Music to Their Ears: Bay Area Older Adults Learn New Instruments at Any Age

bay area older adults learn new instrumentPlaying a tune means being fully present, not only in mind but in heart. There’s no doubt that learning to play an instrument or sing in a choir can help older adults to live in the moment: making music is one of the best ways to embrace self-expression and let one’s creativity loose. It’s deeply rewarding for the soul, at any age. If your aging loved one happens to live in the Bay Area, they’re in luck. The region is full of fun music classes for older adults to enjoy, no matter what their level or experience.

From ukulele lessons to community choirs to weekly jams, there are many opportunities to try out new instruments or experience what it’s like to play with a group. Since the music scene for older adults is also very inclusive, your aging loved will feel welcome to participate regardless of their skill level. So wherever their heart is calling them, musically speaking, encourage them to give it a try.

The Benefits of Making Music

The experience of music lessons can be particularly beneficial for older adults: not only is playing music spiritually enhancing, it’s also ideal for improving your aging loved one’s memory, physical coordination, and overall outlook on life.

Physiological Benefits:

  • Improves memory: Memorizing patterns or lyrics helps increase your loved one’s capacity to remember. If they’ve been struggling with memory, taking music lessons can be a fun way for them to strengthen it.
  • Strengthens cognitive function: Thinking in terms of rhythm and mathematics is a great brain exercise which can help older adults on their toes, mentally.
  • Increases coordination: Being able to strum out a tune or press piano keys while singing improves muscle coordination, something that older adults can lack conditioning in.
  • Improves endurance: Practicing vocals can help with breath control while playing a wood instrument for even a short period of time can help improve your loved one’s overall stamina, especially for older adults suffering from breathing issues.

Psychological Benefits:

  • Relieves stress: Playing music can take your loved one’s mind off the stresses of health problems or emotional hardships as it encourages them to be present in the moment.
  • Expands social network: Going to a music lesson, joining a choir, or attending jam nights can help older adults meet a wide range of new friends, especially one who might struggle with isolation from living alone or losing a spouse.
  • Hones creative expression: Making music encourages your aging loved one to let their inner child out to play, which can bring great joy and raise their spirits. If they suffer from depression, or are simply feeling stuck, music can break them out of their emotional rut.
  • Improves self-confidence: Learning to play an instrument, or sing along with others, will bring a sense of accomplishment and self-assurance. For older adults who may be feeling a lack of purpose or have poor self-esteem, music lessons can encourage them to seize the day—and sing out, loud and proud.

Music Classes for Older Adults in the Bay Area

Joining a music class can help your aging loved one to engage their brain more, relax and unwind, and meet other friendly older adults in their area. Explore these local options to see if there are any that spark their interest:

South Berkeley Senior Center

This wheelchair accessible center provides affordable lessons for adults over 55 in the Bay Area. Your loved one will need to invest $35 for the initial one-time enrollment fee, which gives them access to any adult classes for a year. South Berkeley Senior Center offers numerous music classes, including ukulele and singing lessons, music and exercise sessions, a piano sing-along group, and piano or opera lessons.
Most classes are one to two hours long in the afternoon on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. They operate on a drop-in basis, so your loved one doesn’t need to plan ahead or commit to a long-term program. Check out their schedule for a full list of options.

Stagebridge

This long-running organization offers a variety of arts and music classes, including some specifically designed for adults over 50. Your loved one doesn’t need any prior experience to join, but Stagebridge also has high-level classes aimed at those who already have some musical experience. These programs might require an audition and have higher enrollment fees. Some of the classes offered are vocal lessons, chorus, and musical theater, with many culminating in a live public performance.

Compared to other Bay Area music centers, Stagebridge classes tend to be a bit pricier and require more of a commitment. For example, they offer an 11-week program for $169, or one-off workshops for somewhere between $25 and $50. But keep in mind that your loved one can apply for one of their full or partial scholarships to help cut the cost down. Regardless of your loved one’s musical ability, Stagebridge provides a great opportunity to dive into the world of performance art.

Community Music Center

The CMC facilitates multiple community choirs throughout the region for older adults. All of them are free to join, and inclusive of all singing levels and abilities. These choirs allow for many types of voices that, when blended together, create a harmonious sound.

Joining a local choir can be a great way for your loved one to be a part of something bigger than themselves: they’ll have a chance to learn new songs, practice weekly with friends, and perform in public alongside their peers. Each choir specializes in a different style of music, so explore the CMC’s list to see if there’s one that’s a fit for your loved one’s musical tastes.

In addition, the CMC offers an Adult Certificate Program (ACP) for older adults who want to focus on specific music goals. The program is personalized to address their specific interests and abilities, and usually includes a schedule of private classes, groups, theory lessons, and performances. A CMC advisor will mentor them throughout the program, which costs $60 for 12 weeks, or $36 for 8 weeks over summer.

  • Address: 544 Capp Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • Phone: (415) 647-6015 (Contact Paul Dab, ACP Coordinator)
  • Email: info@sfcmc.org or acp@sfcmc.org

Ukulele Club Silicon Valley

Based in Mountain View, this fun group is helping to spread ukulele love to older adults in the Bay Area. With over 250 members, there are plenty of people to meet through the club’s regular lessons, jam sessions, and special events. From 10 to 11:30am every Monday, the club offers a group lesson at a private home.

Your aging loved one can also join their weekly ukulele jam at Dana Street Roasting Co., which is open to anyone, even if you don’t have a ukulele. The evening get-together starts off with a lesson from 6:30 to 7pm, then features a lively jam from 7 to 9pm. The party is open to anyone, so caregivers and family members can come to enjoy the tunes and sing along to old favorites. There’s good food, drinks, and a social atmosphere with plenty of mingling and laughter.

  • Address: Dana Street Roasting Co., or private residence (email for address)
  • Phone: (650) 854-7610 (Contact Dave)
  • Email: DaveFichtner@yahoo.com

Getting involved in the local music scene can create new opportunities for caregivers to support their loved one’s musical aspirations, regardless of experience or talent. You can accompany your loved one to jams, buy tickets to their performances, and drop them off at their weekly lessons to encourage them to keep belting out the tunes. It can also be a lovely way to connect more with your aging loved one by asking them questions about their experience, like what they’ve been learning, or what style of music they’re enjoying most.

Inviting music into your life at any age can bring personal joy, as well as physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. Whether your loved one is learning the ukulele for the first time or singing in a community choir like they did in their teens, they’ll likely be coming home with a brighter sparkle in their eye. After all, that’s just what music does to a person.

If you’re unsure how to best support your aging loved one in their continued hopes and dreams, Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources. Contact us today to learn more.

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