. And I’ve regretted not being able to play an instrument ever since.
So, we bought a cheap keyboard one Saturday morning, and a teach-yourself-book. It started as a bit of a joke. But I’ve persisted with my music practice and feel quite proud of the chords I can recognise and the pieces I can play. I’m up to Lesson 45. Soon I’ll need a new book. Maybe, when I get time, I’ll take lessons.
I still can’t sing. My disability may be intractable. But I’m having fun being part of the Choir and learning new skills.