The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages

The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages

Reduce Stress, Learn faster, Improve Your Brain Function And So Much More…

written by Terry Stefan founder of

Long ago, when I picked up my first guitar, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I daydreamed about having a shiny gold Les Paul, just like all my favorite bands did. I wasn’t so much concerned with the benefits of playing guitar; I just wanted to look cool and learn my favorite songs.

Like so many new guitar players, I was quickly discouraged. All the concepts I was learning were challenging to master, my fingertips were killing me, and nothing was fun. I was ready to pack up my guitar and find a new hobby. Thankfully, I pressed on and kept learning. Twenty-something years later, I look back on how the guitar has made me a better person.

Playing guitar isn’t just about learning an instrument. From your physical health to your mental health and beyond, the guitar can unlock a surprising array of benefits for you. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at all of them.

From physical health to mental health and beyond, instruments unlock an array of benefits.

Health Benefits

Beyond the fun of playing, the guitar can unlock many powerful benefits for your health.

Guitar As Therapy

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick up your guitar and see if you don’t feel better after the first few minutes of playing. Playing an instrument has the power to relieve stress and anxiety and reduce cortisol.

Research shows that this type of activity has the power to short circuit the brains traditional responses to stress and anxiety. Instead of allowing those feelings to manifest, when you’re playing an instrument, you’ll be surprised to see how quickly they melt away when you’re stimulating yourself by playing an instrument.

The BBC further posits that playing an instrument can raise your white blood cell count. White blood cells are critical to effective immune system response, and it seems it may also affect your sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our stress responses.

For Your Heart Strings

The clear mental benefits of playing an instrument are great, but there’s so much more playing an instrument can do for you. Playing music also has implications for your heart health.

Berklee School of Music’s Chairperson, Suzanne Hanser espouses the benefits of playing an instrument for your health, especially for older people. Playing can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate. A recent BMJ study suggests the same heart health benefits.

Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate.

Mental And Cognitive Benefits

Perhaps the most impressive health benefits of learning guitar are the cognitive and psychological benefits associated with learning an instrument.

Playing An Instrument Staves Off Mental Degeneration

Playing an instrument can also keep your brain sharp, helping to stave off degenerative diseases that are common in older people, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, seniors who engage in the kind of engaging mental activities like playing an instrument can reduce their risk of developing these conditions by up to 75%.

Other activities such as brain games like crossword puzzles or chess also help slow or prevent Alzheimer’s, as does dancing. But, as a musician, I’d argue none of these activities are quite as fun or enriching as playing an instrument.

Playing an instrument can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimers and Dementia by up to 75%.

The Cognitive Benefits Of Playing An Instrument

The guitar is particularly unique, as it seems that the brain of a guitar player BEHAVES differently than non-musicians’ brains. In a 2012 study in Berlin, researchers concluded that the neural networks of different guitar players appear to synchronize while they’re playing a piece of music and that synchronization actually occurs before they even begin playing.

Further, it seems that guitar players can toggle between conscious thought and unconscious thought during solos and other difficult passages. This suggests that learning the guitar allows players to tap into the creative side of their brain, allowing their ideas and virtuosity to flow through them uninhibited.

Playing an instrument has also shown to have an incredible effect on the plasticity of our brains. Pat Martino, the renowned jazz guitarist, had a severe brain hemorrhage in his 30’s, prompting scientists to remove a significant portion of his left temporal lobe. While Pat recovered from surgery, unfortunately, his playing ability did not. He completed lost the ability to play.

Within two years, Pat was able to relearn his instrument completely, and he approached it with the same virtuosity he had before his injury. This incredible development suggests a significant link between brain plasticity and playing an instrument.

While these benefits exist for everyone, they’re especially profound for children. The science is in, and playing an instrument can help improve brain structure and development. For kids who get an early start on learning, it looks like an instrument can also help improve long-term memory.

Playing an instrument can enhance brain development and improve long-term memory.

Music and Childhood Development

It’s clear that children are one group that stands to benefit the most from musical instruction. Through music, children can unlock many powerful benefits including improved listening and comprehension skills, improved concentration, and better performance in other academic subjects.

Cognitive Effects

Merely listening to music can unlock powerful mental benefits, but perhaps the truest improvements occur when students engage in playing music or music therapy. According to a recent Frontiers in Neuroscience study, researchers found that children who participate in playing music were able to better develop their memory, comprehension and listening skills, and concentration.

Music and Math

The scholastic benefits don’t stop there. There’s also a large body of research which suggests that learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.

When you think about it, this connection is a no-brainer. At its core, music is about math. Time signatures are math, the number of beats in a measure is math, and many of the concepts of the guitar are also closely tied to mathematics.

We know that learning an instrument can improve your cognitive abilities, and studies show that musicianship affects executive functioning. Executive functioning is an area of skill that closely related to mathematics, as well as the development of many skills that the professional world demands.

Learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.

Music and Creativity

In general, every aspect of neural processing seems to be improved when children learn an instrument. Beyond these tangible mental benefits, there are also implications for the general development of the student.

When it comes to guitars as therapy, students who take up the guitar can unlock a new creative outlet, expand their knowledge of music, as well as themselves and others. Once a student is confident enough to begin performing for an audience, the guitar is the tool that allows them to step outside their comfort zone while expanding their horizons.

Instruments can also be an exciting way to limit your children’s screen time. Any parent can tell you; it sometimes feels like they’re losing a battle to the screens in their child’s life. I can’t think of a better way to provide an alternative to tv and digital devices than playing an instrument. It’s also a great way to get the whole household involved in the fun.

Other Mental Benefits

Beyond the powerful mental and cognitive benefits above, learning an instrument can teach you import lessons about time management, goal setting and accomplishment, diligence, and productivity. All these are tools you’ll be able to tap into in your professional life.

Practicing your instrument touches on each of these aspects of professional development. You’ll learn how to set goals for yourself in your practice time, and how to diligently attack those goals by managing the way you practice and the time you spend on different areas of your instrument.

When you accomplish your goals, you’ll also feel a powerful sense of accomplishment that will inspire you to keep practicing, learning, and growing.

Musical practice can help develop persistence, time management and discipline.

Physical Benefits

If we capped this article right here, there’s already an incredibly strong case to begin learning an instrument. But there are still so many additional benefits associated with learning an instrument; including the profound physical benefits related to learning the guitar.

First, there are the obvious benefits. Playing guitar is physically demanding on your hands, and over time, regular playing will help you improve the flexibility, dexterity, and strength of your hands and wrists. Playing will also improve your motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

One area where you stand to benefit that you may not have considered: playing the guitar can actually help relieve pain. When we’re playing music, our brain has the powerful ability to divert our attention away from what’s bothering us, i.e., physical pain, so we can instead focus on playing an instrument.

Still asking yourself “why should I learn to play guitar?” What if you knew that it could actually help you lose weight? Merely sitting and playing will help you burn a modest 145 calories an hour. But, if you play standing up, you can accelerate that to an impressive 217 calories per hour. This is just another powerful benefit of this helpful hobby.

Playing guitar can reduce pain, improve coordination and help you lose weight.

Emotional Benefits

One of the most visible effects of playing a musical instrument is in your emotional health and wellbeing. Ask anyone who has played the guitar for any amount of time, and they’ll be quick to tell you how their instrument helps them express themselves, find more joy in life, improves their self-confidence and more.

Music as Self-Expression

Playing an instrument provides you with a powerful form of self-expression. Whether you’re learning how to play your favorite songs, or writing your own compositions, there are few ways that offer such an opportunity to express yourself quite like learning an instrument can.

Ask a guitar player how they feel when they’re performing, and they’ll be quick to tell you about the happiness and joy they feel when they’re on stage. It’s true, hearing the crowd cheer and yell as you provide the soundtrack to their evening can be downright euphoric.

An instrument also has the power to improve your self-confidence. Few things have the ability to make you feel the way you do when you begin to learn new things, conquer pieces that were once too difficult for you, and share your music with friends and family.

By expressing yourself on a public platform, you’ll not only become more confident in your ability as a guitar player; you’ll become more confident in other aspects of your life, as well.

Music, Meditation, and Consciousness

Playing an instrument is also a great way to learn patience, and find inner peace. The act of learning an instrument is predicated on hours of repetition, discipline, and practice. At first, it can be easy to lose concentration and focus, but over time it’s something you learn to revel in.

While we’re on the idea of finding inner peace, playing an instrument is actually a powerful form of meditation. Cultures throughout the world have realized the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.

In their powerful book Music and Consciousness, David and Eric Clarke posit that music has played an influential role in their meditation practice.

“Music, used as an object of study and a series of training exercises, can have a regulatory, balancing effect on the mind. Like the breath, music can be deliberately used as a bridge between the voluntary and autonomic nervous systems … It moves beyond intellectual, conceptual, discursive thinking towards an emotional, sensual realm.”

Learning music can also teach you to exist firmly rooted in the moment, a practice that mindfulness has sought to unlock for many years. Spend an hour or so working through some of your favorite practice routines and you’ll quickly realize how connected music is to meditation and mindfulness.

Finding Fulfillment Through Learning Music

Finally, playing an instrument allows you to unlock a powerful sense of self-fulfillment and achievement. Few things in the world feel quite like mastering a new piece or tackling a new piece or practice routine that was above your ability the last time you tried to learn it.

Cultures throughout the world understand the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.

Social Benefits

One area where the benefits of learning guitar are most profound is in the social benefits of learning an instrument and participating in making music with others.

Connecting with Others Through Playing Music

Participants in the Music for Life project met with researchers at the University of London to discuss their experience playing music with others as part of the Music for Life project. The participants were quick to point out the social connections they were able to forge with other people through this project.

In addition to allowing them to make new connections and meet new people, they also experienced other benefits, such as friendship and camaraderie, collaborative learning, and even teaching.

Most musicians are able to make lifelong connections through the practice of playing music, and these bonds can lead to fulfillment in other areas of life, as well. The people you play music with exist as a strong support network that you can call on when you’re overwhelmed by other aspects of life.

Scientists have discovered that this type of bonding also results in increased production of oxytocin, which is known as “the love hormone.” In simpler terms, this type of social interaction triggers that warm and fuzzy feeling within your body, which has severe implications on how you’re feeling and thinking.

By playing music with others, not only are you learning yourself, but you’re also teaching, helping others feel good, and enjoying the company of like-minded individuals. Just ask the members of New Horizons Band, a New York-based band composed of musicians from all walks of life.

Based on their reporting to researchers at the University of Illinois, members of the band were thankful for the opportunities music has brought them, including the ability to learn and refine their craft. But most importantly, members spoke highly of the social implications of playing in the band.

Through the band, members were able to create new social bonds, find fulfillment as part of a team, and by helping others, and improve their own self-images in the process.

The Powerful Effect of Teaching Music

When people engage in playing music collaboratively, something special happens. Not only do the players improve their abilities, and learn how to play as part of an ensemble; the social aspect of playing together allows them to explore and develop in other areas.

Players who have already mastered a passage are quick to offer assistance to others. It’s common for them to discuss what they’ve learned and how to apply it with others after their session is complete. This kind of social bonding and camaraderie is one of the most important and useful aspects of learning an instrument.

Many musicians make lifelong bonds through playing music, which can translate to other areas of life, too.

Other Benefits

Sure, the mental, physical, and social benefits of playing the guitar are well documented, and each benefit is a compelling reason why you should pick up an instrument and begin to learn. But, there’s still plenty more benefits that you may be able to enjoy by playing an instrument, and these are the fun ones.

Money, Power, and Success

Oh yeah, now we’re talking! Maybe you picked up the guitar for some of the reasons we’ve discussed above. But, if you’re like most people, you bought into the dreams of adoration from the opposite sex, millions of dollars, and the screaming legions of 30,000 fans at every stop on your tour.

While it isn’t likely, all of those daydreams can come true. Popular musicians are often catapulted to national success in acclaim, and with that, they get to enjoy everything they’ve ever dreamed of. From the adoration of fans to the lucrative concert and promotional bookings, playing the guitar is one way to cement yourself in the annals of history.

Even if you don’t achieve quite that level of acclaim, working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion, while also unlocking a world of new experiences as they travel throughout the country and the world.

You can learn a lot about yourself and others through the windows of a tour bus, and beyond the social implications of this type of living, it’s also a great way to broaden your horizons, and your exposure to new things.

Working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion.

Cultural Implications

Another powerful aspect of learning to play the guitar is the exposure to other cultures throughout the world. If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.

It’s one thing to read a book or take a class that focuses on a specific culture, but by learning an instrument, you’ll actually be able to immerse yourself in that culture.

One of the unique qualities of the guitar is that unlike many other instruments, guitar and similar stringed instruments have played a significant role in virtually every type of popular music from the last several centuries.

From classical to jazz, to rhythm and blues, rock, and hip hop, the guitar has left a lasting stamp on almost all popular music.

As a guitar player, you’re able to explore all of these different styles and the impact that they’ve had on cultures throughout the world.

American culture, in particular, has been forever changed by the growth and popularity of the guitar.

In the early 1900s, guitar graced the stage with ragtime and jazz bands and played a supporting role in the development of jazz and the culture surrounding it. As time went on, the guitar became a lead instrument, and its imprint on the genre was masterfully crafted by artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and George Benson.

The guitar was also of paramount importance to the delta blues musicians of the early 20th century. This distinctly American music paved the way for the future of everything from pop to rock to r&b and hip hop.

It’s also interesting to explore how our culture is interconnected to other cultures throughout the world. The pentatonic scale, which is the framework of blues and many current pop styles in America is also found throughout centuries of Japanese music.

Even if you just explored the history and culture of America through playing the guitar, you’d have years and years of practice and learning ahead of you. For most musicians, you never stop exploring and learning about yourself and the world and culture around you through the lens of your guitar.

If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.

Did I Mention…

There are still so many more reasons to play the guitar!

For one, even if you never become rich and famous as a musician, it’s still the easiest way to feel like a rockstar, if only for a short time. Through the guitar, you can learn to play just like your idols; you can learn their songs and style and interpret it in your own way through learning and practicing.

Guitar players also have great looking homes. The guitar itself is a work of art that’s rivaled by few things in the world, and they make some of the best decor for any room. Whenever you’re not playing, hang your guitars up on the wall for an instant conversation piece, and to add warmth, style, and personality to your living space.

Playing the guitar is also a great way to think back on your own memories. Music is a powerful connector. I’m sure you have certain songs that when you hear them, memories wash over you. That feeling is also powerful when you’re playing your old favorites and classics.

Best of all, learning to play the guitar is a skill that you’ll be able to carry with you forever. What may begin as a simple hobby can grow into a lifelong skill that helps you learn and grow personally, socially, and professionally.

Above all, it’s fun! I can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon than with my guitar, practicing, learning, and playing for my own enjoyment or the enjoyment of others.


The benefits of playing guitar are widespread, and they can have a profound effect on virtually every aspect of your life. Considering all these benefits, it’s hard to find a hobby or activity that’s able to provide as much enrichment as playing the guitar.

From the cognitive and mental benefits that everyone can unlock to the improvements that musical children see in their other scholastic subjects, learning an instrument has powerful implications for your brain’s development and fitness.

Beyond the brain, there are also many physical benefits associated with playing the guitar. Learning the guitar can help you reduce your blood pressure, improve your overall heart health, and boost your immunity. Plus, it’s a powerful form of therapy.

Then, there are the personal benefits. Learning guitar provides a limitless creative outlet, allowing you to express yourself while providing a boost in confidence, and powerful feelings of accomplishment and joy.

Socially, learning an instrument can profoundly affect your social life and your relationship with others while also providing a strong sense of fulfillment.

If all these reasons aren’t compelling enough, the benefits of playing guitar are well documented with regard to history, culture, and more. Taking up the guitar is a fun and enriching way to learn about your culture, and cultures throughout the world.

Whatever your reasons, playing guitar is one of the best ways to improve your health, wellbeing, and so much more.

Singer Leon Redbone Dies at 69

Singer Leon Redbone Dies at 69

In a nod to how Redbone sought to exist outside of time, much less current musical styles, his death announcement gave his age as 127.

Singer-songwriter Leon Redbone, who specialized in old-school vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley-style music, died Thursday, his family confirmed. He was 69. Though, in characteristically whimsical fashion, the official statement announcing his death gave his age as 127.

Although Redbone’s pop-defying predilection for seemingly antiquated musical styles of the ’20s and ’30s made him the unlikeliest of stars, he became one anyway, appearing several times as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” — including two spots in the inaugural 1975-76 season alone — and landing frequent appearances with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” into the 1980s. Later popular successes had him singing the themes for TV’s “Mr. Beledevere” and “Harry and the Hendersons,” along with contributing a duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanel to the soundtrack of “Elf,” for which he also voiced the animated character of Leon the Snowman.

Redbone had officially retired in 2015, with a representative then citing unspecified health concerns that had “been a matter of concern for some time” as the reason for his being unable to continue performing or recording.

A post on Redbone’s website confirming his death contained enough deadpan humor and obvious fiction that it was almost certainly prepared in advance by the singer himself. “It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127,” it read. “He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…. and good evening everybody.’”

Ironically, one of Redbone’s most popular concert pieces was “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” — a number that incorporated whistling solos that further ensured Redbone would be talked about in his absence. That song title, which dates back to 1930, was adapted as the name of a documentary about Redbone that premiered at festivals in 2018 but has not yet been widely released.

Redbone’s improbable career saw the release of 16 full-length albums beginning with “On the Track,” his 1975 debut on Warner Bros. He went on to put out albums on his own August imprint through Blue Thumb, Private Music and Rounder, with his final new release, 2014’s “Flying By,” issued through his August Records imprint (distributed by Rounder), as were all of his recordings dating back to the mid-1980s.

Jack White was a fan, as became clear with Third Man Records’ 2016 re-release of Redbone’s Warner Bros debut as well as “Long Way from Home,” a new collection of recordings unearthed from the early ’70s, before he was ever signed.

White was only the latest in a long line of celebrity acolytes, starting with Bob Dylan, who first turned Rolling Stone on to Redbone in 1974 when he told the magazine, “Leon interests me. I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been [a foot and a half from him] and I can’t tell, but you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”

Bonnie Raitt was another huge supporter, saying, “He’s probably the best combination of singer-guitarist I’ve ever heard.”

The fabulism in the statement of Redbone’s passing on his website was nothing new for the singer.  When he was first profiled by Rolling Stone prior to his debut album coming out, the autobiographical details he gave out included: “My father was Paganini and my mother was Jenny Lind. Wunnerful, wunnerful.”

In later speaking about his preference for remaining enigmatic, Redbone said, “I don’t do anything mysterious on purpose. I’m less than forthcoming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m mysterious. It just means I’m not inclined to go there.”

As writer Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle once put it: “To get caught up in biographical detail is to miss the point of the creation of Leon Redbone. The 1960s folk revival restored awareness about influential American blues players. But other worlds of old music and performance were left in mothballs: ragtime and old-time jazz and the sounds of vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. By projecting a persona without a detail-filled biography — essentially a caricature — Redbone deflected attention from himself (though stylishly so) and back to his songs.”

Biographical details did emerge, possibly against his best wishes, even if they stood little competition against the enduring enigma his fans enjoyed. The Toronto Star revealed that he was born Dickran Gobalian and “reinvented himself under the guidelines of Ontario’s Change of Name Act” when he moved from Cyprus to Canada in the mid-1960s. He got his start playing Toronto folk clubs in the early ’70s, the newspaper said, pointing out that he later settled in Pennsylvania.

“Very little of my life goes into my music,” Redbone told the Star, explaining the disconnect between his public and private personas. “I’ve never considered myself the proper focus of attention. I’m just a vehicle … not so much for the particular kind of music I prefer, music from an earlier time, as for a mood that music conveys.”

It may be urban legend, but the story goes that when music industry legend John Hammond asked Redbone for his phone contact, it turned out to be the number for Dial-a-Joke.

His persona oddly lent itself to numerous commercial syncs, from Budweiser to Purina’s Burger ‘n’ Bones dog food.

That Redbone showed up in animated form so often, from the dog food spot to his vocal work as the snowman in “Elf,” may have been prefigured by the artwork for his Warner Bros. debut. That album cover featured not a photo of Redbone, but rather a Chuck Jones drawing of the character Michigan J. Frog. That was a possible gag on Redbone’s singing voice but mostly on how the star of the Warner Bros. cartoon “One Froggy Evening” was brought back from an earlier time in formal, anachronistic garb to sing music from another era — in other words, a character that could loosely have been the amusingly anthropomorphic model for Redbone’s own.

At a 1990 concert at L.A.’s Roxy, the power went out but, naturally, Redbone continued to perform acoustically by candlelight. At that show, Redbone summed up how the appeal of the earliest pop music seemed obvious to him, when he encouraged the audience to sing along with “Polly Wolly Doodle”: “This song’s more than 100 years old,” he said, “so you’ve had plenty of time to learn it.”

Vienna’s unpredictable Vegetable Orchestra


They’ve played 300 shows around the world – and most of their instruments don’t make it through the set.

by Eliot Stein

It’s three hours before showtime and members of an orchestra are seated onstage in the garden of a 1,000-year-old Benedictine monastery outside Cologne, Germany. On cue, the neatly coiffed, black-clad musicians slowly raise their instruments, purse their lips and begin playing the opening passage of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Just then, a sound technician abruptly cuts them off. The carrot flutes were too strong and he couldn’t hear the leek violin.

“One more time,” he says. “Starting with the cucumber.”

In the past 21 years, Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra has played nearly 300 shows all around the world (Credit: Credit: Heidrun Henke)

In the past 21 years, Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra has played nearly 300 shows all around the world (Credit: Heidrun Henke)

This is Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra: a 10-piece ensemble from the city of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart that plays music with instruments made entirely from fresh produce. Over the past 21 years, the group has played nearly 300 shows at packed venues around the globe and performed everything from classical with cabbage to techno with turnips in a rich, rhythmic ratatouille. The orchestra recently released its fourth album after a successful ‘Krautfunding’ (‘herb-funding’) campaign and is showing the world that, actually, you can play with your food.

“Vegetables are unpredictable,” said Susanna Gartmayer, who plays the carrot marimba, radish bass flute and a dozen other edible instruments in the group. “No two pieces of produce are the same. It’s a challenge.”

Unlike traditional instruments, which can last for hundreds of years, vegetable instruments quickly go bad, so the orchestra has to create new ones each time it plays. The morning of every show, this group of artists, novelists, architects and designers goes to local markets with a detailed shopping list and carefully combs through the crates. After pounding on the pumpkins, pawing through the parsley and peeling back the onion skins to select just the right produce, the musicians carve, slice and drill their fresh finds into performance-ready instruments. Once the veggies are peeled and cut they may only last about six hours, and whatever the musicians don’t use gets boiled down into a soup that’s served to the audience after the show.

But as the group arrived back at the Brauweiler Abbey that morning and unloaded their haul for the evening show, they noticed a big problem: someone forgot the aubergines, and there weren’t enough courgettes.

While a runner hurried back to the market, the remaining musicians grabbed their knives and power drills, transforming the dressing room of this Zen-like monastery into a construction site. During the next two hours, hollowed-out carrots, cucumbers and calabashes slowly became horns and flutes; severed peppers morphed into trombones; and sliced celeriac and pumpkins turned into bongos and drums. Each musician makes between eight and 25 instruments per show, and as the performers gradually tested and twisted their produce into tune, a cacophony of trilled scales, percussive thuds and surprisingly resonant notes sang through the sanctuary.

“It all started as a joke,” said founding member Matthias Meinharter, scanning a room full of veggie guts and breathing in what smelled like a compost bin. As he remembers it, he and three of the orchestra’s other members had signed up for a performance-art festival at their university in Vienna. “We were brainstorming what we could do, and we thought: ‘What is the most difficult thing to play music on?’,” he said. “We were making soup together at the time, and one idea led to another.”

It takes two hours and up to 50kg of vegetables to create the orchestra's instruments (Credit: Credit: Heidrun Henke)

It takes two hours and up to 50kg of vegetables to create the orchestra’s instruments (Credit: Heidrun Henke)

Twenty-one years later, the orchestra has played at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Shanghai Arts Centre and was invited to a Ukrainian oligarch’s mansion to perform at Paul McCartney’s 60th birthday. “I think he liked it,” Meinharter said. “He’s a vegetarian.”

The group has also been listed in the Guinness World Records for ‘Most concerts by a vegetable orchestra’ and has inspired a few other biodegradable ensembles to sprout up around the world, including the London Vegetable Orchestra and Long Island Vegetable Orchestra. While the project may have started as a gag, these days its members take their craft very seriously.

“Many people think we’re kind of cabaret or just a funny performance,” Gartmayer said, drilling holes to make a carrot xylophone. “But they’re surprised to understand that there’s actually a lot of sonic potential in vegetables, and that we want to make really interesting music.”

There’s actually a lot of sonic potential in vegetables

The orchestra has invented more than 150 instruments over the years – and for many members, that’s half the fun. Some are ready-made items from the market: crunching dried onion skin in your fist sounds like a rainstorm, thumping a pumpkin with your palm resembles a bass drum and rubbing two leeks together as a bow and body creates a squeaky string section. Others are cut-and-carved creations resembling traditional instruments: parsnips, courgettes and peppers make good wind and brass instruments, while hollowed-out gourds are percussive. The most complex are transformer-like hybrids that combine two or more vegetables. Want to imitate a saxophone? Attach a severed bell pepper to the end of drilled cucumber, add a carrot mouthpiece and you’ve got the ‘cucumberphone’. Need a slightly deeper pitch? Swap the cucumber for a courgette and you’ll have a ‘courgette clarinet’.

“One of the most fascinating things about touring is learning how food differs around the world and coming up with completely new instruments,” said calabashist and pumpkinist Jürgen Berlakovich. In South-East Asia, the group discovered an elastic garlic grass that made a great bass string. In the US, they found markets that sell giant agave leaves, which can be used to shake kidney beans like a maraca. In China, the water radishes are bigger. In Italy, the cucumbers are smaller. In Siberia, the vegetables are expensive. And in England? “Turnips,” Meinharter said. “Lots of turnips.”

Despite covering a few Kraftwerk and classical pieces, the Vegetable Orchestra mainly composes original material, which can range from dark and hypnotic electronic sounds to beat-oriented house tracks. To do this, they attach tiny condenser microphones and little pickups to the veggies to amplify their natural tone and, as Berlakovich said, “to make them come alive”. But when they first set out, learning how to play the parsnip wasn’t the only challenge: there was no way to write music for food.

Because veggies are shaped differently from crate to crate and country to country, they can sound different, too. So instead of notes, the group developed a sort of timeline showing when the instruments come in and a graph of high and low pitches. “No-one else could read it,” Berlakovich said. “It’s like a secret code.”

Before showtime, the group covers this turntable with beans and uses a bean tip as a needle (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)

Before showtime, the group covers this turntable with beans and uses a bean tip as a needle (Credit: Eliot Stein)

At the end of their sound check, the orchestra descended from the abbey’s outdoor garden stage and quickly re-wrapped their instruments in moist towels. The show was set to start in 90 minutes, and the veggies were in trouble. “It’s unusually hot today, which makes the vegetables brittle and break,” said founding member Barbara Kaiser, holding up the severed head of a cabbage. “But they like to die dramatically on stage.”

When the sun descended under the abbey’s spires, a team of tuxedo-clad ushers lit fire torches around the complex’s manicured courtyard and opened the doors. Soon, hundreds of well-heeled Germans were strutting through the vaulted walkway, many asking one another if they had ever heard of this Gemüsegruppe (‘vegetable group’) on the way to the Champagne bar and their seats.

As the all-black-clad troupe took the stage and steadied their water radishes, a few nervous giggles echoed through the garden. Berlakovich soon kicked into the warbling root prelude with a thumping bass pumpkin beat, two members tapped wooden spoons on dried squash, and the carrot section looped in a fluted melody, sliding the song into a trance-like tribal rhythm.

The group uses distortion pedals and microphones "to make the vegetables come alive" (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)

The group uses distortion pedals and microphones “to make the vegetables come alive” (Credit: Eliot Stein)

By the third song, the audience was tuned in to the texture of the ambient compositions: the crackling of celery stalks, the rumbling urgency of onion skin, the groovy claps of aubergines and the wind-like effect of rubbing two parsley bouquets together like pompoms. By song four, nearly everyone at the 500-person show was bobbing their heads along – except for one serious, older-looking woman wearing a black dress in the front row.

Towards the end of the set, bits of dried veg-struments were flying off the stage with each tap, clap and pluck. The group shook the abbey’s foundations with a take on German Krautrock, hooking distortion pedals and microphones into heads of cabbage and strumming their waxy leaves like guitars as shredded greens littered the stage. By the time the orchestra culminated their final song by rolling a legion of legumes and potatoes down a ramp, the once-clean stage looked like an exploded farmers’ market. The orchestra then bowed to a standing ovation and began mopping it all up.

“For me, this is still multi-sensory performance art,” Meinharter said. “The audience can hear the music, smell the music, see the music and then taste the music.”

Whatever vegetables the orchestra doesn't use are boiled into a soup and served to the audience (Credit: Credit: Heidrun Henke)

Whatever vegetables the orchestra doesn’t use are boiled into a soup and served to the audience (Credit: Heidrun Henke)

After the show a swarm of people surrounded the musicians, eager to buy CDs, snap pictures with the group and taste what they’d just heard. In keeping with a 21-year tradition, the performers offered their instruments to anyone who might want to go home and practice jamming on the produce themselves.

Gartmayer asked if anyone was interested in her pepper trumpet, and the older woman in the black dress reached out her hand, stuffed it in her purse and walked briskly towards the exit. When she thought she was out of sight of everyone, she pulled the pepper from her purse, put it to her mouth and gave it a good, long hoot.

Nassau Bay Music Lessons Christmas Recital

Nassau Bay Music Lessons Christmas Recital Logo

Join us in celebrating an evening of music and entertainment, on Friday December 21st from 6 to 8:30 pm, as we watch our students perform the songs they’ve been working on this season. The format is relaxed, and the stage will be open to anyone who wants to share a song or their hearts with us and our families. We’ll provide coffee and a few morsels, but feel free to bring any holiday treats or goodies you’d like to share. See you there!

Ecclesia Clear Lake
218 Clear Creek Ave,
League City 77573

Sephardic Music

Sephardic Music

Having participated in the golden age of classical Arab culture in the Near East, Jews played an important role in Spain as mediators between Arab and Christian culture, and Jewish poetry and music consequently reached a new pinnacle. In the 13th and 14th century Jews were also musicians at the Castilian court, we used great equipment and instruments from sites as Music Critic online. Together with Arab musicians they played an important role in the performance of the “Cantigas de Santa Maria” (eleven of which tell of Jewish live and culture in Spain), compiled by King Alfonso el Sabio (1252-84)

How Does Music Affect Your Brain?

How Does Music Affect Your Brain?

people at rock concert

Throw on some headphones, crank up the tunes, and what happens? Your toes and fingers start to tap. Maybe your head and shoulders begin to bob. Pretty soon, you might be on your feet, busting a move, joyously belting out the lyrics. Music has taken over, and your body is now along for the ride.

While it may be obvious that music impacts you physically, understanding how music and the brain interact requires deep study and an ability to probe the mysteries of the human mind. The result is a fascinating picture of the role music can play in brain development, learning, mood, and even your health. Dive into cognitive studies, and read on to learn exactly how music affects your brain.

Music, Your Brain, & Wellbeing

person looking through music records

One of the first things that happens when music enters our brains is the triggering of pleasure centers that release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. This response is so quick, the brain can even anticipate the most pleasurable peaks in familiar music and prime itself with an early dopamine rush.

Beyond simply making you feel good, however, there’s evidence that music can even be good for your health. Research has shown that listening to music is associated with upticks in immunity-boosting antibodies and cells that protect against bacteria and other invaders. Music has also proven to be effective across a variety of treatment scenarios for conditions ranging from premature birth to depression to Parkinson’s disease.

Even in terms of brain development, music can play a key role. Training to play an instrument, for instance, is believed to increase gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, not unlike how physical exercise can tone and enlarge muscles. As a result, musicians often experience improvement in brain functions like:

  • Auditory processing
  • Learning
  • Memory

If you’re ready to learn how to play a new instrument at home, start by finding a new or used instrument that interests you. Check sites like Craigslist or head over to your local thrift shop or instrument store to find options like pianos, flutes, guitars, banjos, and more. Then, look up free tutorial videos online to start learning. Some great online resources available to teach you how to play the instrument of your choice include:

Does Genre Matter?

rock band lead singer

Many of the beneficial effects of music on the brain are not limited to any single genre. Whether you’re listening to the smooth jazz styling of Billie Holiday on vinyl, the classic country sounds of Johnny Cash on YouTube, or The Beatles and their powerful British Invasion rock music on Spotify, different styles can produce the same results – as long as they align with your musical preferences. In this way, it’s the brain’s relationship with familiar and favored music that is key.

In other cases, the style of music can play a role. When it comes to the best music for learning, for example, experts recommend different genres for different purposes. Upbeat music, including songs with positive lyrics, can provide an energy boost and get your brain primed for learning. Once it’s time to buckle down and concentrate, however—like when you need to read, write, or study your course materials, instrumental music and soothing genres can help you stay calm and focused. Ultimately, however, each person may develop an approach to studying and music that’s uniquely suited for them. For more on this topic, check out courses in psychology that explore the inner workings of the human mind.

Some places you may be able to find new music include:

  • Spotify
  • Pandora
  • YouTube
  • MoodFuse
  • SoundCloud

If you’d prefer to study to gentle or ambient sounds instead, download apps like Rainy Mood or A Soft Murmur to help you focus.

Experiencing New Music

hands playing the piano

There are other ways you can learn about new music without plugging in your headphones. Take part in any of the following activities to explore different types of music:

  • Go to open mic nights in your community
  • Attend local concerts in your area
  • Ask your friends and family for music recommendations on your social media and have them share their favorite songs, playlists, or genres
  • Use different tools like Pandora, Spotify, MoodFuse, to find new music
  • Use apps like Shazam to help you remember the music you hear while you’re out, so you can go home and download it later

Whether you play an instrument, listen to your music streaming app, or enjoy going to live concerts, music is having an active influence on your brain. Understanding how music and the mind interact, and how to fine-tune your music consumption for maximum impact, can have an effect on the way you feel, think, study and more. So, put in your headphones, start your favorite album, and feel your dopamine levels rising. For a deeper understanding of music and how the body works in general, explore an online degree in psychology or cognitive studies.

Written by Ashford University staff.

Piano With Tabby

Piano With Tabby

We wanted to highlight another local piano instructor whose consistently provided her students with first rate musical training! Tabby Worthington’s studio Piano With Tabby has been voted the best music lessons in Clear Lake three times concurrantly by the Macaroni Kid Gold Daisy Awards. Although focused on piano, Tabby also instructs in guitar and ukulele, an takes advantage of the latest methods and technological tools available (like Rocksmith!) to keep her students excited, and insure years of great musical development and fun.


Tabby Worthington lives in Clear Lake with her husband, Ryan and their 2 children, and has a menagerie of pets. Before she was a music teacher, she worked in technical support and computer repair.

Beginning with a handful of piano and voice students in 2000, Ms. Tabby has worked for several schools in the greater Clear Lake area, teaching many students of all ages and building a reputation in the community as a compassionate teacher who is patient and adapts her lessons to the needs of each individual student. Over the years, her approach to individualized learning hasn’t changed, but the tools she uses to teach have. She now incorporates technology in new and innovative ways, offering practice assignments in the iPad Piano Maestro app and digital worksheets via Sproutbeat.  She teaches using the cutting-edge Piano Pronto method, in which students will master the instrument while playing familiar and engaging melodies from a wide variety of genres.

In 2007, Ms. Tabby graduated from Kindermusik University and became a Licensed Kindermusik Educator, which makes her a special expert on early childhood development through music and movement. Kindermusik is a wonderful program for children from infants to 7 year olds. She is no longer able to offer Kindermusik classes, but still recommends them highly for all children under 7. Visit the Kindermusik website for more information.

Ms. Tabby encourages all students to experience different styles of music instead of focusing on just one. “I believe that having a well-rounded background in all kinds of music makes for better musicians,” she says.

Piano Lessons And The Brain

Piano Lessons And The Brain

We all know music is kind of magic. It has the power to tap directly into our emotions, and ignite our imaginations. It can make us bust a move, or move us to tears, sometimes in the course of a single song. But that’s not all it can do.

There’s growing scientific evidence that shows learning to play an instrument—and piano in particular—can actually make you smarter, happier, and healthier. The cognitive demands of learning piano could help with everything from planning skills and language development to reducing anxiety and even boosting memory!


Infographic from Encore Music Lessons

1. Piano Players Are Master Multitaskers

Learning to play piano means teaching your brain how to work on overdrive. Think about all the individual tasks your brain has to perform simultaneously: keeping time, following pitch, forming chords, maintaining posture and controlling your breath, all while your right and left hands are operating independently from each other while ranging over 88 identical little black and white buttons. Also, you might be operating the pedals and reading and interpreting sheet music too. Every time you sit down to play piano, you’re giving your brain a monster workout, exercising your logical, creative, visual, auditory, emotional, and motor functions.

2. Learning Piano Actually Builds Brain Power

The mental demands of piano are so significant that players’ brains are structured differently than other people’s. Breakthroughs in brain imaging have shown that playing piano strengthens the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and makes the connections in the frontal lobe much more efficient. According to Mic that means pianists may have a serious leg up in terms of “problem solving, language, spontaneity, decision making and social behavior.”

3. Musicians Really Do Think Outside the Box

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have discovered that musicians are innately proficient in a creative technique they call “divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems.” Their work suggests that because playing music enhances communication between parts of the brain, musicians literally think about complex problems differently, and come up with more creative solutions.

4. Learning to Play Piano Is Beneficial at Any Age

While learning piano at a young age is a great way to develop discipline, self-esteem, and academic skills, it’s never too late to benefit from the power of playing. Adults who learn to play piano experience a decrease in depression, fatigue, and anxiety and an increase in memory, verbal communication, and a feeling of independence. Playing piano can also help alleviate symptoms of dementia, PTSD, and stroke, by improving cognition and dexterity, and reducing stress.

Tickling the ivories may not give you superpowers, but it’s clear that learning to play piano is one of the most powerful ways to exercise your mind, and soothe your soul.