Learn An Instrument

January 7, 2012 by staff 

Learn An InstrumentLearn An Instrument, If you have the urge to make music but never had lessons as a kid – or quit before you got any good – don’t despair. Sure, most professional musicians started when they were young. But neuroscientists and music teachers alike say it’s never too late. And it turns out, the biggest hurdles aren’t stiff hands or an aging brain.

For adults, the desire to play an instrument is often awakened by a great piece of music. For filmmaker David Murdock, it was a tune called “George’s Dilemma,” performed by trumpet player Clifford Brown.

“The more I listened to him, the more I thought, well, maybe I could play this,” Murdock says. “So I bought myself a trumpet and an instruction book, and started teaching myself how to play.”

But Murdock was living in a crowded apartment building in Manhattan, and practicing quietly was a challenge.

“To really play well, you have to cut loose and blow,” he says. “I got a mute, but that didn’t work very well. So I’d do things like blow into a pillow, or go into my closet and blow into my coats and clothes. But once in a while I’d practice really loudly.”

One day he returned home from work and found that his apartment had been broken into. The door frame was splintered, and the door itself was practically ripped off the hinges. When he called the police and explained that the thief had taken the trumpet, the officer suggested that it might have been one of the neighbors.

And that, Murdock says, was the whole investigation. He never got another trumpet. He figured that was his last chance to learn it.

Norman Weinberger, a neuroscientist at University of California Irvine who has done pioneering research on the auditory system and the brain, says that while its harder for the mature brain to learn an instrument, it’s not impossible.

“A lot of people believe the brain isn’t very plastic after puberty. In fact, the brain maintains its ability to change,” Weinberger says. “Is it as easy to learn something when you’re 65 as it is at 5? No. But can it be done? Yes.”

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