Older adults learn to play keyboards

Classes in Guilderland are geared for the over-age-50 hobbyist who wants to learn the fundamentals o

Jerry O’Connor of Rotterdam always wanted to learn how to play the piano.

That’s why O’Connor, 54, decided to take lessons at the MusicLand Keys to Fun Lesson Center in Guilderland — 10-week classes geared for the over-age-50 hobbyist who wants to learn the fundamentals of how to play the keyboard, piano or organ. The cost is $19.95. Success is guaranteed or participants get their money back.

“I like this class a lot,” said O’Connor, who has never taken music lessons before but has a piano at home. “It’s slow enough for me to learn, and they take the time to answer all your questions. So far, I’ve learned all the songs they’ve given us for homework to learn. It’s actually easier than I expected it to be.”

Keys to Fun is the brainchild of Lou Lansing, senior instructor of the 12-year-old program which operates in a building on Ardsley Road, opposite the Westmere Fire Department.

“We teach people to read music and play with both hands in 10 weeks,” said Lansing, a tall, lanky man. “We have some methods that are probably unconventional, but they work. And we don’t say they’re going to play well, you understand. We just say they are going to play.”

Two types

All of the students are over age 50 and generally fall into one of two categories.

“Some people took lessons when they were young and gave it up and decided to come back to it,” said Lansing. “Other people never touched a key before in their lives but always thought about playing in the back of their minds.”

One-hour classes in three different levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) are offered days and evenings.

“We have people who played before, come in for an evaluation, and we see where they are at musically, and then we make a recommendation,” said Lansing.

Classes are between 10 and 14 people. There are currently about 200 students.

People learn to read music during a lecture-style class, then they take turns playing the song they practiced at home each week as a homework assignment.

Beginners learn seven songs in their first 10 weeks.

“Most people who complete the first level go on to the other two levels,” said Lansing. “By the end of the third level, people have achieved a sufficient level of proficiency that they play at a basic level. They don’t know everything, but they are happy with what they have achieved.”

People seem to enjoy the lecture format with several people in a class, said Lansing.

“I think it’s the social interaction that they enjoy,” he said. “It’s a different atmosphere than one person and one teacher. We cover the basic fundamentals of playing just the same as any other course, video, book or any other teacher would. The fundamentals of music are the same regardless of the method.”

The biggest problem older people have to overcome is thinking that they can’t learn to do something new because they are over 50, said Lansing.

“It’s a misperception that if you don’t do it when you are young, your opportunity has gone by,” he explained. “That’s the biggest reason that people are afraid to take lessons.”

Once they start taking lessons, their biggest problem is learning to play with two hands.

“Some people really struggle with that,” said Lansing. “You can use one hand and you can use the other hand, but when you put them together it’s tough. The only thing that solves it is practice.”

Lansing said MusicLand, which started out at the old Northway Mall, decided to target an older audience because they are a largely under-served population.

“Younger people have many opportunities to study music,” said Lansing. “That’s not usually the case with older people.”

Classes are kept to one hour, and students are asked to practice at home for 15 minutes each day. People who don’t have instruments can make arrangements to practice at the store.

Health benefits

Some studies show that learning how to play an instrument can have health benefits for older adults.

One study by six universities called The Music Making and Wellness Project, studied how learn-to-play keyboard music classes affect older adults.

The study, headed by Frederick Tims, chairman of music therapy at Michigan State University, found that people who took keyboard lessons reduced anxiety levels and boosted their immune systems.

Besides group lessons, people also have a few individual lessons.

“We don’t give a private lesson every week,” said Lansing. “But we try to give people at least one private lesson during the course of the 10 weeks and often it’s two or three private lessons.”

Mariza Medina, 52, of Austerlitz had never taken a lesson before she started playing shortly before Thanksgiving.

“I’ve always wanted to learn to play,” said Medina. “The classes are helping me to learn to focus where my fingers should be as opposed to playing with just one finger.”

Pat Hoffmeister, 65, of Guilderland took lessons when she was a child but stopped when she became a teenager.

“I’m learning to play all over again,” said Hoffmeister. “I really enjoy it. I have a keyboard at home that we bought when I started taking lessons. I practice at home, and I can play four songs now.”

Carolyn Pone, 57, of Clifton Park, also played when she was a child.

“My goal was to learn to play again when I retired,” said Pone. “I thought I’d try the lessons and I’m finding them very useful and, I’m going to stay with it. I have a keyboard at home, and I practice. I love being able to create music. You can play what’s in your heart.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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