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September 2009

On Teaching The Older Student

by Lenore Vardi, Violinist

I believe that it is never too late to take up a string instrument if you have a love of music, the desire to learn, and the determination to open your mind to new ideas and concepts. It takes time and patience, but I truly believe that the most important ingredient for success is the belief that it is possible to learn to play an instrument at any age and that you can do it!

The emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of playing and listening to music are enormous, however it is extremely important to find and work with a teacher who has the required understanding and experience to help solve the various problems one is bound to encounter that are unique to the older student. A fine teacher can help make your musical journey one of joy, fun, and hope, and will be able to assist in the fulfillment of your musical goals and dreams.

This guidance will also allow you to remain pain and injury free which should be a major concern to any musician and which I cannot emphasize too strongly. The act of playing an instrument combines athleticism as well as artistry and the risk of injury to a player is substantial if one is not properly supervised. This especially applies to an adult whose anatomy is not as flexible as a young child's.

Another reason to take up the study of a musical instrument is the fact that the physical benefits of keeping your brain active are astonishing and music is an enjoyable way to exercise and stimulate your brain.

An article written by Diane Duthweiler expands on this idea. In it she states and I quote:

"One theory on aging minds creating a lot of excitement right now is that the human brain actually goes through a creative phase somewhere between ages 50 and 80 - and that that creative period lasts approximately 20 years.

A National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) study on older brains and music is among those that support this statement. Our brains lose neurons as we age, which has led to the conclusion that our brain power declines. But brain scans conducted during the NEA study show that when an older person has regular exposure to music, the connections between his or her brain neurons (dendrites) increase in number and get stronger. Other studies on senior brains and learning have come to the same conclusion, so some specialists now believe quality dendrites are more important than the sheer number of neurons - and that the heads on older shoulders may be better at handling complex tasks than younger brains.

Other studies on the human brain indicate that playing and listening to music has dozens of social and health benefits. The ones you might expect - better physical and mental health, an improved social life - but also some unexpected findings."

According to Ms. Duthweiler, "research that includes first hand accounts from caregivers for and relatives of people with brain injuries or a brain in decline shows that:
  1. Familiar music is sometimes the last thing recognized and a shared song can be the final connection with a loved one.
  2. Seniors who took group keyboard lessons had an increase in human growth hormone levels which is believed to help improve energy and fight muscle and bone loss, aches and pains - even wrinkles.
  3. Music can improve the brain chemistry of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
  4. Music activates the cerebellum, so work is underway to see if music can help stroke victims regain their language capabilities."

Even though an older person may not be able to attain a professional level of playing, the process of studying and exploring a beautiful instrument such as the violin or piano, opens up new vistas and provides you with an activity to get excited about and look forward to. It can provide a purpose in life and the process of solving the many problems that you will encounter in the study of an instrument, while stimulating the brain, can also provide countless hours of enjoyment and a true sense of achievement.

Another chief benefit for gaining proficiency on an instrument is the social aspect.

When an older student reaches a certain level of accomplishment on an instrument, it is then possible to find numerous amateur orchestras, chamber music groups, and other ensembles to join, which enables you to play with others of a comparable level and to socialize and make friends with people who enjoy similar interests.

I have always felt extremely blessed that I was able to study and gain proficiency on such a beautiful instrument as the violin. I have had the great privilege of being a professional musician and of being surrounded by music and musicians constantly from a very young age, and can't imagine my life any other way!

To be able to enjoy the gift of making music with others is an indescribable pleasure and something that I wish everyone could experience.

Since her New York solo recital debut in Merkin Hall in 1982, violinist Lenore Vardi, has received international acclaim as a soloist and chamber musician for her refined artistry and extraordinary technique. Equally gifted as a visual artist, Lenore has felt compelled to paint the beautiful shapes of musical instruments while she continues to appear as soloist with orchestra, in solo recitals and chamber music concerts throughout the world. Her art can be seen at museums around Seattle, WA, or online at Products featuring her artworks can be purchased on The Violin Case, or on