Learning to play piano may not be the first thing you think about when seeking to improve your physical or mental health but, having taught thousands of Senior Citizens to play piano throughout the UK and beyond, I can safely say that – in addition to learning a new skill – our students are enjoying enhanced mental and physical wellbeing, and even making new friends! My name is Declan and I’d like to share with you, what I’ve witnessed.
First – a quick note about my tuition method. I teach piano to Senior Citizens via an online course using a unique, patented method based on numbers and patterns. What I have discovered is that the simplicity of this method enables Senior Citizens, in particular, to overcome the myriad physical challenges they often face when learning to play by more traditional methods. For example there is no need to read traditional music notation, which a lot of people struggle with.
Many of our students are in their 70s, 80s and 90s and some of their challenges include dyslexia, low sight, arthritis, stroke recovery, low hearing and muscular atrophy. The beauty of a numbers and patterns system is that it minimises the amount of information the brain needs to retain in order to play a piece of music, as well as rendering the distance between piano keys instantly clearer. Both of these factors make it instantly more accessible for people facing challenges such as those listed above.
Learning to play piano, however, is only the half of it! The social support our students provide for each other is a huge factor in their enjoyment. The Student Facebook Group and fortnightly group Zoom sessions provide gateways for our students to meet and interact with each other. Many tell me the support and encouragement they receive is akin to having a second family and, indeed, for those who have lost partners or missed out on visits from friends and family during the pandemic, it has proved to be a lifeline. As one Senior student put it “Being part of this group has been inspirational for me. Everyone supports everyone else, which is wonderful.” We encourage students to upload videos of themselves playing piano as early as their confidence allows. Some students have shared their progress on day 1 of the course with the majority sharing their performances within the first couple of weeks. The feedback and encouragement from other students is a powerful way to build confidence and motivation and enables students to feel part of a supportive community. While this doesn’t come naturally to some, once they take the leap, there is no looking back!
This sense of belonging and achievement appears to have bolstered the mental wellbeing of many. Margaret told us “Decplay saved my sanity. Brought music into my house and with it the joy of life.” Another student told us “It has been great for mental health and getting a little more life back” – a statement which is backed up by research that shows that making music can lessen depression and anxiety.
It appears it’s not only mental wellbeing that is enhanced. According to this article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is evidence that learning to play the piano affects neural pathways, creating what the author’s term “positive outcomes” for auditory & cognitive functioning, and for dexterity. According to the article, osteoarthritis sufferers who practise regularly on an electronic keyboard experience a decrease in arthritic pain and an increase in strength in their fingers – a benefit that carries on into other aspects of their lives.
One of our students, Pam, a long-time arthritis sufferer, told me recently that after a few months of playing regularly she no longer experiences pain in her fingers, and finds she no longer needs her pain relief gel. Another student commented, “the piano has been a great way to stretch my hand and get movement back.” In this article from the New York Times, a doctor overseeing a patient’s arthritis as she plays piano, notes “I think it has helped her hands … it maintains strength and range of motion in the joints.” What a great way to give your fingers the workout they may need!
In conclusion – I always knew that people with physical challenges could learn to play the piano, but I never anticipated it would actually help relieve pain or enhance their general sense of wellness to such an extent. As another of our Seniors says, “It’s fun, fun, and I love it!”
It seems it’s never too late to try something new and reap the rewards.
Declan Cosgrove, founder of www.decplay.com
See student photos below – more photos are available in the Blog photos library