It's hard to face our limitations as we age. My 50-year-old body laments that I can exert myself just as hard on a run as I could in my 30s, yet now my miles time is nine-plus minutes where it used to be seven and a half. Our brains gain better understanding of our physical world, while the limitations of our aging body keep us from putting that knowledge to use. Yet I still run. I'm not fast, but most of the time I enjoy it.
Music is one area where I have found an exception to the age-deterioration rule, and it is why I encourage the pastime. The older I get, the more playing experience I have behind me. My ear-to-brain-to-finger comprehension is more practiced and I am exposed to more and more music to broaden my horizon.
But beyond that, like a long run or an extended bike ride, there are places that music can take you that the uninitiated don't get to go.
My current passion is to take pop or jazz songs and turn them into finger-picking, rockabilly songs. For a while, I was having fun turning hard rock into elevator music. I started with classical and have made forays into jazz chord melody playing, tried out the blues, composed cheesy love songs for my dog and played countless scales and chords for no reason other than the fact that I enjoy it. The more I play, the better I get at it. And it's fun to get better at doing something. I didn't say I was good, but I enjoy it. I get sucked into it.
Just sitting down with a guitar and nothing but time can take me from playing Melissa Etheridge rockabilly style, to some Hank Williams. Before I know it, "Jambalaya on the Bayou" leads to "Mr. Sandman" and don't you know I end up at "Autumn Leaves and Misty." In between those, I'll probably hit my easy-listening version of "D'yer Mak'er." I'll also bang out some power chord songs. I think my golden retriever likes it when I howl and strum, "Let me be your little dog 'til your big dog comes."
It's fun to sit down and start to play, not knowing where you are going to end up. That's not something I necessarily could have done 30 years ago, when I knew less and hadn't played as much as the years have allowed. And it's why I understand successful musicians who need to keep changing what they do and appreciate those who can teach and encourage folks like me.
I sit and play and people come up and ask what I'm playing and I say "stuff" because that's the truth. I also get asked if I play in a band. When I tell people I don't, they are surprised. But part of what makes it work for me is just that I am doing it for the sake of doing it and I can take it anywhere I want.
When health professionals tell us that learning and employing a skill such as a musical instrument helps the brain stay active, they are right. There are all sorts of curiosities that can open new doors; we just need to find the vehicle to lead us to them.
We all need to find our "thing," and for me it is the guitar. As for age, knowing that my knees or feet aren't going to cause me trouble or get in the way of my progress means I can go pretty far just sitting on my butt. But I guess I had better get up and do some running so it doesn't get too big.
Alexandra Murphy, of Buffalo, plays the guitar for fun and finds it gets easier and more enjoyable as she gets older.