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Making music can add so much to one’s life

Flutes made of animal bones date back 37,000 years, and the drum probably was used long before then. Today, there are five instrument categories: percussion, woodwinds, brass, strings and keyboard. Popular instruments include the guitar, banjo, ukulele, clarinet, trombone, violin, piano and harmonica.

On May 22, musical instrument vendors hope people will participate in National Buy a Musical Instrument Day, but really the day is all about music. If you have never played an instrument, this might be your day to start. If you already play, it might be time to pick up a new one. With school almost out, this is the time to give your child a head start or catch up for next year’s school band.

Playing an instrument is fun, and it increases self-esteem and learning in other areas. Children who play an instrument are shown to read at advanced levels, have larger vocabularies and work better in teams. Music doesn’t make you smarter, but it does provide skills that help you learn more quickly and concretely. Among these benefits are language development, stronger brain tasking, improved problem solving, higher IQ and higher test scores.

Learning to play an instrument is not just for school-age children, May 22 is for people of all ages. You are never too old to begin playing a musical instrument, and often an adult student learns more quickly than a child. Many seniors start playing as a hobby, sometimes forming senior bands. It is possible that playing an instrument is on your bucket list.

There are benefits to starting an instrument in your later years. Playing music is good for us, improving our health, including relieving stress. One researcher advocates “making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression. There is also increasing evidence that making music enhances immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses.”

Musical activity throughout life might make your brain fitter and more able to deal with the challenges of aging. Antoinette Follett of Making Music magazine states, “… there is an increasing focus … on the need to keep the brain as healthy as the body. This focus is as much about making … retirement years fun as it is about preventing … Alzheimer’s. Music making has the potential to do both.”

Music promotes memory and a sense of self in older adults and empowers people to be less isolated by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music “is one of the most engaging and emotionally powerful stimuli. Listening to music can have strong effects on people’s moods, thinking, and even their physiology.”

My home is filled with music. My husband plays, teaches and composes. As a music teacher in the Clark County public schools, he understands the constraints and benefits of school music programs. This is the time of year many schools hold open houses to introduce students to the idea of learning a musical instrument.

Finding the right instrument can bring a lifetime of fun. The key to selecting an instrument for a new student of any age is physical comfort, sound and application.

When choosing an instrument to play, especially for children, here are some things to consider:

1. Physical limitations: low lung function might cause difficulty playing wind instruments. A young child might fare better with a half- or three-quarter-size version of violin, guitar or banjo.

2. The sound: The student needs to really like the end-goal sound to enjoy playing the instrument. Be aware some teachers or band leaders might encourage your child to play an instrument your child does not like because the band needs a certain instrument — poor incentive for any student.

3. Be cautious selecting an instrument based on popularity. The banjo and violin/fiddle are having a renaissance because of the “Old Crow Medicine Show,” bringing an influx of students who want to play these instruments. This is wonderful for traditional instruments, but novelty instruments, like the cigar-box banjo, have limited application.

4. Opportunity to play or advance is often dependent on how many people play an instrument. With 21 million people playing the piano in America, if a child wants to gain a scholarship for college, competition will be much harder than for a student who plays the organ or oboe.

The point of playing an instrument is to improve yourself and have fun. Young or old, musically experienced or just beginning, May 22 is a day to celebrate music. Even if playing a musical instrument is not your forte, take part in the joy music brings.

Here are some other ways to celebrate this musical day. 1. Start gift shopping early. Buy a musical instrument ornament for someone on your gift list (ornamentshop.com has the best selection). 2. Donate money or an instrument to your local school’s music program or Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (http://www.mhopus.org/, this nonprofit in its fourth year has donated thousands of instruments to school programs.). 3. Watch “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” 4. If you usually listen to classical, try a little jazz.

Celebrate May 22 as you learn to play a new instrument, tune up an old one or listen to some good tunes. Whether you rock or jam, May 22 is your day to play. Music is the universal language shared by all. Music is a gift that lasts a lifetime!

Cat Trico has been a resident of Boulder City since 2003 and is a past president of the Senior Center and co-founder of the Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve. As an author and editor, she contributed to “Rights, Responsibilities, and Relationships” for youth. She can be reached at cat.circa1623@gmail.com.

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