The Happiness Class: Playing an Instrument
After quite a few years of only really picking up the guitar a couple of times a week, the lockdown has seen me playing for up to an hour or two per day.
What Is It?
Playing music can be as simple as singing in the shower or as complex as learning how to play the harp. Some of us were lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn an instrument at a young age. I first started by learning the keyboard in primary school (I did not keep this up) and then later the guitar when I was thirteen. Playing the guitar (and later bass guitar) led me into a world of being in bands, which came with its own perks: socialising, meeting new people, gaining confidence and also being really really cool. After quite a few years of only really picking up the guitar a couple of times a week, the lockdown has seen me playing for up to an hour or two per day. I may have gravitated towards playing music as it was something that I did a lot during my formative years, or it may just be that it provides a sense of mindfulness that I find myself unable to achieve through meditation; there are lots of mental health benefits to learning a new instrument, or continuing to practice one you already play.
How Do I Do It?
I’m aware that there is a certain amount of privilege associated with playing music - as parents with more disposable income are more likely to spend money on music lessons and instruments for their children, but this doesn’t exclude everyone from playing music if they really want to. The music charity Music For All provides “learn to play” days at music shops across the country, there are cheaper alternatives to private lessons in group lessons and you can also rent instruments from some music shops, which can be good if you aren’t sure if you’re going to enjoy it. YouTube is full of tutorials and guides for learning instruments, as well as apps that can even listen to you and provide you with feedback.
What Are The Benefits?
There are lots of documented benefits to playing music. A study by the University of Montreal summarised that musicians tend to be more mentally alert. "Music probably does something unique," explains neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. "It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way because of our emotional connection with it."
As well as this, musical training can change brain structure and function for the better by improving our long term memory as we practice remembering chords, scales and songs.
Brain scans reveal a difference in the brains of musicians and non-musicians, the main one of these being a larger corpus callosum (a bundle of nerve fibres that links the two halves of the brain) in musicians. This means that musicians can make stronger connections between ideas, improving their creative thinking skills. Another element of music is the social aspect - bands, choirs and orchestras allow musicians to form strong social connections and work together towards a common goal. These connections can be very good for our mental health. Studies have also shown that music therapy can lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Where Can I Find Out More?
A good place to start would be to consider what instrument you would like to play. The internet is obviously a great place to research this, with lots of demonstrations and tutorials on YouTube. You could then also ask Mr O'Keeffe if the school has a peripatetic music teacher for that instrument, use the internet or check in local music shops for music tutors or see if there are any taster sessions happening anywhere in or near Liverpool at www.musicforall.org.uk.