Never Too Late

Stu Zonder
I'm there. Many of us are there. Where, you ask? We are at that place "of a certain age." While the "certain age" varies from person to person, you know when you're there. Things change. Your mind and body don't function quite the same way. You notice large and small losses; but fortunately, some activities that are no longer within reach physically, are replaced by intangibles like wisdom, grace, humor, and compassion.

One of the most important issues in function is how one’s mind responds to aging. Most of us have witnessed a family member or friend
slip away into dementia, or perhaps have memory and cognition issues to a lesser degree. My mother passed away from dementia, and it was a jolting
loss of her personhood beyond anything I had ever witnessed before.

The good news about brain function is that research has consistently shown that learning to play an instrument as we age delivers fantastic
benefits. Having taught guitar and ukulele to dozens of retired students, I can happily testify that most of them found learning to play to be
stimulating, fun and satisfying.

According to John Dani, PhD, Chair of Neuroscience at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, playing an instrument may be one of the
best ways to help keep the brain healthy. 

“It engages every major part of the central nervous system,” by tapping into both the right and left sides of the brain. For example, playing the violin – which, like many instruments, requires the right hand to do something different than the left uses the peripheral nervous system, which controls movement of your fingers, as well as gross and fine motor skills. The brain’s executive function – which plans and makes decisions – comes into play as a musician plays one part but keeps focus on what’s coming next.  Couple that with the total sensory input – visual, auditory, emotional and all at the same time – and it becomes a total “workout” for the brain.

“Recent studies suggest that music may be a uniquely good form of exercising your brain,” he said. “Fun can also be good for you.”

Results from a study of people who started to play piano between the ages of 60 and 85 noted that “after six months, those who had received piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, as compared with those who had not received lessons.”

So, it’s never too late.

I can state from the vantage point of teaching for many years that learning to play the ukulele at our “certain age” confirms those findings. Playing an instrument involves focused concentration, which can act as a meditative practice, promoting mindfulness and relaxation. It allows individuals to be fully present in the moment, while setting aside worries or distractions.

“String Along With Stu” is geared toward adults, and in my program, students learn technique by learning to play the songs we all grew up with.
Participating in this program is an opportunity to keep your mind fresh and stimulated. It doesn’t matter if you’ve ever played the ukulele, or any other instrument. If you are a beginner, my program is perfect for you. If you have some experience playing ukulele, you can start a little further along in the curriculum.

Before we go any farther, let’s talk ukulele for a moment. Having played guitar for many years, I didn’t take the ukulele seriously. I thought ukuleles
were toys, or a silly instrument that Tiny Tim used to further his antics.  Knowing better now, I strongly encourage any and all to learn to play. The
ukulele is an absolutely beautiful instrument on which you can play any style of music. It’s small with only four nylon strings that are much easier to
press than on a guitar. It’s a short learning curve, and before long, students are able to play songs that bring back the fun and emotions from an earlier time in their lives. Playing the ukulele can also open opportunities for more socialization. Many of my students join ukulele groups and create new friends and playing partners.

At the bottom of this article is a video. In it, I demonstrate via a little game of “Name That Tune,” how much fun the ukulele can be. If anyone reading this has any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Wishing all of my “Certain Age” peers a fun and exciting time in the coming years.

Try the ukulele. You’ll be glad you did.
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