Ten years ago, shortly after my father died, my husband, Jim, surprised me with a mandolin for my birthday. “Why a mandolin?” I asked. Knowing that I was grieving, Jim purchased the mandolin to cheer me up. He remembered that I spoke of playing a musical string instrument from Eastern Europe as a child and performing with other children throughout Southwest Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. He wanted to bring back those happy memories of my family and my childhood. What a gift of love! Jim listened to me, he remembered what I had said and then he acted! The mandolin was a fabulous gift…almost as fabulous as knowing that my husband truly sees and hears me.
Fast forward, nearly 10 years later, I started thinking about that mandolin, that beautiful instrument that had sat idle for far too long. For many reasons (life happens), I did nothing with the mandolin. BUT last fall, I felt the urge to explore my long-ignored instrument. I found an instructor about 30 minutes from our home and the following week, I began taking lessons. There are many benefits to taking music lessons in one’s prime but I had no idea that learning to play the mandolin would increase my sense of excitement, enthusiasm, energy, and well-being! I was having fun and Jim, bless him, was delighted to listen to me play.
A month into my mandolin lessons, I decided to research why I felt so alive when I played. It turns out that simultaneously using multiple senses is a great way to stay present and can bestow the same benefits as meditation. Sight, sound, and touch, I was using all of them at once! I even registered the smell of my mandolin as I held it close to my body. Initially, I developed blisters on my fingertips, which hurt but the pain didn’t diminish my joy or stop me from practicing. Now my fingertips are calloused, and the pain is gone but my awareness of these pleasant sensations intensifies with each practice.
Margaret Manning wrote, “Music is for your brain what circuit training is for your body.” I appreciate this statement because, over the past 10 years, I tuned into my physical fitness. Now I am becoming more attuned to my brain health. In 4 Powerful Benefits of Learning a Musical Instrument after 50, I was surprised but pleased to learn that playing an instrument builds self-esteem. Manning writes, when playing an instrument, “Every note you play will ring out as proof that you can do anything that you set your mind to”. I say AMEN to that!
According to a TED-ED video by Anita Collins, playing an instrument enhances not only our senses, but also our linguistic, mathematical, and motor skills, specifically our fine motor skills. When we listen to music, fireworks go off in our brains; when we play an instrument, the fireworks become a jubilee as multiple pathways engage! So, if you want your brain to party, start playing an instrument!
I thank Jim for his thoughtful gift, a gift I simply thought would be an educational exercise, another pastime that might turn into a passion. What I received was a gift that enabled me to experience a long-forgotten childhood joy, a gift that increased my present joy, and a gift that will ensure my future brain health. My husband…I think I’ll keep him!