As we approach that time of year where gifts and ‘present lists’ for our nearest and dearest come into sharp focus, piano teacher and founder of Keys Piano School Jeni Warder offers some excellent reasons why the gift of music is the ultimate choice.
In my house, December traditions don’t include hot chocolate and movie nights, but rather the annual clear-out of ‘old stuff’ to make room for ‘new stuff’. My hallway gradually becomes an obstacle course of brown boxes, and I look forward to the New Year when I will trip over their contents elsewhere in the house.
Some family members are notoriously troublesome to buy for, though, aren’t they? You know the ones I mean – they never know what they want and seem perfectly content with the things they have. At a push, they’ll come up with something ridiculously mundane, something that hardly warrants your immaculate wrapping skills! My husband certainly falls into this category, recently requesting a lightbulb as a gift. True story.
If you are trying to break the ‘stuff’ cycle, and want to avoid wrapping lightbulbs, you may be considering giving an experience gift this Christmas. ‘Making Memories’ has become somewhat of a cliché in recent years, but the sentiment is valid – that we are valuing our time and loved ones more than ever, certainly given the events of the past few years. Although one-off experiences are a great alternative to paraphernalia, what if we could go even further and give a lasting, life-enhancing opportunity to explore a new, or rekindled love?
Music. We have all been moved by it, motivated by it. Music links us to our most precious memories and most significant life events. Many of us took music lessons as a child, only to lose their way in adolescence. Others may never have had the opportunity to be involved in music making, and always wondered what skills they might have enjoyed had circumstances been different. The great news is that adults of every age are starting to recognise that – contrary to what previous generations may have conditioned us to – it is NEVER too late to begin a new skill. In fact, learning as an adult can be positively fantastic for your physical and mental wellbeing. In our studio, Keys Piano School up here in the wilds of Greater Manchester, we have a vibrant group of adult student pianists. They are a fundamental part of our musical community, and I asked them why they thought piano lessons would make a brilliant gift this Christmas.
It’s ‘Time Out’
“Everything else I do is for family or for work, so this was just for me! I think it’s been really positive for my wellbeing and mental health. Playing is almost a practice in mindfulness, I need to put other things out of my mind and just focus on the music.”
I rather like the word ‘Adulting’. It makes it sound like it’s kind of optional, or something you only need to do sometimes! In reality, it’s relentless isn’t it? There are times we just need a break. When someone mentions the word ‘mindfulness’, I must admit to having to conceal an inward eye-roll. But I have recently educated myself and accepted that it’s not all about staring at blank walls while listening to white noise. We all need to ‘zone out’ from time to time, and the piano is a perfect place to find space from everyday chaos. It’s a different focus, a different space, a brain break.
“Everyone says it’s like therapy and it probably is – I go in stressed and float out of lessons.”
The truth is, it’s not easy to learn to play the piano, but in lots of ways that’s the reason it’s so good for you – you literally can’t think of anything else.
It Will Put You Gently Out of Your Comfort Zone
Not many of us relish the feeling of being outside our comfort zone, but being open to new ideas and opportunities is the only way to really grow as a person. The great thing about playing an instrument is that most of the time it can be done in private, with perhaps only those closest being aware of the first attempts. All good teachers will be extremely sympathetic to the initial nerves of getting things wrong, but over time that relationship develops into a safe space for feedback and progress, creating a great opportunity for self-evaluation. In time, a student may wish to take their development further, perhaps by taking an exam or performing more publicly.
“Next on my list is to get over my general terror of playing in front of people, and find that balance of being relaxed whilst still conveying (sometimes intense) emotions through the music – I think that will help my confidence with all sorts of other things in life, and I’m going to keep trying even if I shake like a jelly and mess it up 🤣 – one day I will crack it!”
It Improves Self Esteem
“The piano is a great instrument to challenge and reward in equal measure.”
“Achieving my grade 1 has given me a huge sense of personal achievement.”
As adults, we rarely get a sense of real achievement for completing all the everyday obstacles we face. I sometimes wish we could collect stickers for successfully negotiating with our teenage children, or finding somewhere to fill up the car without taking out a mortgage! But no. We just expect ourselves to work hard for no reward, which can really take a toll on our self-esteem. Achieving goals we set for ourselves, purely for the enjoyment and challenge of it, can massively alter our self-perception, and help us realise our full potential, even into retirement.
“I’m so enjoying practicing, improving and understanding stuff which I never did as a spotty teenager!”
You Will Have a Healthier Brain
I’m no clinical expert – far from it – but I have learnt over the years that the brain is extremely flexible, and its’ development largely depends on environmental factors. Once we reach ‘a certain age’ we may feel we are too old to start a new hobby, (for me, and my aspirations as a gymnast, this may indeed be the case!) but the truth is we just learn differently as adults. Open-mindedness and resilience are, of course, essential for success, but we are perfectly capable of ‘rewiring’ the brain as we mature. In fact, it has been proved that this process of learning, adapting to feedback, listening and assessing progress actually improves brain function in all areas of life.
“After piano training…we found a significant improvement on the test that measures executive function, inhibitory control and divided attention. Furthermore, a trend indicating an enhancement of visual scanning and motor ability was also found. Finally, piano lessons decreased depression, induced positive mood states and improved psychological and physical quality of life.”
National Library of Medicine
It’s An Education
“I find I listen to all music much more attentively now – my teacher points out the interesting parts of pieces and explains them in a really engaging way.”
Art is very much my second love, and I am enthralled by galleries and the way they tell stories about their creators. They document the development of society and culture, and reflect how we humans have seen ourselves over time. Perhaps my fascination is partly because art is so closely related to music. In the same way, music composed five hundred years ago tells a very different story to a piece composed last year. Understanding it, and decoding all its secrets, takes some study and insight, but is one of the most unexpected and enchanting benefits of taking the musical journey as an adult.
“Music gives my life a special dimension and I love it!”
So if your Notoriously Troublesome recipient is still blank on your gift list this year, maybe consider some musical training. You may just illuminate their life with the most long-lasting and purposeful gift they’ve received in a long time, and that’s a different kind of lightbulb.
More information about adult piano lessons to give as gifts at Keys Piano School can be found at https://www.keyspianoschool.com/christmas
Keys Piano School also provides an online course for beginner adults, providing video tuition reflecting their own innovative teaching styles. Find out more at https://www.keyspianoschool.com/online-beginner-course
For a thorough piano course for the adult ‘returner’ pianist, you may consider Play it again: PIANO (Schott) written by Melanie Spanswick, which offers a large collection of piano pieces over three graded volumes (from Grade 1 through to diploma level) complete with practice tips and suggestions.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.