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The Ten Best Reasons to Take Up the Guitar—At Any Age

There is a multitude of reasons for wanting to learn to play guitar. Perhaps it is a desire to lead campfire sing-alongs that inspires you, or a particular band that blew your mind and made you want to do more than just listen to music, or perhaps you're looking to impress a certain someone, or many someones for that matter. But did you know that playing the guitar is actually good for you? The following are ten reasons why you might want to take up the guitar pronto, none of which involves fame, fortune or the sexy factor.

1. Stress Relief

If you've ever had a bad day and turned to music for relief, you already know something about how it works to reduce stress. Music is a natural soother. It releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals, in the body. Playing the guitar, or any instrument, has a calming effect on the mind and body. Studies show that music not only reduces stress, but it helps to lower blood pressure levels as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, music is one of the top ten stress relievers, along with sleep and laughter. So whether it's an irritable boss or a mountain of bills that has your shoulders up around your ears, grab your Gibson and play your way to a calmer state.

2. Enhances Coordination

It takes quick movements of the fingers, hands, and arms to play guitar. Your fretting and picking hands will be performing different types of movements simultaneously. You may also have to read musical notes on a page and then convert them into specific motor patterns, all while breathing and keeping rhythm. Maneuvering around the fretboard requires highly developed hand-eye coordination and motor skills. Learning to play an instrument causes the parts of your brain that control motor skills to grow and become more active. This can come in handy if you dance and play sports as well as the guitar, or in a career that requires a high level of coordination between the mind and body.

3. Encourages Cognitive Development

Playing a musical instrument stimulates your brain and can increase memory capacity in both children and adults alike. Evidence suggests that musicians have organizationally and functionally different brains compared to non-musicians, especially in the areas of the brain used in processing and playing music. The parts of your brain that control motor skills, hearing, storing audio information, and memory actually grow and become more active. The effects are long lasting too. For adults aged 65-80, the more years a person had spent playing an instrument, the better they performed on tests of word recall, nonverbal memory, and cognitive flexibility. Other results show that playing an instrument can help increase your IQ by as much as seven points. Sharper brain function can also help guard against mental decline in the future.

4. Improves Mathematical Ability

Music and math are highly intertwined. Studies have shown that students who play instruments are often better in math and achieve higher grades in school than students who don't. Learning music theory requires that we understand beat, rhythm, and scales, and teaches us how to divide, create fractions, and recognize patterns. It's not surprising then that learning to play the guitar can help improve math skills at any age.

5. Improves Reading and Comprehension Skills

Music is a language. It involves reading and comprehension. When you see black and white notes on a page, you have to recognize what the note name is and translate it to a finger position. At the same time, you also have to read what rhythms the notes are arranged in and make your fingers produce the correct pattern. Like reading, music is also about listening carefully and learning how to reproduce the sounds you hear. Musical training improves the brain's ability to discern pitch, timing, and timbre. Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not only for the younger guitarist learning to understand speech and written language, but also for those of us who have been around awhile and may be struggling with some degree of hearing loss. Researchers found that as musicians age, we experience the same decline in peripheral hearing as non-musicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills, that can help us understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.

6. Sharpens Concentration

Modern life is hectic. The influence of television, the internet, and other media makes it difficult to concentrate on any one thing for too long. Practicing music slows us down. The hand-eye coordination involved in playing the guitar demands focus. You have to concentrate on things like pitch, rhythm, tempo, note duration, and quality of sound. Even more concentration is required when playing with other musicians because not only do you have to hear yourself, you must also listen to all the other instruments being played and play in harmony with the rest of the group.

7. Creates a Sense of Achievement

Being a beginning guitarist can be quite frustrating. There are many challenges to overcome, like which finger goes where and how to switch between chords. But as you practice and gain more experience, you master these tasks and begin making music that is not only pleasing to you, but to others as well. The transition from clunky novice to a more accomplished player is a very rewarding experience. Setting musical goals and working hard to reach them can make you feel pretty darn good about yourself. This glowing sense of self-achievement can propel you forward in your musical endeavors and also spill into other areas of your life, which will help make you more proficient in those pursuits as well.

8. Boosts Listening Skills

Music is an auditory skill. Playing an instrument requires you to listen very carefully to things like pitch, rhythm, and key. You have to learn how to hear when you're playing a wrong note in order to correct yourself. Tuning your instrument means hearing if the pitch you're playing is high (sharp) or low (flat). When playing in a group, you have to listen to the interplay of all the other instruments to be able to add to it in a way that isn't overplayed or underplayed. And if you don't want to be permanently anchored to sheet music, listening skills are essential to developing your ear.

9. Teaches Self-Discipline and Perseverance

Learning to play an instrument takes time and effort. To get a musical phrase or entire song down with as few mistakes as possible requires focus and repetition, since most people will not be able to perfectly play through a piece of music cold. In fact, the majority of musicians have to work difficult sections of music multiple times in a row before they can play them correctly. Practicing often and working on the more challenging parts of music, and not just the easy and fun stuff, requires self-discipline and perseverance. These qualities give you the stick-to-itiveness you need to follow through on your decisions and achieve your goals. The best musicians in the world are masters of discipline, which is why they are so successful on their instrument.

10. Fosters Creativity and Self-Expression

Self-expression is the pinnacle of art. Every feeling in the emotional spectrum finds release in it. The single greatest skill you can develop as a guitarist is the ability to consistently create music that allows you to express yourself. Most guitarists would agree that such a skill is the holy grail of true musical freedom. Learning to play guitar can provide an outlet for your energy and emotions. Elements such as melody, dynamics (range of soft and loud), harmonic qualities, and tempo all serve as expressive tools. As we become more proficient in our playing, so too will we become better equipped to express ourselves through the music emanating from our fingertips. Self-expression helps shape our identity and individuality and contributes to our overall sense of well-being.

Music provides many more benefits than just simple entertainment. It has even been proven to help patients recover from diseases or surgery more quickly and with less pain and medications. And take heed all you aspiring adult guitarists out there. This advice is not just for the young. In fact, learning a musical instrument at a later age can be even more beneficial as it could help you regain some of the aforementioned skills you may have lost over the years and help to keep your mind active and those synapses firing. Best of all, young or not so young, you'll be able to say the three sweetest words in the English language: I play guitar.

Image Credit: Guitar Gibson Les Paul Custom Florentine Custom Shop Source and Author: Ma guitare

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